Volunteering is said to be worth around £500m to Sheffield’s economy – but this statistic does nothing to highlight the real value of those who volunteer.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of Voluntary Action Sheffield, a charity which supports voluntary and community action to improve our local areas.
To highlight this milestone and to celebrate national volunteering week, which runs until Sunday, VAS hosted a street party on Thursday to thank its volunteers for all of the work they do to make our city a better place in which to live.
Among the 2,300 volunteers on VAS’ books is Alan Stanbra, who has been volunteering with Mencap – one of the UK’s leading disability charities – for six years.
The 54-year-old had spent 25 years working as a turner in the steel industry and always enjoyed working with his hands. But in 2007 he had to have a brain tumour removed and has subsequently had two more operations.
Following a harrowing four operations in total, he has been left blind in one eye with degenerative damage to the other. He is receiving rehabilitation treatment for a brain injury to this day and has annual brain scans to monitor two dormant tumours.
Alan described this period of his life as ‘hell’ but said working with Mencap enabled him to reconnect with people and gave him an opportunity to give something back to the community.
Alan works as an assistant in Mencap’s classrooms, helping people with practical activities like cookery and art. He also helps with their work, helping to break down and explain questions and with writing and spelling.
He said: “I enjoy belonging to something again. I enjoy the camaraderie with students and staff, it’s a very enjoyable atmosphere to work in. It’s very relaxed and happy. And more than anything, I enjoy seeing the students progress.
“It has brought a wealth to my life that no amount of money ever could and the charity has given me as much as I’ve given them.”
Alan, who lives in the Intake area of Sheffield with his wife of 15 years, Janet, aged 53, said despite recent news that his remaining sight may be deteriorating, he feels fitter than he has been since he was a young, promising footballer.
The lifelong Blades fan said he had initially considered quitting his volunteering role if he were to lose his sight as he felt he would have nothing to offer.
However Jonathan Raimondi, the volunteering and placement co-ordinator for Mencap Sheffield, said Alan will always remain a hugely valuable member of their team.
He said: “Alan been a huge help to us. He’s come to know all of the students incredibly well – he’s empathic, caring and in the nicest way, is now part of the furniture!
“He’s a terrific volunteer, an incredible example of what volunteering can do for people and a huge inspiration.”
Alan has previously been shortlisted in the final three for Mencap’s National Volunteer of the Year award.
Rizni Marzook - British Heart Foundation
In 2010, Crosspool man Rizni Marzook experienced severe chest pains and was admitted to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.
Doctors told him he’d had a heart attack and he underwent angioplasty to widen a narrowed artery.
The 44-year-old father-of-two believes he was lucky to survive and knew he had to change his way of life completely to improve his health.
Just three months after his heart attack, he took up running. Fast-forward a few years – and Rizni now spends one and a half to two hours in the gym every day and has run a staggering 23 half marathons.
As an active member of the Sheffield Heart Heroes BHF fundraising group, Rizni, an IT project manager, has raised more than £3,000 for the cause.
Rizni, who is also treasurer of the fundraising group, said: “From the moment I left the hospital I was determined not to give in to the disease and be active and healthy as much as I can.
“Through volunteering with Sheffield Heart Heroes group I have learned there is so much we can contribute to the community, which brings me a massive sense of self-satisfaction, confidence and accomplishment.
“With a busy life it’s hard to find any spare time but volunteering is a rewarding way to use whatever little spare time I have.”
Beth Robinson - SAGE
Beth Robinson has been volunteering at SAGE, Support Arts Gardening Education, for three years.
The Burngreave-based project provides social and therapeutic gardening activities for groups of adults with mental health needs.
The scheme’s allotment sits on a hill overlooking Sheffield and on a warm day in June the volunteers are hard at work planting and weeding amidst the raised flower beds.
Beth, aged 24 and her friend Rachel, aged 25, are currently cycling around France in a ‘Tour de Toilette’ challenge to raise money towards an accessible compost toilet for the allotment to make it easier for those with mobility issues.
They have so far raised more than £1,300 and have actually extended their planned trip by 1,000km.
Beth praised SAGE for doing a ‘brilliant thing in Sheffield’. Halfway into their Tour de Toilette, Beth said that the trip had been ‘challenging at times, but a lot of fun.’
She added: “By the time we get home we will have covered 3,000km.”
Emma Msigiti, a volunteer coordinator for SAGE, said: “Beth and Rachel’s initiative and commitment to volunteering at SAGE has been outstanding.”
“We are incredibly grateful to them both and want to say a massive thank you on behalf of everyone at SAGE Greenfingers.”
Erdi Erogla - Youth Discovery Ventures
Turkish political science graduate Erdi Erogla found himself long-term unemployed after his course ended at the University of Istanbul.
So when he successfully applied to come over to the UK from Turkey to be a volunteer, he jumped at the chance.
Erdi started volunteering for the Sheffield-based Youth Discovery Ventures scheme in April.
The not-for-profit organisation helps support young people to lead active and engaged lives and Erdi, aged 26, is part of a six-month, European Voluntary Service project funded by the EU.
The scheme encourages 18-30 year olds from across Europe to undertake a placement in Sheffield.
Among Erdi’s volunteering work is teaming up with Peace in the Park over the weekend to help with a live outdoor radio broadcast. He will be involved with other festivals throughout the summer, including Tramlines in the city.
Erdi said: “Volunteering with YDV has changed my life a lot – I moved my whole life to come do this volunteering opportunity and this is the first time I have been to the UK.
“I was long-term unemployed after graduating from University of Istanbul in Political Science and this volunteering role is my first experience of working in an office. It was great when I received my first work email address!”
Rachel Boyce, a director for YDV, said: “Erdi is one of a team of four European Voluntary Service volunteers that we are currently hosting for six months.
“The other volunteers are from Estonia, Romania and Poland. Erdi has been a great asset to our organisation and it has been great to see him blossom during his time here, getting more confident with his English skills and discovering his talents for film editing.”