This Saturday, 5th December is International Volunteering Day, celebrating just what can be achieved with people power. Since it's the season of goodwill to all, here are some local opportunities to give your time to. As well as supporting some important and life-changing causes, volunteering has great benefits to those who participate, whether it's developing new skills, boosting your fitness or connecting more with the community.
As their name suggests, GoodGym puts the fitness benefits of volunteering at the forefront, ideal for busy people who want to combine getting active with giving back. They respond to requests from the community (individuals and groups) for practical tasks that improve community spaces, or get things done for people with mobility issues. They encourage volunteers to run or cycle to the task, as well as involving practical work in the tasks themselves, so there's a double motivation to get moving: whether that's hanging curtains for someone who has trouble reaching, or litter picking to improve the environment in local parks.
GoodGym regularly partner with Oxford Mutual Aid (OMA), which was set up in response to the first coronavirus lockdown back in March. Their mission is to help vulnerable people whose lives have been made more difficult by the pressure that the pandemic has put on local infrastructure. They deliver food to people and families who are struggling financially, and prescriptions to people who are clinically vulnerable and can't make it to the shops. The emphasis is on solidarity, rather than charity, so a lot of the volunteers are people who have received help from OMA in the past and want to pass that help on - but the demand for their services is continually growing, so more volunteer recruits are always needed. From hands-on roles such as cooking or driving to deliver hot meals, to remote tasks such as coordinating logistics and applying for grants, whatever your skill set, they'd love to hear from you.
The Trees Have It – a tree-o of events
Come and muddy your boots this weekend planting some trees. They’re small trees, only 1m or so tall, so you don’t have to be He-Man (though obviously you’ll be a superhero). North Hinksey Parish Council have two events: on Saturday it’s the turn of Tilbury Fields, that’s on the edge of Botley just inside the ring road. On Sunday the focus switches to Oxford Rugby Club on North Hinksey Lane. You’ll need a spade or fork, and gardening gloves. Over the other side of town, Sunday also sees tree planting at Stansfeld Park – that’s the home of Science Oxford, just inside the ring road round Headington. You need to register before the day for social distancing reasons, but there’s plenty of space in the park! Oxford Conservation Volunteers are helping run this one, and if you enjoy it, you can sign up to help with future tasks. Tools are provided, which makes it easier if you’re wanting to enhance your green credentials and arrive by bike - the cycle path alongside the ring road is excellent for all ages.
Not all volunteering requires work on the frontline. Loads of wonderful projects are supplemented by voluntary fundraising, and charities have been innovative in creating sponsored challenges that can be done amidst the current covid regulations.
OSARCC are currently running a Festive 5k, a sponsored run with a Tier 2 twist, which is that it can be done at any point in December, wherever you are, and in your own time. This is a great opportunity to raise some funds for their important work, whatever your fitness level.
Oxfordshire Mind have a whole bank of virtual fundraising ideas, where they provide you with resources to support challenges like gaming marathons and remote murder mysteries that can be undertaken in your own home, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
And supporting Headway Oxfordshire, the brain injury support charity, is 'as easy as pie', as they are encouraging people to host their own Mince Pie Mornings throughout December. You could make and sell mince pies to your household bubble, bring everyone together for a treat over Zoom, or even ask people to sponsor you to see how many you can eat in a set time!
Goodwill To All
December is typically a popular time to volunteer, with the extra indulgence around the festivities prompting people to reflect on their privileges and motivating them to give something back. However, this year, a lot of the events that would usually benefit from extra pairs of hands have had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Fortunately Project Shoebox Oxford is still going ahead. You can sign up to one of their socially-distanced packing parties, where you can sort donations and put together gift boxes to be delivered to people who are seeking asylum or living in homeless shelters or domestic abuse refuges. A few hours of your time will make a meaningful, memorable difference this Christmas.