Scotland's charity volunteers can be life-saving superheroes for the most vulnerable in society – Karyn McCluskey

Last week I finished my term sitting on the board of the Simon Community, alongside a fantastic doctor, who gave her time and intellect selflessly despite holding down a huge role within health.

The Simon Community helps people affected by homelessness (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
The Simon Community helps people affected by homelessness (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

We spent eight years volunteering on the board of the charity which supports people affected by homelessness.

It’s been a long journey, punctuated by challenges, triumphs and tragedy. There have been deaths of those who used the services who perished through drug use or in other difficult circumstances.

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I’ve got to know wonderful staff who do the most difficult roles supporting some of the most vulnerable in our country. And I’ve watched long-term users of the service move into permanent accommodation and thrive.

Volunteering in the third sector is a serious role. It requires a steep learning curve around charity finance, governance and management, steering organisations in really tricky environments.

They need nimbleness and the ability to problem solve quickly.

Seeing the Simon Community securing hotels, phones and delivering services to people in a different way in these last few difficult years has been phenomenal. When so many people were in their homes, they were out. It’s been a time of innovation and exceptional effort.

Their work preventing drug deaths among people using their services with electronic monitors on mattresses to detect breathing changes due to substances and their harm-reduction interventions have made me proud to be a small part of the organisation.

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Becoming involved in decision-making at this level, requires time and effort, many hours spent reading plans and advising the talented staff who make such a difference to many people’s lives.

I’m always fascinated by the people who volunteer their time and experience in the third sector. Our meetings are always in the evenings. They are long because the issues are complex and we need time to discuss decisions. Yet I see people with young children, holding down full-time roles elsewhere, dedicate time and effort. They give up time with their own family to add value to someone else’s.

I’ve learnt so much over the last eight years. I’ve sat beside finance experts who have taught me about charity accounts and good financial monitoring. I’ve marvelled at the property expert who set the very highest standards for the accommodation we move people into.

If it wasn’t good enough for his daughter, it wasn’t good enough for those who use our services. I have met so many volunteers who have experienced homelessness and now want to make it better for others.

The third sector needs people to volunteer at many levels – from the front line, to fundraising and on the boards of charities, helping to steer them through the challenges of delivering services that can mean the difference between life and death. Many are out on the streets in the evenings and weekends, at the end of a phone, serving others. It’s as close to having a bat signal as we are ever going to have.

There are charities around the country desperate for people just like you to volunteer. I hope you do. Eight years has left me a better, more knowledgeable person, I have been changed more than I changed them and I will miss being a small part of it.

Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland

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