Jack Martin: We can all do our bit to help others – and it’s good for your health too

Volunteers taking part in the Paths for All project at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Volunteers taking part in the Paths for All project at the Royal Botanic Gardens
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Football fever may be ­hotting up with the World Cup, but the volunteering community has been doing their own celebrating recently with National Volunteer Week, which runs annually from 1-7 June. This awareness week gives charities and organisations an opportunity to say thank you for the fantastic contribution volunteers make.

During National Volunteer Week, hundreds of events and celebrations took place across the country, recognising the diversity of volunteers, and thanking them for their contribution to local communities throughout Scotland.

Jack Martin is the Community Development Officer (Volunteering) within Edinburgh Leisure's Active Communities' Team

Jack Martin is the Community Development Officer (Volunteering) within Edinburgh Leisure's Active Communities' Team

At Edinburgh Leisure we took this opportunity to celebrate the impact and contribution that volunteers make to our programmes by hosting a thank you lunch at the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Cottage.

As a charity, Edinburgh Leisure is dedicated to creating opportunities for people to lead more active, healthy lives. Our Active Communities Team uses the power of physical activity and sport to help those in need improve their health and wellbeing.

We focus on providing help and support to groups and communities who face the greatest barriers and are typically much less active, such as women and girls, people living with health conditions, people with disabilities, older adults, minority ethnic groups and those from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Volunteers play a vital role in supporting people to get active in many ways. Our volunteers support a range of people to access activities more confidently; providing extra support to people living with health conditions such as cancer or dementia, motivating and encouraging children to develop healthy habits through physical activity and being there to offer a helping hand to people who are trying to build more physical activity into their lives. The time and effort that volunteers give really does make a difference to the health and wellbeing of the people of Edinburgh.

Over the last 12 months, 185 volunteers have contributed more than 10,000 hours of their own time to Active Communities programmes, encouraging and supporting people to get active, stay active and improve their health and wellbeing.

Seventy of these volunteers ­provide support for our multi-award-winning Ageing Well Project which offers 10 different activities to help inactive older adults get active and stay active, from walking and cycling to dancing and swimming. In recognition of the work it does, the group were awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) 2018 at the beginning of June.

This award was created by the Queen in 2002 to celebrate the anniversary of her coronation, recognising excellence in voluntary activities carried out by groups in the community. It is the MBE for volunteer groups.

There are many reasons why ­people choose to volunteer with Edinburgh Leisure. They may want to give something back to their communities; to help others to get active and live healthier, happier lives; to meet like-minded people and expand their group of friends; or to develop new skills and gain experience of physical activity and health programmes.

One of our Ageing Well Volunteers commented: “I find volunteering gives me something to get up for. Seeing isolated people get their lives back, instead of being stuck inside four walls, is the most rewarding thing.”

Regular activity sessions give ­participants the confidence to be active and gives people the opportunity to socialise and feel less isolated, make friends and extend their ­support network. These benefits could not be delivered without the support of volunteers.

Volunteering isn’t just about ­giving something back, it also benefits the individual volunteer. A survey ­conducted by the British Household Panel found that those who engaged in volunteering regularly appeared to experience higher levels of mental health and wellbeing than those who never volunteered. Though further research needs to be done to establish links between volunteering and the physical and mental health ­benefits, it is human nature to feel good after helping someone.

Through volunteering with Edinburgh Leisure, our volunteers have the opportunity to develop their abilities and gain new skills. A student ­volunteer on our falls prevention ­programme Steady Steps told us: “Volunteering with Edinburgh ­Leisure has provided me with the opportunity to develop my research skills and become more confident interacting with others.”

With 119 Active Communities classes delivered each week, the benefits of physical activity are helping both participants and volunteers improve their health and wellbeing to live ­better, longer lives. It goes without saying that the contribution of our volunteers makes such a vital difference to so many of our programmes and we couldn’t do it without them. Thank you.

For further information on ­volunteering with Edinburgh ­Leisure, contact 0131 458 2000, active@edinburghleisure.co.uk or visit www.edinburghleisure.co.uk
Jack Martin is the community development officer (Volunteering) within Edinburgh Leisure’s Active Communities team.