The pitfalls of volunteering

Nick Hodgkinson on Soothill Lane for a story about the traffic problems there during the morning and evening rush hour. (d08021144)
Nick Hodgkinson on Soothill Lane for a story about the traffic problems there during the morning and evening rush hour. (d08021144)

A KEEN volunteer has spoken out about the pitfalls that people wanting to work for free can come across.

Nick Hodgkinson, who works for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), says red tape like Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks can put people off because of the length of time it takes for them to process.

Nick does conservation and natural habitat work in and around Kirklees such as Oakwell Hall and Dewsbury canal basin.

He said: “I had to leave full-time work because of stress, but wanted to keep active and positive-minded. Putting time and energy into something you believe passionately in is crucial when you feel low and unable to contribute to society in general.

“Almost all voluntary roles require CRB checks. Even though these are free for volunteers, they take at least four weeks to process and they are not transferable, so you could need two or three.

“While patience is soon rewarded, there is a danger that others are put off by the wait. This was particularly true in my case where I wanted to get going immediately.

“Smaller groups operate outside the CRB system because they work in isolated areas or at weekends when the risks are much lower.

“The problems with these can be the intermittent nature of the work and the well-established groups which are difficult to break into.

“Age, employment status and sheer lack of approachability are other barriers. Some schemes are designed entirely for young people. For others you have to be unemployed and many you can only apply online.”

Nick said training was provided on each project. He said: “The work is immensely enjoyable and rewarding. There’s nothing more satisfying than turning up at a site to find a derelict mess and then leaving it three weeks later with footpaths, trees, raised beds, a pond and willow tunnel in place. While it can be very hard work – BTCV don’t use mechanical equipment – the physical effort required gives you a very contented feeling at the end of the day.

“When you are facing difficult times for whatever reason, the opportunity to meet and work alongside people in similar circumstances is vital.

“You feel part of society, and perhaps more, belong to a group of friends who share the same beliefs as yourself.

“You’re bound to get on with some people better than others, but the fact that everyone is contributing to the same goal can draw you very close.”