What I Learnt from Volunteering with First Steps ED

I always thought it took a particular kind of person to volunteer. I have always had friends that had different passion projects in their lives, spending a few hours a week supporting a cause close to their hearts, but for me I never truly had a ‘thing’ to get behind, if you know what I mean?

My first experiences of volunteering weren’t very memorable, and it hardly felt like it count since it was part of the curriculum at my secondary school. Being the indecisive human I am, one of my teachers volunteered me for a local Box Office so I spent two weeks selling tickets and leafleting. I wasn’t exactly returning home feeling fulfilled and passionate about the benefits of volunteering from that experience. Frustratingly, many of my peers were really excited about the positions they found – even a girl who was working with me on the Box Office thing was loving it, which I put down to her social nature.

I think it was then I decided that volunteering wasn’t for me. I wasn’t social enough, passionate enough or interesting enough to be a volunteer. That was until the pandemic hit.

I can’t really remember the timeline of events in March 2020, only that one day I was a thriving freelance marketing consultant and the next I was stressing about clients, money and twiddling my thumbs in the first lockdown.

It was about a month into lockdown when I got a call about a volunteer opportunity with First Steps ED from an old friend. Admittedly, I was a bit tentative at first, but I couldn’t argue that I didn’t have the time so I thought, why not?

My role at First Steps ED back in 2020 was possibly the most fun I’ve had in my career. There wasn’t a marketing team at the time, only a small and passionate team eager to get their charity name out there and share the unmatched service they provided to individuals and families throughout Derbyshire. It was an exciting opportunity to capture the values and personality of the team and share that with the world, or more accurate for the time, Derbyshire.

We recruited a few more volunteers to help, including lovely Molly who was an absolutely fab writer (see Molly’s blog on volunteering here) and together we created the foundations for the resources, flyers, workshop slides and social media content you see today.

From here my relationship with First Steps ED blossomed into more and more as time went on, and today I am First Steps ED’s Marketing and Communications Lead, still championing to work we did during the pandemic but now reaching out to individuals and families throughout the UK.

So, what am I trying to get at?

Volunteering might sound a bit meh. Maybe you don’t know what you want to do, or how to get involved or even if you’ll be able to give ‘enough’ to your chosen organisation or opportunity. But I hope that this blog is enough of a sign for you to take a chance and just go for it.

I will always look back at my time as a volunteer fondly; after all, I wouldn’t be where I am today without grabbing that original opportunity with both hands. My time with First Steps ED has totally changed my perspective and outlook on the world, it strengthened my own relationship with my mental health and I’ve truly found some great friends here. Not forgetting that it gave me purpose during such a time of uncertainty through the pandemic.

I realised that volunteer opportunities aren’t all the same.

My first (uninspiring) round of volunteering pretty much put me off seeking out other opportunities. Whilst I knew that volunteering probably looks different depending on where you go, I just thought that someone like me wasn’t the type of person who people wanted to volunteer. If this sounds like you, then I’m here to say that I was wrong and you might be too. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to volunteering, and most organisations value all people and personalities with varying levels of responsibilities and commitments.

Even at First Steps ED the options are varied, you can help with blog writing and advocacy, or join our cohort of wonderful befrienders! And there is our opportunities to join our Trustee board and/or PPIE Committee supporting service development and campaigning.

I strengthened my existing skills in a new sector.

Before First Steps ED, a big majority of my experience had been in the fashion industry. I had always enjoyed my work, but it didn’t always feel like the right fit (i’m definitely not the most fashionable of people!) Whilst it was daunting at first, working for a charity really felt right to me. I realised quickly that my work could make a real difference. I’m grateful that First Steps ED, offered me a full time role, but if they hadn’t i’d like to have thought I would have found work within this sector or similar.

If there is a sector or setting you have set your sights on, why not find out if there are opportunities out there to give you a bit of a taster? Not only will if give you a feel for your chosen career, it will look great on a CV!

I widened my social circle.

If you feel as though you’re not ‘social’ enough for volunteering, make that your excuse to go for it anyway. For a long time I felt a bit ‘socially inept’. I can’t pinpoint since when but I always wonder if it is an outcome of leaving university and a bit of a meh relationship I had which followed, both things many of us will be familiar with. Big life changes aren’t easy to navigate, especially when the dust settles and something feels a bit lacking.

Volunteering introduced me to lots of new people, without being too overwhelming. I had the choice to be as involved as I felt comfortable and develop new friendships in a natural way. If you can find an opportunity you enjoy or feel passionate about, it’s likely you’ll find some likeminded people to get talking to.

To learn about some of the opportunities available to you at First Steps ED, click here.

Contributed by Lucy Robinson

Fundraising, Marketing and Communications Lead