Are you one of those mystical beasts - a volunteer? If you are, you are quite controversial as there are debates around whether society exists and what form it might take given so many people volunteer. There are also debates about what degree our society is supposed to rely on volunteers or governments. We are not called the 'voluntary sector' for nothing, even though many of us earn a living in the sector, we would be truly lost without the voluntary bit.
Volunteers are mystical. I am not sure we truly know their whys and wherefores, why some do and some don't, why sometimes it ends in tears and other times it's all smiles. Indeed whole books are dedicated to the subject of managing and understanding volunteers.
Actually I do know that volunteers are much nearer to fairy godparents than mystical beasts. Take Tom (his name has been changed to spare his blushes!), he volunteers for Gardening Leave three days a week, has been described by the veterans who seek help with us as one of them and yet the staff feel he is one of us as well. His magic is in his smile and his listening ears. He is like a fairy godparent because every day he comes to volunteer for this charity we get to go to the ball!
There is one big mistake people often make - there is a lot of talk about the value of volunteers but they are often just seen as individuals. However, their true magic comes in numbers. At just one of our project sites we have 10 official volunteers who come in during the week to work with our clients. But we also have two volunteers who do all the hard graft in the garden that our clients can't do, another advises on what to grow when, there are also teams of local cadets, officer training corps and currently-serving soldiers who all help out on big projects. The staff of the local farm shop, the staff of the local ISS headquarters who last year spent a Sunday building and painting raised beds, the wife of one of the woodwork volunteers who bakes heaven on a plate, literally I could go on and on.
And don't forget the ones who volunteer as trustees - its not all face-to-face sometimes it needs to be spreadsheet-to-spreadsheet!
Volunteers are wonderful individuals but the really stunning value is when they all come at once. Between them I estimate that between 30 and 60 people support the one Gardening Leave site. Each and every one of those people is building a bridge for veterans to cross from military to civilian life. This transition is a challenge for them but our volunteers not only build a bridge, they go half way across to help the veterans over the last few steps.
So be proud to be a fairy godparent, wave your magic wand with pride, we need you all to come to the ball. On behalf of the band and the catering staff, thank you for making it happen.