Befriending in Norwich: How volunteering can boost your job prospects

As well as being a great way to have fun, make friends and do some good, volunteering with Voluntary Norfolk can be a stepping-stone back to employment.

Joining Voluntary Norfolk's team of community befrienders is reward in itself.

It's a fantastic way to meet new people, take on new challenges and benefit people in real need.

But, if that were not reason enough to sign up already, an increasing number of people are using volunteering as a route back into employment, said Voluntary Norfolk chief executive Brian Horner.

'People come to us for a variety of reasons, but more and more we are seeing that young people or unemployed people are using volunteering to set themselves apart, because the job environment is so challenging.

'It's also a way for people who are in a job but thinking 'there must be more to life than this' to try a new career.'

Community befriending is an ideal way to gain experience while applying for jobs, or put a period out of work to good use, said Will Mills, who heads up the scheme.

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'Volunteering is great for those who might be worried at having a gap on their CV, or who are in part-time work and want to fill the rest of their time with something productive.

'I regularly write references for our volunteers, recommending them for further volunteering roles or for full-time employed positions.'

Voluntary positions are useful for students applying for university courses or those considering a career change, particularly into the care services, and wishing to test the water first.

'One woman got involved in voluntary work with people with Alzheimer's, and it helped her decide that it was a job she was interested in,' said Mr Mills. 'Two more of our volunteers have recently been successful in finding part-time employment in the area they are interested in, and they are confident that the reference from Voluntary Norfolk helped them.'

Though all volunteers do the job for 'the right reasons', the work also demonstrates determination and self-motivation to prospective employers, added Mr Mills, and is valuable experience in working with people who are elderly, disabled or mentally ill.

Chapel Break mum Louise joined the befriending service to make the most of a period out of work following the birth of her children, and now regularly visits 71-year-old Julie and another client.

'I've been out of work for a long time, and have two young children.

'I knew that to go back to work I would need a reference, and volunteering was a base point for that.

'But I like doing it too: I did this to make someone else feel good, but it's good for me too and I have made a new friend.'