‘You can play a part, however small’ - why volunteering can be so rewarding

Pets As Therapy volunteer Nina Nannar with Biscuit the dog on a visit to Wayland Academy in Watton b

Pets As Therapy volunteer Nina Nannar with Biscuit the dog on a visit to Wayland Academy in Watton before the start of GCSE exams last year. - Credit: Archant

From doing the weekly shop for an elderly neighbour to walking greyhounds, it's not only those receiving the help that reap the benefits of volunteering.

So many people have asked me do I think that we're going to have a 2017 like 2016.

I know what they mean.

It's a reference to the many famous people we lost in 2016, starting with David Bowie.

It didn't look too good in my first week back at ITV News.

In the two days I did in week one, I did two obituaries for News at Ten.

The first for the incredible Jill Saward, the Ealing Vicarage rape victim, who used what had happened to her to change the way future victims are treated by the police and legal system.

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And then the day after, the wonderful Om Puri, the Indian actor who achieved so much in Bollywood and Hollywood.

In fact my family had sat down to watch the gorgeous film The One Hundred Foot Journey just days before.

A hero to my family – my late uncle acted with him in a Punjabi film, and I went to Cannes to cover his fantastic film East is East, getting my longed-for photograph with him in the process.

So it was a heavy week and we were in need of something lovely.

As you may know from my previous column, we recently lost our beloved dog – a rescue greyhound called Biscuit.

Get another dog quickly is the response we have received from many people.

But we know we haven't got over losing Biscuit – yes, we want another dog, but that dog has to be Biscuit.

So my husband kept mentioning we should return to the kennels in Hainford to visit the other greyhounds who have been rescued.

'How are we going to do that without returning home with a dog?' was my constant reply.

'But we'd be walking the dogs, socialising them and that is a lovely thing to do, we're not ready for another dog', he would reply.

So after a week of obituaries at work, I agreed; we'd go for a brief visit and return empty-handed.

We went back to the Greyhound Rehomers with a heavy heart. But we did it.

We were given Tulisa, Whizzy and King to walk around the adjoining fields.

One of them had not long finished racing, and all were of course unaccustomed to just social walking for the joy of it. It was beautiful. And what a wonderful surprise – we were not the only ones walking the dogs.

In fact I couldn't believe how many people joined us on that field, all volunteers who do this regularly.

There was one delightful elderly lady who'd walk one dog a couple of times around the field, return to the kennels and then come back out with another. And then another.

The dogs were benefiting from the walks, the love and attention, but the volunteers were also benefiting, enjoying the walk, the company of a beautiful dog, while knowing they were doing a valuable service.

I guess this is the thing about volunteering. You can get something out of it while helping someone else.

I remember as a fledgling reporter at BBC radio, I began doing Respite Care after seeing a poster asking for help.

Once a week I would go and sit with Jack, who was a wheelchair-user, so his wife Dorothy could go out for lunch with her friends, or go shopping.

Jack and I would chatter about work, and put the world to rights, or sometimes I would read to him.

I loved it. He was such an interesting man, and his wife would get a breather too.

I'd also volunteer at the local theatre, to sell ice creams or take tickets (while dreaming of course that I could be up on that stage!).

My husband has volunteered at school in London and here in Norwich to share his skills as a garden designer.

He has planted flowers with the children, giving them an early insight into the joys of gardening.

What we do is, of course, tiny compared to the many millions who volunteer year on year in all sectors of society.

In fact, the voluntary sector is worth billions to the UK economy.

But you can play a part, however small, if you have the time and the opportunity.

Go and sit with an elderly neighbour, do their shopping for example.

Walking those dogs was our small contribution – but we'll keep doing it because it has an impact not just on the animals and the wonderful rehomers who have rescued them, but on us too. It takes up an hour of our time, that's all.

So there's my resolution for this year. To volunteer more. And to get a dog when we are good and ready.