|Gareth Ratcliffe (sat centre) and the team of Hay on Wye Christmas volunteers|
Traditionally homeless centres, churches, care homes, mental health charities and telephone befriending services all seek volunteers over the Christmas period to provide practical support and friendship during a season which can be very difficult for many. However, the opportunities are endless and varied - it pays to do a little research and commit yourself in advance to get the best out of your contribution - not just for the organisation you sign up with but also yourself.
We asked some PAVO colleagues, with past experience of volunteering over the seasonal period, or perhaps dipping their toes in for the first time, to tell us more about the benefits.
Each year, the small town of Hay-on-Wye experiences a magical event that warms the hearts of both young and old—the visit of Father Christmas. This enchanting tradition is made possible by a dedicated group of local volunteers who come together to create a festive atmosphere and spread Christmas cheer throughout the community. This was a tradition that was reintroduced over the Covid period. When I was a child, I always remember the visit on the back of the local steam engine a few days before Christmas. These memories have lasted forever.
The heartwarming sight of Santa Claus and his supportive elves traversing the streets of Hay-on-Wye is made possible by the dedicated volunteers who give their time and energy to make this event a reality. Their efforts go beyond organising the route and ensuring a smooth procession; they play a crucial role in creating an unforgettable experience for the entire community. With Christmas tunes blasting out, the bells ringing and little treats for the girls and boys on Santa's good list.
The joy that radiates from the faces of children and the smiles exchanged between neighbours as Santa Claus makes his way through town are immeasurable. It's a reminder that the holiday season is not just about gifts but about coming together as a community, sharing in the wonder of the festive season, and creating cherished moments that will be remembered for years to come.
As the volunteers of Hay-on-Wye prepare to welcome Father Christmas, they embody the true spirit of the season—selflessness, community, and the joy of giving. Through their collective efforts, they bring to life the magic of Christmas and make it a season to remember for everyone in Hay-on-Wye.
Each year we also like to raise funds for those who want to donate to a local event for the community. In the true spirit of giving, they are raising funds for the Hay Summer Show, a local event that celebrates the community's talents and achievements. The generosity of those who choose to donate during Santa's visit will contribute to the success of this beloved summer showcase.
My family and I will be volunteering for the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland on their annual New Year Plant Survey which takes place from Saturday 30 December 2023 to Tuesday 2 January 2024.
The plant survey helps build a picture of biodiversity and decline so that decline in species, and how species are reacting to climate change, can be recorded and then these issues can be addressed / mitigated. As the survey has been done for 30 odd years it is building a great picture of our wildflowers. Citizen research projects are so interesting to take part in, to feel part of that wider community.
I love to walk and always look at the flowers and plants around, so to do so with a purpose and effect will be really nice. It makes you feel useful and that is always good. A walk at Christmas / New Year time with the family is always great so with this in mind everyone can join in. Done year on year you build up your own image of how plants are faring in your local area.
My top tip for anyone wishing to volunteer for the first time at Christmas & New Year is - think about it in advance and plan your time so it does not become a panic in the hustle and bustle of the season. Why not volunteer with friends and family?
I was asked if I'd like to knit some bobble hats for the local Young Farmers’ club as they were going to be distributed to the homeless as part of one of the YFC projects. The YFC regularly have projects that involve their members collecting, or creating items for competitions, that then get distributed for the benefit of various good causes. This time it was a request for members to come up with colourful bobble hats which would then be donated to homeless people.
As I have a passion for knitting and crocheting, I am always glad of any opportunity to make something that might help an individual or group and this was perfect. Throughout the last year I have been crocheting colourful blankets for dementia patients in NHS hospitals which was very satisfying.
My tip for volunteering is to look for opportunities that might involve something that you enjoy doing, that way it feels even more beneficial to use your skills doing something you love to benefit another person.
I'll be volunteering and supporting the 1st Montgomery Brownies. We have approximately 20 girls ranging from 7-10 years old. We have three older girls leaving us at Christmas to join the Guides and they're working on finishing off their brownie badges in time to move up. We'll also be going climbing and going to the cinema with the girls, whilst finishing off our Castle badges, perfect to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Montgomery Castle. There'll be an end of term party to celebrate our achievements this term with some fun and games and probably chocolate !
The girls benefit from learning new skills and working together as a team, helping them to grow in confidence, developing interests that they might not have considered before and making friends for life. The age range encourages the girls to work together and support each other with the older girls taking more responsibilities as sixers and seconders, helping and supporting the younger girls.
I have a lot of fun supporting the girls. Sometimes the activities take me out of my comfort zone and can stretch me in new ways too, making origami toadstools was not easy! It's good to learn with the girls and to recognise that in life we are constantly learning and it's OK to make mistakes, learn and move on. Working with young people is also rewarding, watching them grow in confidence and have fun. I think it helps me to feel young at heart and embrace the fun side of life too.
My top tip for anyone wishing to volunteer for the first time at Christmas & New Year is: Jump in and have a go, you never know what new skills you might learn or what you might discover about yourself, you'll have fun too.
Over previous years I have volunteered my time in cooking and delivering hot Christmas dinners and puds on Christmas Day for 44 people in and around Knighton. My family all helped out, with everything from washing up, putting together a little gift for each recipient, and I sourced donations to cover all of the costs. I recruited a band of volunteers who helped me with serving and delivering the meals. This year my youngest daughter, age 10, and myself are going to be volunteering for a morning at our local Foodbank and helping with packaging up Christmas parcels ready to be delivered to families. My daughter Zara loves to support the foodbank and has already dropped off a recent order of groceries and supplies which she picked out and paid for herself.
Having gone through difficult times myself it is nice to be able to pay it forward and support others who may find times challenging. Also giving a helping hand to Helen, our wonderful foodbank manager in her busiest season, by helping her prepare parcels.
Some of the benefits to me include: continuing to teach my children to always be grateful for what we have, but to be compassionate and empathetic towards others, and be able and willing to help in any way we can. The 'feel-good' factor of helping others is like no other feeling. It's not about getting something physical or financial, knowing that the tiny amount of help we give will help put a little smile on someone else's face is priceless.
|Louise and her son Owen serving up meals for delivery|