08 December 2004
by Jill Papworth
One way to balance the self-indulgent, consumerism of Christmas is to spend some time helping the less fortunate. Thousands of people are expected to do voluntary work this year, particularly for charities looking after the homeless. But if you'd like to join them, don't leave it until the last minute, as many volunteer opportunities require training and reference checking.
First decide which days and hours you can realistically offer over Christmas and the New Year.
If you already know of local charities in need of help, contact them direct.
In London, for example, Crisis, a charity for the homeless, needs 3,500 volunteers for its Open House project which offers six shelters in the capital for the homeless and vulnerable from December 23-30.
They offer a range of services, are run almost entirely by volunteers, and are open 24 hours a day.
No experience is necessary for many roles, which range from food preparation, cleaning and driving to simply talking to guests and helping them to use the services.
Specialist service volunteers - including doctors, chiropodists, hairdressers and English teachers - are also needed. To get involved visit crisis.org.uk.
The Food Chain, which supports HIV patients, wants volunteers to prepare and deliver meals and groceries to the housebound. Go to www.foodchain.org.uk.
Large national charities also need seasonal volunteers at local level. Age Concern welcomes those who can help with its work around the country. Contact your local group or call the national information line on 0800 009966 for contact details.
Similarly, to volunteer for the Age ConcernSalvation Army, either call your local centre direct or 020 7369 4500 to be put in touch.
If you are not sure what you can get involved in, contact your local volunteer centre or bureau. There are more than 500 across the UK, either listed in the phonebook or by emailing www.volunteering.co.uk
Also contact Timebank, a national campaign aimed at encouraging potential volunteers, which has a dedicated Christmas and volunteering webpage at www.timebank.org.uk/ volunteer_christmas.
If you find that you are too late to help with specific Christmas projects this year, you might consider volunteering on an ongoing basis.
By logging on to www.do-it.org.uk you gain access to the national online database of current volunteering opportunities and vacancies which allows users to search by postcode, type of organisation, and type of work they are interested in.
There are currently 22 million people in Britain taking part in voluntary work, according to the government adult learning portal www.waytolearn.co.uk which offers a useful section on volunteering and learning with links to various websites.
As well as helping others, waytolearn.co.uk promotes voluntary work as a popular way of developing new skills and qualifications.