Volunteering comes in many different forms; it might involve spending a few hours per week helping out at your local hospital or a charity shop, or a much bigger time commitment that becomes virtually a full-time job.
On International Volunteer Day I applaud everyone who takes the time and trouble to contribute their bit to society and would encourage others to do the same.
For very personal reasons, I fall into the latter category, devoting between three and four days per week in my various roles with Carers UK, Carers Trust in my home county of Cambridgeshire and as a member of the C4CC Co-production Team, spreading the word about the vital importance of our ‘Three Cs’ in involving people and their community in their own care.
I’m a campaigning volunteer, raising awareness about plight of the hidden army of unpaid carers, who like me devoted a very large part of their life to looking after the one they loved.
For me, it was my wife Sheila, who I looked after, for much of the time without seeking support, for over 12 years until she died 20 months ago.
Her passing has made me even more determined to spread the word about the support that is out there and also to campaign for more, recently marking Carers Rights Day by visiting parliament to both lobby and inform MPs.
For me volunteering has become a drug, as I know many people out there are struggling to cope with the pressures of caring to the detriment of their own health and welfare, many in near poverty and unable to cope.
If I can help to raise this awareness more openly, then I believe my contribution will have helped to make a difference.
After all, I have acquired specialist knowledge from over 28 years of caring, a lived experience that gives me an insight into many of the pitfalls a carer is likely to encounter on their caring journey.
There is much fantastic help available out there, but in my volunteering role along with others of the same thinking, we have helped to shape and streamline many of the available services so they are more user-friendly and cost effective.
This means the much-reduced council budgets have a better chance of fulfilling the needs of those with long-term conditions and their carers.
I am now 73, retirement for me is not an option I wish to consider, neither do I want to just wander around trying to find something to occupy the time aimlessly. I want our great country to be the very best at what we are good at…leading by example!
I don’t criticise anyone who chooses to spend their time that way, but my view is that if you have a wealth of skills and experience that can be used to the benefit of others then it is a tremendously rewarding experience and one I would thoroughly recommend.
I have made so many new friends and acquaintances through my work with three fantastic organisations and I hope to play my part for many years to come because despite the Care Act of 2014 enshrining much needed rights into law there is still much to be done.
Richard Cross, C4CC Co-production Team member