Giving something for nothing is a rare thing these days but there are still people prepared to do it. Happily, what they often find is that their commitments bring them back benefits in kind. Helen, a volunteer at charity, Norwood, tells us about what volunteering gives her.


“I was just interested in volunteering with Norwood” says Helen, who explains: “My aim was to help out the fundraising team after leaving my paid employment due to redundancy”.

Norwood is a leading Jewish charity supporting vulnerable children, families and people with learning disabilities. The services offered by the charity include children and family support, social work, an inclusive nursery, and special educational needs provision. Learning Disability Services are also available and are run through a number of schemes, namely: after school clubs and holiday schemes, transition, supported living, residential care, lifelong learning and health and wellbeing.


Although you may not be familiar with their name, Norwood is a major charitable concern and has a turnover of £32m. They employ around 1,250 staff but are supported by a further 600 volunteers that take on many diverse roles within the organisation. Perhaps traditionally, volunteering takes the form of simple odd-jobs such as clearing rubbish from a site or tending gardens and the like through to projects connected with fundraising such as working a few hours in a charity shop or shaking a tin. In fact, Helen also works in fundraising but her role is slightly different, as she explains: “I have been involved with processing information on the database for the fundraising department. A skill I have had for many years with two deaf organisations”.

Furthermore, Helen herself has hearing loss and has had to find ways to make her volunteering a success, although, of course, Norwood has also helped her along the way. “There are challenges with my hearing loss if the person is not a clear speaker or not facing me. Also, chat around the guys can be exclusive, not inclusive. However, the team at Norwood has been very supportive in ensuring I am included.”

Inclusion can sometimes sound like ‘extra work’ and from time-to-time it’s difficult to see how it benefits the organisation involved. On the face of it, some might even suggest that Norwood could easily find another volunteer who would be easier to work with and switch Helen to other duties. Fortunately, Norwood doesn’t see things like that and instead firstly, recognise Helen’s passion for volunteering and secondly, understand that it wouldn’t be the right thing to do to shut someone out because of their disability. Norwood, of course, works with people with a variety of challenges and disabilities and indeed, as you might expect have come up with solutions to help Helen.

Business Development Manager, Jessica Palmer confirms this, saying: “Our buildings are all accessible and we have a hearing loop at Head Office. We look at what people can bring to Norwood, regardless of any additional needs they may have. Helen had fundraising experience in the voluntary sector and is a pro on our CRM database! We value the contribution made by our volunteers and it’s in our interest to make any necessary adaptations”.

A rich experience

Helen uses sign language to communicate in those moments when she can’t quite make out what somebody’s trying to say to her but this is only possible because Helen took the time to teach some of her colleagues to sign too. Here then, is a real tangible benefit as a direct result of introducing diversity into the volunteer workforce. Not only does Norwood get to learn about how well hearing impaired and deaf people are able to adapt to the workplace but the other volunteers also come away with a new skill (sign language) that they probably hadn’t expected to acquire. In business terms, if you will, this is a ‘win-win’, where everyone comes out on top. “I use sign language with speaking to share with others on the team. There is a nice enthusiasm for it among people I communicate with regarding what help they need from me” confirms Helen.

Helen’s volunteering has clearly made a contribution to Norwood that is larger than the sum of its parts and for Helen herself, it’s become a really important part of her life, as she says: “Volunteering is crucial for my wellbeing, for being in contact with the working environment and for me to feel I am making a contribution to the teams that need some extra hands-on experience. Also, being over 60, having faced redundancy and especially being deaf, it gives me a chance to maintain my skills. Possibly one day, there could be a vacancy in the database processing area when they may need me on a temporary basis to cover the backlog of work. In the meantime, volunteering is an enriching experience and creates opportunities (for me) to take part”.

However, you look at it, volunteering produces positive outcomes. For the volunteer, it can be an opportunity to enjoy working in an inclusive team and be valued for the skills and passion they bring rather than being judged on their weaknesses. There’s no doubt that it’s also a great way to acquire new skills or keep existing ones sharp as well as to make good friends with like-minded people.