It's easy to get so busy with life that we forget to take a moment and check-in with ourselves to see how we're feeling. If we're not feeling great about ourselves or life in general, one of the best things we can do is get involved in our community.
Knowing we can make a difference reminds us our lives can be full of purpose and meaning, which takes us beyond the confinements of our problems. Perhaps this is why it's effective in improving mental health, reducing stress and tackling depression. Rather than having time to dwell on what you feel is wrong in your life, getting involved in community initiatives offers an opportunity to get a new perspective.
And the more volunteering you do, the more benefits you’ll get from it.
10 benefits of getting involved in community initiatives
1. Feeling a sense of accomplishment
As mentioned above, you can improve your happiness by giving up some of your time to help others. Knowing your actions have had a visibly positive effect on someone else provides a natural sense of accomplishment. The more time you spend volunteering, the happier you’re likely to feel.
2. Meeting new people
In addition to the measurable benefits received by people you help through volunteering, one of the most critical things experienced is a stronger sense of community. You're able to make friends with fellow community initiative workers, and you may also befriend the people you help. What's more, socialising plays a big part in maintaining our mental health. Being connected lessens feelings of isolation that many people experience, regardless of age, which is why befriending volunteering projects are so popular today.
New connections can transcend social groups that don’t usually meet. Making these connections helps people realise their neighbours are friendlier and easier to trust than they thought. It can also shed light on how similar we are and what we have in common, rather than the things we see differently.
3. Developing new skills & building existing ones
It's never too late to develop new skills, and volunteering for community initiatives is a great way to do this. You can also improve the ones you already have, be it from specific training or simply by taking part. If you're giving your time to a women's shelter, for example, you may become experienced at crisis counselling. Or, if you volunteer at a local museum, you might become a knowledgeable art historian.
Perhaps you already have excellent sales skills from working in a sales position. If you find a community initiative you're passionate about, you could even share it with people at work. Doing this would develop your public speaking and persuasive selling techniques even more—all the while raising awareness of your cause.
Plus, learning new skills is another good health benefit, as it helps your brain develop new neural pathways!
4. Having new experiences
It's easy to become accustomed to our regular routines in our small corner of the world. Perhaps, the thought of embarking on new experiences and meeting new people could make you slightly nervous and apprehensive. But taking part in an initiative is a brilliant means of overcoming that. It will be a very positive way to break out of your rut, see and do new things, and find people who are similar to you, are looking to do something meaningful.
5. Helping others
Depending on the type of initiative, the community will benefit from the kind of work you’re volunteering to do. Helping out in the community is an excellent way of giving back. So, you could decide to help clear litter, tend to a community garden, serve at a soup kitchen, offer help fixing bicycles and so on. No matter what type of volunteer work you choose to do, the direct benefit to those you are helping will be clear.
6. Improving where you live
Community initiatives affect everyone locally, which includes you. By improving the area you live in, you create a happier place for everyone. If you work with people, you can enjoy the benefits of living in a connected, supportive community. If you work to improve the local environment, you’ll see cleaner, greener spaces. It’s a win-win situation!
7. Supporting a charity
Charities need local support to thrive. You could donate money monthly, but donating your time is an excellent way of supporting their work, too. If there’s a specific local cause that you would like to help, volunteering means you can take an active role that helps to keep the charity going.
You could support a national or international charity with a local presence or find out about smaller charities in your area. If you're not sure which charity to choose, think about causes and initiatives that are important to you. You're more likely to keep dedicating your time to a cause you’re passionate about!
8. Curbing loneliness
According to a 2018 survey by the UK government, people who feel they belong less to their neighbourhood report feeling lonely more often. Getting involved in community initiatives is an excellent way of feeling connected to your neighbourhood and the people around you.
Loneliness isn’t necessarily caused by being alone. We feel lonely when our relationships aren’t as strong as we want them to be. Meeting new people means more significant opportunities to form long-lasting friendships.
To find out more about dealing with loneliness, have a look at our latest articles.
9. Improving the local economy
Disconnected communities could be costing the British economy £32 billion every year. Research shows the demand on policing and health services vastly increases when communities aren’t connected.
On the other hand, neighbourliness could be saving us as much as £23.8 billion each year. The savings come from reduced demand for care services, improvements in the environment, and increased productivity from happy workforces.
Getting involved locally is your chance to re-balance the scales and improve the economy by lending a helping hand.
10. Gaining confidence
Putting ourselves in a new environment can be daunting. Maybe we don’t know many people, or we haven't done this type of activity before. But in terms of social situations, you’ll soon see meeting new friends isn’t as scary as it might seem. And as far as skills go, mastering a new activity could help you gain confidence in yourself.
4 more benefits from specific activities
There are many upsides to getting involved in your community in a general sense. But some initiatives come with specific benefits for you and your neighbourhood.
1. Local clean-up events
The obvious benefit of a local clean-up is creating a nicer environment where you live. But one event can lead to bigger things. If there is media coverage surrounding your clean up, the event can help spread the word about environmental issues and get more people engaged in your cause.
Even without media coverage, the more volunteers, the more significant the event seems. So, you’re still helping to spread awareness as well as improving your area. Always follow any guidelines set out by the organisation running the event, or contact your local council if you’d like to set up one of your own.
2. Charity fundraising
Knowing you’re making a difference to a local charity is an excellent feeling. With so many ways to get involved, there are endless benefits, too. You might decide to take part in a fun run, walk, or bike ride, improving your fitness and even your health.
Alternatively, you could take a collaborative approach and set up an event, concert, or local fair. This will involve meeting new people, testing your organisation skills, and getting to know your local community. You'll meet new people and learn about event planning.
When it comes to fundraising, the more fun, the better! For thrill-seekers, extreme sports such as abseiling or skydiving will get the adrenaline pumping and the cash flowing. Why not have a look at your favourite charity’s website for more inspiration?
3. Volunteering with animals
Animals are part of our community, whether they’re rescue pets in need of some love or wildlife that needs protecting. If you love animals, the benefits of volunteering with them might seem obvious. But there are surprising wellbeing benefits you might not have thought of.
According to the Wildlife Trust, “95% of participants with low mental wellbeing at the start of volunteering reported an improvement in 6 weeks”. They also found that, for those volunteering for 12 weeks, 60% reported becoming more physically active.
These benefits happen on a chemical level, too. Oxytocin is a hormone linked to positive emotional states, sometimes known as the love hormone. It plays a role in attachment and bonding between parents and children. Research shows oxytocin levels are also increased when dogs and their owners interact. While it’s unclear whether this extends to other types of interactions, it seems spending time with animals has positive effects!
4. Corporate supporters
Charities are usually happy to have corporate supporters, who fundraise, volunteer, sponsor a specific area of work, or even serve on the charity’s board.
By getting your business involved with a charity, an entire workforce has the opportunity to support their community. You also help to spread awareness to your employees and their networks.
Wide-scale volunteering means a company has deeper roots within the community. By understanding what people need locally, it can serve the community better. If you don’t own a business, you could speak with a manager about potential links to the community.
Where (and how) to volunteer
There are several ways to get involved with your community and give your time to help others. If you need guidance in choosing the right project for you, these organisations serve as a good starting point. Do-it.org is a database of over 1 million volunteering opportunities across the UK. It allows you to filter your search by interest, activity and location. To do an area-specific search, you can look up the following to find opportunities in your area:
- Volunteering England
- Volunteer Scotland
- Volunteering Wales
- Jersey Charities
- Guernsey Charities
- Volunteering Matters
Considering how beneficial getting involved in community initiatives is, it’s funny that we can feel like we have such little time to do it. But it needn’t be a massive commitment that swallows up your diary. It’s simply about finding the right match for you. Once you do, you'll be able to find new friends and get more connected to your community. You'll learn skills and develop a more well-rounded life, all within the amount of time you choose to dedicate to a project.
How do you start a community initiative?
Perhaps you’re particularly passionate about a specific cause, and you have a business idea that you believe could be an effective way of challenging some of the problems in this area. If so, have you considered starting an initiative yourself?
Community businesses that are set up and run by the local community tend to be resilient and generate a deeper level of support. Although it may seem like a challenging task to take on, there are plenty of other people who have done just that. They've managed to set up trading and locally-led organisations. Hence, there are now 7000 community-led businesses (and counting) across the UK, demonstrating it's achievable with the right advice and support.
An excellent first step is to contact your local council or local enterprise council. Also, get in touch with other community businesses that are local to you. They'll give you all the information on the kinds of partnerships and support they may be able to offer.
You may choose to become more active in your community by joining an initiative or starting one of your own. Whichever you decide is best, there are several options at your disposal. And there are plenty more benefits to yourself and the whole community than you may have thought initially.