What is volunteering?
Volunteering is simple. It’s about giving your time to do something useful, without getting paid (apart from expenses), and in return you get the satisfaction of time and effort well spent. In addition, volunteering can be a great way to meet new people, learn new skills and gain useful experience. It should also be fun!

So… why do people volunteer?

For a variety of reasons …… first of all, let’s face it, early recovery can be a bit slow and boring, all the people you used to drink or use with… well, you’re staying away from them if you’ve got any sense!

So volunteering can put that time use, get you away from your four walls, and you get to meet a whole new bunch of people who understand where you are at, and can help support you in your recovery.

Helping at meetings and Peer led services are a great first step; you help them and they help and support you. That’s what mutual aid is about!

I’d like to give something back; can I do something in the drugs and alcohol area?
Sure you can! There is a strong tradition within these services of volunteering, and most, if not all have volunteer programmes. The Peer led services only exist through volunteers, and most of their paid staff started in the organisations as volunteers.

I’m interested. What should I think about before I start?
For those in recovery the main thing to think about is whether you are ready; some organizations in the drug and alcohol field usually have a “clean time” rule, often a minimum of a year……. although individual circumstances are taken into account.

How do I know when I’m ready?
I know this answer is going to sound a bit of a cop out- but you just do! Although you take every day as it comes, after a while, most of us start to feel more relaxed and confident with our recoveries and want to move forward with our lives (but be careful, don’t rush it), and volunteering can play a part in this.

What if I’m a bit timid and not very confident?
I’d like to say there is something for everybody, if you attend groups such as AA or NA ask to help with the tea and coffee, or with the information or literature, this can be a good way of gaining confidence and meeting and speaking to people. So just start with whatever you are comfortable with however small…… as it is all appreciated.

What else should I think about?
Having the time is probably the biggest thing to think about, and by that I mean regular, committed time. Even if it is only an hour a week organisations will be relying on you to turn up at a specific day and time, so be sure you feel comfortable with the commitment. Oh! And don’t over commit in a sudden “rush of passion”!  Better to play the long game, start with a few hours and build it up if and when you’re ready.

So, I feel ready to commit some time, what next?
Think about what you’d like to do, or can offer, do you have any skills or talents, or something you worked at before? However just enthusiasm and a desire to learn is enough.

Have a think about what level do you want to aim for and how much time and effort you want to put into it.  Practically if you’re looking at doing something around drink and drugs, there are three levels.
First steps can include helping at meetings by doing the teas and helping out with the literature, it’s a great way to meet people and gain confidence, and help is always welcomed, so not that much time and commitment….but do turn up if you’ve said you will!!
Volunteering with peer run services (Build on Belief or the FIRM for example) is another step up.  This needs a bit more time and commitment and maybe a bit more clean time. Usually you will have attended that service for a time, and maybe see something you feel you can do. Duties can include ‘meeting and greeting’, helping organise and run activities and events, and perhaps on to leading a team, or facilitating a group. Some peer run services have a training structure combined with volunteering….so have a chat about it with one of the facilitators.
The third level is volunteering with the “Services”, such as Blenheim, CRI, or CNWL NHS.  Again, more time and commitment needed, most of these services have structured training courses, some of them leading to recognised qualifications.  Duties can include helping keyworkers, and representing and helping service users. This can lead to working towards a paid position as a Peer Support worker or a Keyworker. These organisations usually need you to have a minimum of a year’s clean time, there is usually an interview process….and bear in mind this is as much about protecting you….oh and a CRB check is almost a certainty!

Listen, I’ve got a bit of history here, a few run-ins with the law, will it show up on a CRB check, and will it prevent me from volunteering?
Well let’s look at CRB checks…..

Firstly… you will need to have been charged and found guilty, warnings and cautioned are (rarely) logged, although they can show up on enhanced CRB checks.

Convictions after 6 years are ‘spent’ and won’t be recorded, however certain offences, and this includes all offences around drugs, are permanently logged. However this need not be a barrier, but the Services may require some honest explaining!
Suspended and custodial sentences under 18 months are not recorded, although the offence will.
For helping out in meetings and so on a CRB check isn’t required.
For Peer run services, some do, some don’t! Most will ask you to disclose on the understanding that if you’re later to prove to have been dishonest they may show you the door! However they tend to look at offences with understanding as maybe they’ve been there themselves, and barring certain serious offences, these shouldn’t be a barrier.

At the third level, these Services will look at CRB’s with understanding but with stricter criteria and remember CRB checks are there to protect everybody…and that includes YOU!

Can volunteering lead to employment… I’d really like to use my lived experience to help others and maybe it could lead to a job or even a career.
Indeed it can, many of our services employ peer support workers, and mutual aid organisations are staffed from the ranks of past volunteers. Most volunteering comes with some form of training which may be helpful in the future, and employers view volunteering on your CV as favourable.

So nothing to lose then?
Absolutely not!  In fact it could be one of the best moves you make in your recovery!

Have a look at our resource page for addresses and details