A Southampton student who’s been contributing to her adopted community through charity work supporting the city’s vulnerable says volunteering boosted her career and she’s now urging others to volunteer too.
Chloe Naegeli started volunteering for Communicare soon after she came to read English and French at the University of Southampton in 2018 and officially joined the team in 2019.
The 22-year-old says: “It’s certainly an experience that’s good for the soul as well as the CV, plus I love meeting new people. I’ve had so many different and wonderful experiences as a Communiteer, which is what Communicare call their volunteers. I started with just a couple of hours at the Haven Lunch Club at St Mark’s Church, which the church and Communicare run in partnership. It was very easy for me to get to as it was just down the road from my halls and it allowed me to volunteer around my studies.
“More recently, via Communicare I’ve been volunteering at the city’s Covid-19 vaccine clinics and as a shopper, helping those who can’t easily leave their homes due to the pandemic. Last year I was more involved with befriending, so there’s been a great mix and variety of things to do! Volunteering actually opened up a paid role for me at the charity too and it has helped boost my confidence and skills.”
The start of the pandemic last year, March 2020, meant Chloe’s planned year to study abroad was postponed and she chose to defer her third year of university.
“Covid-19 meant I wasn’t able to take my year out to study in France as I had originally planned. Rather than move back home or be stuck job hunting when most places were no longer hiring, or were in lockdown, I decided to stay in the city where I was able to apply for paid work at Communicare on top of my volunteering duties.”
Chloe first heard about Communicare through her time at St Mark’s Church and again when she successfully secured an administrator position at the Southampton Mental Health Network in 2019. Communicare is a leading organisation behind the initiative to bring individuals and organisations across the community together in a vision to make Southampton a mental health friendly city.
She continues: “Transitioning to the Southampton Mental Health Network was a pivotal moment, it allowed me to give back something more, as the importance of mental health for everyone of all ages is something I’m really passionate about. I think that can make all the difference to your volunteering experience and must have shown when I later applied for the coordinator role at Communicare.”
The role of a coordinator involves matching befrienders and service users.
“During lockdown, it was more important than ever to continue supporting these organisations and I was fortunate to be able to fully join Communicare as a coordinator, as well as continuing to volunteer.
“It’s crucial work to be able to pair those with similar interests together to build valuable and long-lasting friendships for both parties. It’s wonderful when you see two people really getting on and enjoying each other’s company, and you know you helped get them together.”
In 2019/20 a survey published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) found wanting to ‘improve things and help people’ remains the most important reason to volunteer.
Evidence supported by the Mental Health Foundation shows that volunteering benefits people of all ages through increasing feelings of self-esteem, social connection and wellbeing by giving back kindness*.
Annie Clewlow, Communicare Manager explained: “There are always ways to make a positive difference to someone in need whether it’s just to spare a few minutes or on a regular basis – every contribution helps. While with us, Chloe has been a highly valued member of the team and we’re going to miss her skills and friendly face.
“Volunteering in any organisation, can be very rewarding and beneficial for both parties. In this case, volunteering enables you to learn new skills or put into practice your existing ones. You can explore a potential new career avenue and gain transferrable skills.
“But people are also realising the health benefits of giving back. By becoming a Commmuniteer for as little as an hour a week you’ll feel happier, healthier and will be part of a valuable community.
“Volunteers get involved in different ways to reflect their lifestyles, values and priorities. Our Communiteers have a diverse background and age-range. And if you’re new to a city, volunteering is a great way to build friendships.”
The Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) showed (74%) of students gained a broader network of friends through volunteering in the community. The research also showed that developing skills (88%) and gaining work experience (83%) are important motivating factors for students engaging in volunteering**.
The charity’s Good Neighbours’ Network is currently supporting around 600 individuals/families through tasks including one-to-one telephone befriending and transport for essential appointments and assistance with shopping.
Chloe adds “I’ve been very lucky it’s provided opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had during a global pandemic. Even starting off small at the Lunch Club meant I interacted with people I wouldn’t have necessarily met if I’d stayed within my university cohort.
“With the academic year almost over, I’ll be resuming my study abroad this summer and Communicare is now looking for someone to take on my role with Southampton Mental Health Network as an administrator. I’ll definitely miss the connections I have built through volunteering in Southampton and I’ve loved my involvement with Communicare.”
If you feel that you can make a difference like Chloe, please apply for the Southampton Mental Health Network Administrator position here: https://communicareinsouthampton.org.uk/were-hiring-a-mental-health-network-administrator/.
Communicare is a friendly, neighbourhood charity. Its services are staffed by its committed, kind-hearted Communiteers, who volunteer and give their time freely.
Normally Communicare’s services are linked to hosting face-to-face social events, such as regular lunches and tea parties for service users, but the charity, understandably, is unable to organise these currently due to ongoing Government restrictions on gatherings.
Currently more of Communicare’s work is done via the telephone, post and online.
The services Communicare provides are free to users, although beneficiaries are invited to make a donation if they are able to, and Communiteers are offered expenses.
Photograph caption: Chloe Naegeli, Communiteer and Coordinator at Communicare