The power of volunteering to change lives and communities will be celebrated across the country in Volunteers’ Week, June 1-7.

Hundreds of events are happening across the country, saying thank you to volunteers and recognising their diverse and invaluable contribution. In 2015, volunteering added more than £22 billion to the UK economy – about 1.2 per cent of GDP – and in 2016/17, around 37 per cent of the population volunteered formally at least once a year, and about 22 per cent at least once a month. Here in Swindon, thousands of people give their time, energy and expertise for the benefit of others.

Around 50 volunteers help the MS Therapy Centre in Swindon offer vital support, specialist exercise classes and therapy to people with multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s and stroke. Centre manager Louise Walker said their volunteers were vital for the charity to operate.

“There is no way we could run without volunteers – they’re absolutely essential,” she said. “They do a fantastic job, and they are a wide range of people.”

The centre volunteers include employees from local companies, retired people, young people looking for experience and insight, as well as people who themselves have struggled with health conditions. They take on all sorts of roles, ranging from administration and making teas, to running exercise classes, helping in the gym and supervising oxygen therapy. Three volunteers who operate the oxygen chamber, which can help with tissue healing, are Brian Danby, 72, Barbara Smith, 69, and Reg Puffett, 84, who have been volunteering for 15, seven and seven years respectively. For Brian, it was a friend’s diagnosis with MS that prompted him to volunteer. Barbara began following retirement and the death of her husband, and Reg too took up volunteering at the centre when he lost his wife.

“I needed something to get up for,” he said. “And I get so much more out of it than I give.”

Another local charity that relies on volunteers is Dressability, based in Westmead Drive, Swindon. Dressability has been operating for 20 years, and it helps provide stylish, well-fitting and easy to wear clothes for people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties and the over 65s.

Manager Sharon Tombs said their team on nine volunteers was an integral part of the organisation.

“There are lots of projects we could not even consider without them,” she said. “Our volunteers to the community projects – such as a big project to make 50 aprons for the Olive Tree Café, and 80 blankets to be given out to homeless people by Threshold and the Night Shelter and Christmas Care, and capes for people who use wheelchairs, and bibs for children with disabilities.”

She said they were also starting a project in September, to create a box of dressing up clothes for children with disabilities at Brimble Hill School.

“For children with multiple disabilities and for various reasons, they do not get the opportunity to dress up, so we will do specialist work based around their own circumstances, with capes or tabards they can put on easily – something they might not otherwise have access to,” Sharon said.

Volunteers do not necessarily have to have sewing skills – one volunteer helps with IT and maintenance, and others work on charity communications. The volunteers who sew also enjoy skill sharing and the social side of their volunteer work.

“They chat about what they are making, and their projects, and you can see the difference you can make for people,” she said.

Sharon would welcome enquiries by new volunteers, as well offers of donations of fabric and haberdashery.

Insurance company Zurich, which employs around 600 people in Swindon, supports its employees in volunteering for three working days every year. Employees can use their three days to volunteer for one of the charities supported by Zurich Community Trust (ZCT), Zurich’s charitable arm in the UK, or volunteer with an organisation with whom they have a personal relationship – either on one project or on a more regular basis.

One such volunteer is Karli Telling, manager of the service support team, who has worked for Zurich for 15 years. She is part of a team of 12 volunteers who regularly visit Mountford Manor primary school in Walcot to support pupils’ reading.

“I was from Park North and I grew up on a council estate. I was not academic, so I had to work really hard to succeed,” she said. “I wanted to help kids, and I could see the challenges they were facing. I wanted to be able to give back.”

She goes to the school for an hour every other week and has received training from the school on how to encourage reading skills and to develop understanding and language skills.

The team alternate the weeks they volunteer, so the school benefits from at least six Zurich volunteers being in school every week and can plan the reading sessions accordingly.

Chris Cox, Year 5 teacher at Mountford Manor, said that over the last three years the school had given additional training to the volunteers and set up a scheme in which youngsters had regular reading with specific volunteers, to develop decoding, fluency and comprehension skills, as well as providing a reading male role model for boys. He said the impact was impressive, with some improving their reading skills by three academic years.

The volunteers really get to know the children and their interests,” he said.

The insurance company employs 5000 people across the UK, and in Swindon alone employees volunteered over 1000 days working with charities and organisations linked to the ZCT. Over half their Swindon-based employees currently donate to payroll giving, which supports Zurich Cares community grant giving programme and last year Zurich Cares awarded 38 grants totalling £171,070 to projects in Swindon and the surrounding areas.

Steve Collinson, Head of UK HR said the three days’ volunteering brought benefits to the company. “Our people tell us that our commitment to the community is one of the key aspects of working for Zurich that they really value. This increase in volunteering leave reflects that commitment and will help us continue to attract and retain the best people while at the same time giving back to the community and helping improve the lives of others.”

He added: “It’s good for team building, for building morale, often employees will learn something, and people can gain a sense of pride and well being.”

Further information at If you would like to volunteer at the MS Therapy Centre, contact Louise Walker on 01793 481700.

To speak with Sharon of Dressability, call 01793 512878.