Wessex Community Action is the council for voluntary services in Wiltshire and provides practical support for community organisations on funding, governance, planning, policy development, recruiting and leadership. This monthly volunteering column looks at all aspects of volunteering and how people can give up their time for the benefit of their communities.

Have you thought about giving up your time to work in a virtual shop for Dorothy House Hospice? How about visiting a blind veteran? Or being a volunteer gardener at the REME Museum at Lyneham?

These are just a handful of the volunteering opportunities available on Wessex Community Action’s Wiltshire Together, a free community platform that connects charities across the county.

But what does volunteering really mean and why do so many people do it? Volunteering happens when someone spends unpaid time doing something to benefit others.

Volunteers don’t have to be retired, they can be of any age and any background. While many choose to volunteer to bring purpose, friendship and fun to their retired years, many in work do it to develop skills or support a cause they believe in.

It’s vital to recognise the difference between paid staff and volunteers. It should always be clear that volunteers give up their time by choice, their roles are not the same as employees’ and they are not a replacement for paid staff.

Martin Gainey, manager of Ruksak, a charity that provides donated school uniforms, bedding, clothes, toiletries, footwear, books, school stationery, sleeping bags and other items to individuals and families in crisis all over Wiltshire, recently hired a volunteer social media manager through Wiltshire Together.

He said making the role flexible to consider the volunteer’s home and work commitments was key to filling it. “She is a full-time worker so she has to fit it in with her job,” he said. “But we’re very happy with her and she has already established us on LinkedIn, which we're delighted with.”

He said the group’s volunteers play a key role in sorting donations and packing parcels for recipients, who come to the group’s base in Trowbridge to collect them. “We're very reliant, because if we don’t have them, we can't really open,” he said. “But we understand we all have our lives to lead so we have to be flexible.

“Another side to the coin, of course, is that very often when you engage volunteers, you're helping them too. Many tell us coming in to volunteer gives them a reason to get up in the morning.”

Anyone interested in learning more about volunteering can do so with the support of Wessex Community Action. The charity can support help identify what volunteering opportunities are best suited to you and help match you to those opportunities.

Contact our Volunteer and  Community Development Worker Sarah Pickering at  volunteerdev@wessexcommunityaction.org.uk or there is information on Wiltshire Together’s Volunteering in Wiltshire page.

Wiltshire Together allows users to browse and pledge interest for the opportunities listed. They can also set up a member profile to log their volunteer hours, which can help with CVs and employability prospects. The page can be found at wiltshiretogether.org.uk/wiltshire-volunteering.