Do good, feel good: The mood-boosting benefits of volunteering

— by Adrienne Wyper

Volunteer at Mary’s Living & Giving/ Save the Children.


Volunteers’ Week, 1-7 June, is an annual UK celebration to recognise the contribution volunteers make. The benefits of volunteering and helping others are easy to see, but the effort isn’t entirely altruistic. There’s lots in it for you too. Voluntary work provides you with: satisfaction, purpose and structure, social interaction, improved self-esteem, new, and transferable, skills and potentially job prospects.

Numerous studies have shown how beneficial volunteering in later life is, with associations ranging from lower mortality risk, reduced risk of dementia, better blood pressure and greater physical strength to improved wellbeing, quality of life and self-esteem, and fewer depressive symptoms.


Volunteer at the Million Mile Beach Clean. Photo: Surfers Against Sewage


Jane Murphy, who volunteers at St Christopher’s Hospice, says: ‘Volunteering at my local hospice, supporting carers through coaching and weekly phone calls, enables me to put my own past experiences as a carer to good use to help others. It’s helped me to salvage something positive from some very sad and miserable experiences – and enables me to “give something back” to the organisation that supported me.’ Jane also produces fundraising zines in aid of the hospice, with her husband: see Colossive Press.

And don’t worry that you’re too busy, or can’t commit to a regular stint. Volunteering needn’t be limited to large, regular chunks of time; it can be short, one-off periods, as little as a couple of hours a week, an hour a month, or a more fluid, ongoing arrangement.



Teacher at a Prendergast Vale school who runs a gardening club for parent volunteers. Just Giving page HERE.


My own volunteering history includes shaking charity tins in the street, pulling pints at Glastonbury Festival, knitting mice for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, recording birds for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, and butterflies for Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. Currently I litter-pick with a local group, manage my choir’s Twitter account, and foster for Cats Protection, looking after cats who need a permanent home (we have a current resident). It’s sad to say goodbye to a cat when they leave with their new ‘forever family’, but there’s a warm, fuzzy feeling from that new relationship between feline and human.

Sadly, the numbers of people doing voluntary work has fallen post-pandemic. According to the Government’s Community Life Survey, in 2021/2022 27% of 50-to 64-year-olds had formally volunteered at least once in the previous year. However, the total number of voluntary work participants – seven million – is now the lowest since the survey began.


Volunteer at the National Trust.


Volunteers at Wrap Up London


How to find the right role

Decided to give something back? The National Council for Voluntary organisations, the membership community for charities, voluntary organisations and community groups in England has links to volunteer centres, and advice on finding the right volunteering role.

Think about what interests or excites you. This could be something you enjoyed doing before, or something completely new. Think about what time or skills you can give. With so many opportunities to choose from, it’s a great idea to narrow down the choices by deciding what you’re willing to give.

Keep an eye out around you, checking out local press, and noticeboards in shops, cafés, church halls and parks. And search online for ‘volunteering near me’.

Search CharityJob, the UK’s busiest site for charity jobs and volunteering opportunities. is a database of UK volunteering opportunities. Search more than a million volunteering opportunities by interest, activity or location then apply online.

Get Volunteering has thousands of opportunities in 18 categories.

The Gov.UK website has advice on your rights as a volunteer, and on pay and expenses.


Of course, it’s not all kittens and rainbows: unpaid work can bring the challenges of any form of employment: unpleasant customers or colleagues, frustrating systems and just ‘bad days’. But giving freely of your time and skills can change lives – and one of them could be yours.


Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor. 

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