Is ‘micro-volunteering’ the next Gen Z trend in Bristol?

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A Bristol charity shop has seen a rise in younger volunteers, particularly when it comes to ‘micro-volunteering’.

Micro-volunteering involves volunteers dropping in for an hour or two without committing to anything regular or long-term.

A survey of 3,068 British Heart Foundation (BHF) retail volunteers found that 73 per cent of 16 to 18 year-olds volunteer for up to five hours per week. Volunteers across all age groups are opting for ad hoc shifts rather than traditional regular volunteering patterns.

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The demographic of volunteers is also shifting, with the average age of a BHF volunteer now being 30 years old compared to 50 years old before the pandemic. Over half (53 per cent) of volunteer recruits last year were also between the ages of 16 and 24.

BHF volunteer, Dan Wilkinson.BHF volunteer, Dan Wilkinson.
BHF volunteer, Dan Wilkinson.

This comes as the charity is encouraging people to try volunteering taster sessions in their shops. Dan Wilkinson, a 24-year-old BHF volunteer in the BHF shop on Park Street in Bristol, needs volunteering to be flexible around his other commitments.

He said: “I’m a musician and hope to write my own music one day, but I also volunteer as a scout leader and at a youth club. The flexibility at the BHF lets me spend time on other things I enjoy.

“My mum has had dementia since I was 11, so I know how devastating it can be to have family members affected by health conditions. I’ve enjoyed giving back to research by volunteering, and the shop team are just amazing. I’ve been volunteering for three months now, and I want to continue after I’ve finished studying, whether that’s just on the weekends or for a couple of hours here and there.”

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Nearly half (46 per cent) of volunteers aged 16-24-year-old say that volunteering has improved their mental health. Dan has struggled with his mental health in the past, which led to him taking a few years out of studying.

BHF volunteer, Joe Leatherbarrow.BHF volunteer, Joe Leatherbarrow.
BHF volunteer, Joe Leatherbarrow.

“Whenever I have a free morning, I simply message our shop group chat and let them know I’d like to come in. It’s such a great way to start the day and gives me some structure, which helps my mental health.”

Similarly, Joe Leatherbarrow, 19, drops in to volunteer flexibly while he studies for his maths degree at the University of Bristol.

He said: “I’ve always been a fan of charity shopping. In Dorset, where I’m from, I usually look around the charity shops once or twice a week. I started volunteering because I think it’s a really nice way to engage with the local area.”

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Seven in 10 BHF volunteers say meeting people is the most important thing they get out of volunteering. This is something Joe enjoys about volunteering at the BHF: “I like to speak to older people in different walks of life and get out of the student bubble. I usually show up and see what tasks need doing and then get stuck in, whether it’s till operating, scanning items, tagging or arranging displays. I don’t work in the back, as I prefer being front of house and chatting to the team and customers.”

BHF volunteer, Ameena Shaffi.BHF volunteer, Ameena Shaffi.
BHF volunteer, Ameena Shaffi.

“I have a very busy timetable, but I squeeze in volunteering hours where I can between lectures,” Joe says. “If I need to change this, I can just speak to the shop manager, whether that’s because of uni stress, visiting family, or just needing a lie in!”

The survey also revealed that 94 per cent of volunteers say volunteering with the BHF fits around their life and is flexible. Ameena Shaffi, 28, an international student from India, is studying marketing at the University of Bristol.

Ameena said: “I can get quite anxious during exam periods, and it helps to get out and go somewhere friendly for a couple of hours. I like to be busy and sorting stock in the back room can be very mindful. If I need a break from studying, I post in the group chat and drop in for an hour or two.

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“Volunteering with the BHF is my way of giving back. I’m also hoping to go into the retail sector after I finish my masters, so it helps to get more experience.”

BHF volunteer, Anastacia Oliveira.BHF volunteer, Anastacia Oliveira.
BHF volunteer, Anastacia Oliveira.

Anastacia Oliveira, 17, is a college student and volunteers in her local Hemel Hempstead shop whenever she wants to get involved with something creative. Anastacia says: “I love art and fashion and over the summer, I’ve been decorating sunglasses with alphabetical beads and made a few types of jewellery to sell in the shop. I’ve also painted a dollhouse to put up on display.

“My favourite task is decorating the chalk boards outside. I try and keep to the topic and style of season or occasion. I even decorated some Halloween cauldrons and filled them with sweets for the children.”

This summer is a great time to try out micro-volunteering. The British Heart Foundation offer drop-in ‘taster’ volunteer sessions, allowing the public to volunteer for an hour or two with no ongoing commitment, either from their own home or their local BHF charity shop.

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Sarah Boardman, BHF Retail Volunteering Operations Manager, said: “We are seeing increasing numbers of volunteers seek flexibility and opt for ‘micro-volunteering’, where they pop in for an hour or two, instead of traditional regular shifts. We appreciate all our volunteers, every hour makes a difference, and no matter how much time you spend with us, you will be helping to fund lifesaving research.

“Our volunteer survey shows 96 per cent of our volunteers would recommend volunteering at the BHF. Whether you’re obsessed with all things preloved, want to try out something creative, or just hoping to meet some new people, we will welcome anyone who wants to book in one of our taster sessions and try out volunteering.”

The Bristol vintage charity shop at 87 Park Street is open 7 days a week.

Try out a taster volunteer session with the British Heart Foundation. Drop in store or visit bhf.org.uk/volunteer

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