Volunteering can make a difference to people's lives

In this Volunteers' Week Jenny Lee finds out about the benefits of volunteering and hears from one Crumlin man whose personal experience of the death of family friend led him to give up one night every weekend to work with the Community Rescue Service

Crumlin man Paul Stitt, who volunteers with the Community Rescue Service, which provides services from first aid to crisis intervention

FROM lowering stress to boosting self-confidence, volunteering benefits those who undertake it as well as those at the receiving end of their efforts, something that's being celebrated this Volunteers’ Week, which begins tomorrow.

The message from Volunteer Now, which works to promote and support volunteering in Northern Ireland, is that giving some of your free time with and for others is good for mind and body. Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common commitment and interests – which boosts mental health – and can also provide valuable experience for people looking to obtain skills or experience for future career opportunities.

Around 282,000 formal volunteers in Northern Ireland undertake unpaid voluntary work, each giving an average 13.4 hours per month. The annual Volunteers’ Week gives the wider public the opportunity "to give them the recognition and thanks they deserve," says Wendy Osborne, chief executive of Volunteer Now.

Volunteers all play a vital role, "from volunteer drivers to sports coaches, from hospital volunteers to those working in charity shops" Wendy adds.

One, Crumlin man Paul Stitt, volunteers with the Community Rescue Service (CRS), which provides a search and rescue response for missing persons across the north. Its remit includes providing crisis intervention, suicide intervention, searches, water rescue, community support and education.

Father-of-three Paul (51) was inspired to volunteer for the organisation five years ago following the loss of his friend's son, Joby Murphy, who died after falling into the River Lagan in central Belfast while on his way home from a concert.

"It took 31 days to find him and in that time CRS was there searching and giving tremendous support to his family and friends. Shortly after this I joined them and from the first night’s training, I knew I had made the right decision," Crumlin resident Paul says.

CRS training involves learning skills including first aid, search techniques, radio communication, navigation and water safety. Paul, a joiner by profession, has gone on to gain qualifications to build on his experience, enabling me him be a boat crew member and coxswain and part of the water/flood response team.

The charity's main role is search and rescue and they are on call 24/7, which can involve volunteering in unsociable hours.

Father-of-three Paul Stitt, a Community Rescue Service Volunteer, would encourage others to consider volunteering

"The hours a volunteer does could be colossal, sometimes out all night and then into work the next day. This can go on for several days, depending on the search," Paul says.

However, the nature of the organisation means that there are down times, and Paul speaks highly of the rewards of volunteering.

"The highs for me would be walking someone to safety knowing they’ve been stopped from making a life-changing decision for themselves and their family," he says.

"I joined to try and save one life; that became two, and to date as a team I’ve lost count of the people saved by the organisation."

Paul is also involved in Lagan boat preventive patrols, which are in the river from the SSE Arena to Albert Bridge in central Belfast on Friday and Saturday nights from 11pm to 4am.

His advice to someone thinking of volunteering with CRS?

"One person can make a difference and you can be the difference to that one person."

:: For more information see

Wendy Osborne, chief executive of Volunteer Now, and volunteers take part in a celebration event to mark Volunteers' Week

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