What volunteering a couple of hours a week can achieve

This week is Volunteers’ Week, an annual campaign that celebrates the incredible impact of millions of volunteers across the UK. As a third sector person I’ve been well aware of the importance of volunteering for a long time, having read endless press releases and infographics about just how much volunteers add to the economy and local communities. However, until recently I never practised what I preached. I’m a recent volunteer convert.

I’ve only been offering my time in the last year or so, but I’ve come to realise just how satisfying a volunteering role is. For readers unfamiliar, I am a cycle ride leader for Belles on Bikes Edinburgh.

Along with a handful of amazing Edinburgh ladies, we have built a busy, friendly women’s cycling group from scratch over the past year or so. We launched the group officially at the end of June 2014 with small grants funding support from CTC and Cycling Scotland, and have accumulated around 280 members, led around 40 rides across Edinburgh and the Lothians and encouraged approximately 460 participants to explore and discover new parts of the city and its surrounds.

This has been achieved in our own time and it’s great fun. Some of the Belles think that the ride leaders get paid for the work we do leading rides. But of course, we don’t. We plan, recce and risk assess each route, ensure that the women on the ride are in a safe environment and, maybe most importantly of all, plot in an acceptable cake stop on route 😉

Goodbye cake. You snooze you lose

By the time I remember to take a photo of cake, it’s usually a scene like this…

Some people ask me why I would spend my spare time planning and running rides for strangers. Which is a good question, I suppose. But the answer is pretty straightforward. I love cycling and think more women should do it. My bike has opened up freedom, fitness and huge opportunities for me, so I think it’s only fair to share the happiness.  Within Belles, women gain confidence, learn new low-traffic routes, meet new friends and improve their health. What is not to love about that? Of course, I get the added warm, fuzzy feeling from hearing positive stories and feedback. It’s a win-win situation.

Belle looks across the Forth

One of the Edinburgh Belles snaps a photo across the Forth

We have recently been successful in gaining some funding from City of Edinburgh Council and plan to extend our offering, with some basic bike mechanics classes, events at Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, training opportunities and more for the Belles members. So there’s plenty to be getting on with!

The Edinburgh Belles is a perfect example of how a local, grassroots approach can pay big dividends. On average, I spend maybe a couple of hours a week with Belles and the results are pretty wonderful:

belles residential

The Belles leaders’ residential in Stirling – volunteers from across Scotland, all encouraging more women to cycle!

 “Very much appreciate what all you leaders do and I just turn up and tag along, sometimes even when I don’t have my name down but adamant that I do. Lol. I enjoy it so much I’ve bought another bike!!!!!! Many thanks” – Belles member

If you don’t already volunteer, imagine what you could do with your time if you offered your enthusiasm and expertise to a cause you cared about 🙂 Doesn’t need to be cycling – could be anything! I highly recommend giving it a go…

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