What is volunteering?

Volunteering is when you give your time to help an organisation, or an individual to whom you are not related. For example, if you have ever helped out at a cultural event, or a helped someone  to go to the hospital , or taken part in a walk, you’ve been a volunteer.

Volunteering should never be something you are made to do, and is not done for financial gain.  The rewards are about the satisfaction of putting something back into society, about gaining useful experience and skills, meeting new people, and hopefully having fun!

What should I expect as a volunteer?

  • Your travel expenses to be paid.  
  • A clear outline of what is expected of you.  This is usually in the form of a written ‘task profile’.
  • Training and guidance on your role.
  • Support or supervision from a paid member of staff, or in smaller organisations and groups from an experienced volunteer. 
  • To be safe and covered by insurance to carry out the tasks you’ve been given. 
  • To be made aware of the organisation’s policies and procedures, including who you should talk to if you are unhappy.
  • To feel valued by the organisation and able to contribute to its development.

You have to experience being a volunteer!  It is very important to share your lived experience, the knowledge and experiences you have gained, with others.  It is like an investment in your life, it is a good deed.’

Why volunteer?

There are so many reasons to volunteer!  You can:

  • make a real difference to people’s lives
  • learn new skills that could lead to a new job
  • transform your CV 
  • work for a cause you care about
  • meet new people, expand your network
  • gain confidence 
  • improve your health  including mental health
  • have fun!

Volunteering has benefits for everyone:

It benefits local community and it also benefits you as the volunteer.  You’ll have the satisfaction of making a difference to people’s lives while developing new skills . And, we also know that volunteering can help you to gain:

  • a greater sense of well-being
  • new experiences and skills
  • more confidence
  • opportunity to have a wider circle of friends

Refugees and asylum seekers or victims of trafficking  can gain particular benefits from volunteering.

Can volunteering help me get a job?

Volunteering does not guarantee you a job, but it can greatly improve your chances.

Through volunteering you can try out different kinds of work.  If you are already working, volunteering can help you change direction.

What can I do?

There really is something for everyone!

There are lots of volunteering opportunities at Shpresa Programme as well as we help you to volunteer with other institution.  Whatever is your interests or background we can help you find something to suit you.  For example, you could:

  • take food and clothes to someone in need 
  • Help out in an office doing admin
  • Coach children to learn sports or tell stories 
  • Phone an older person who is lonely 
  • Do practical conversation while your walk or work outdoors
  • Become a trustee and help run the charity 
  • Raise funds for a good cause
  • Become a champions (Parent, Mental health, Immigration, Sport, Heritage, Volunteer   

 Once you’re ready, click on Start volunteering  


Our volunteers are amazing and very inspiring and in response of requests from organisations, to attend events and give talks or chat to clients about the benefits of volunteering we created the volunteering champions roles 

Our Volunteer Champions are people of all ages, from a wide range of backgrounds, who are passionate about volunteering, have voluntary experience in different settings, and can talk to a wide range of people about how they could get involved. 

They have visited networking events, college classes, , and university career fairs, refugee organisation and produced video  and spoken to hundreds of people about how volunteering can help everyone.

Talks cover topics such as:

  • the basic of what volunteering is, and what to expect
  • practical matters such as reclaiming travel expenses
  • how volunteering can benefit people socially, mentally and physically
  • how volunteering can increase employability 
  • details of how to register with us to search for voluntary opportunities
  • volunteering opportunities  and training with Shpresa  programme

 If your venue or organisation would like to request a Volunteer champion to talk, or you have an event coming up which could feature a stall with information about the Shpresa programme , let us know 

If you love volunteering and would like to encourage other people to volunteer too then you could be a Volunteer Champion.

 You can text on 07552729223 or email bethechange@shpresaprogramme.onmicrosoft.com.


Start volunteering

Volunteering can be great fun and you can make a real difference not only to others, but also to yourself.  

There are so many  of different things to do  at Shpresa  programme and the team is here to help.

Who can volunteer? 

Everyone who is resident or have Leave to Enter in UK can volunteer. 

Undocumented people can’t volunteer.

Refugees & asylum seekers

Asylum seekers and refugees can volunteer but are often told that they can’t!

Shpresa Programme project was established in 2002 and has helped hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers to volunteer cross London and during covid 19 cross UK.

We support refugees and asylum seekers to access education, volunteering and employment opportunities cross UK. 

We have appointments throughout the week and to make an appointment  please  email bethechange@shpresaprogramme.onmicrosoft.com

Asylum seekers can volunteer at any stage of the process but for more information please see our asylum seeker volunteering legislation page or our Volunteering on benefits page for refugees (or anyone) on benefits. 

Volunteering is a great way to:

  • meet new people,
  • develop skills to help you get a job,
  • increase your confidence and
  • improve your English. 
  • Translated information for refugees and asylum seekers
  • Improve your health 
  • Improve your network 

Most of our team  have lived experience  and are refugees  or migrant themselves, who can:

  • help you find a good place to volunteer 
  • call organisations for you and make appointments
  • help you fill in application forms
  • Support you if you have any questions or issues later on.

Ask our staff  what they think of volunteering or click on Stories at the  Our blog  to see what other refugees  and migrant have to say.  You’ll see there are lots of good reasons to volunteer and that volunteering includes many different activities.

If you want support please:

Text us on 07552729223 with your name and we will reply and arrange a time for you to come in and find out more about volunteering

Or email us at bethechange@shpresaprogramme.onmicrosoft.com

Or call us on 02075111586

Asylum seeker volunteering legislation

Asylum seekers and volunteering

Since 2000 it has been Home Office policy that asylum seekers are allowed to volunteer and the April 2014 guidance attempts to further reinforce this positioin and states (p7):

“It is Home Office policy to support asylum seekers volunteering” – April 2014 Policy

There are no restrictions on asylum seekers Volunteering and all opportunities registered with the Shpresa Programme are legally classed as Volunteering. The Home Office defines Volunteering as follows:

Volunteering must not amount to unpaid work, or job substitution. In particular:

  • there should be no payment, other than reasonable travel and meals expenditure
  • actually incurred (not an allowance for the same);
  • there should be no contractual obligations on the volunteer;
  • the volunteer is helping a registered voluntary or charitable organisation (or organisation
  • that raises funds for either);
  • the volunteering is for a public sector organisation; and
  • the volunteering is not a substitute for employment (i.e. fulfilling a role that a salaried worker would normally fulfil).


Volunteering and Voluntary Work are legally very different!

Asylum seekers are not allowed to do Voluntary Work. Most people are unaware Volunteering and Voluntary Work are different. Many asylum seekers will say for example ‘I’m doing voluntary work for a charity shop’. In the eye of the law they are volunteering, not doing voluntary work because the are freely choosing, without obligation or payment (except expenses) to help a charity.

The Home Office guidance explains:

“With Voluntary Work there is an obligation on the individual to perform the work, and in return an obligation on the organisation to provide it; and … the individual is rewarded for that work, through money or benefits in kind.”

This would be the case for a 12 month unpaid internship as there is an obligation to complete the full internship so an asylum seeker would not be able to do that, but can volunteer in any role advertised by shpresa Programme or any other charity  or centre.

Template Letter for asylum seeker volunteers and guide

If you are told you can’t volunteer these  documents  please contact Shpresa’s team  to  write a support letter for  you  or give you a template letter 

JSA & benefits rules

Volunteering whilst claiming benefits

You can volunteer whilst on benefits and there is no set limit to the number of hours you can do. You must be able to demonstrate you can meet the conditions for receiving your benefits.  On Job Seeker’s Allowance this means you are:

  • actively looking for work
  • willing to stop volunteering if you get a job (you must be able to start a job within a week of being offered one)

It is always a good idea to discuss your volunteering with your benefits agency, so they are in the picture. Many advisors are supportive and encourage volunteering but if your adviser is unsure, show them or refer them to:

  1. Direct.gov page on volunteering
    2. The DWP brochure  Volunteering benefit brochure 

You can also contact us at shpresa programme on 02075111586

Shpresa Volunteering project : Helping refugees and asylum seekers volunteer since 2002. See pictures from last our celebration event ( amina to link it to the blog about volunteering week 2021

Young person volunteering

Under 18?

We aim to encourage and help anyone to volunteer 

The roles that we have  for the young people are age 16+   

  • Healthy relationships champions
  • Immigration champions
  • Heritage champions 
  • Mental health champions  
  • The roles  that we have for the young people are age 11-16s     
  • Sport ambassadors 
  • Heritage ambassadors 
  • Guardian of the environment 
  • Health ambassador

Other options:

  • Talk to your school about helping you get into volunteering – there may be opportunities you don’t know about, or the school might be able to develop opportunities
  • With the help of a parent or guardian, contact local community centres, youth groups or churches to see if they run activities that you could get involved with

If Under 13?

You could still volunteer with support from your parent a parent’s or guardian’s support & consent) but we are not aware of any formal volunteering for under13s outside Shpresa . You could explore possibilities in your local area with the support of your parents or carers or talk to your youth leader  in your session .

Be a Trustee

You Could Be A Trustee.

Most people have skills, knowledge or experience which they can bring to a charity and estimates suggest that almost half of all charities have at least one vacancy on their board.  

Charities are often keen to get new Trustees so even if you are not sure if it is for you, get in touch and you can usually have an informal conversation before committing to the role.

Trustees have overall control of a charity and are responsible for making sure it’s doing what it was set up to do. They may be known by other titles, such as:

  • directors
  • board members
  • governors
  • committee members

Whatever they are called, trustees are the people who lead the charity and decide how it is run. Being a trustee means making decisions that will impact on people’s lives. Depending on what the charity does, you will be making a difference to your local community or to society as a whole.

Trustees use their skills and experience to support their charities, helping them achieve their aims. Trustees also often learn new skills during their time on the board.


Shpresa Programme hosts networking session quarterly, good practice sharing and networking meeting. It is held via zoom and there is a strong emphasis on peer support and learning from the collective expertise in the e-room so please come willing to share as well as learn.

It’s a great place to e-meet other volunteer co-ordinators from all the project, share ideas and get support on issues that you are facing.

Register to attend:



Anyone can volunteer. People already in employment, full-time or part-time, refugees, retired people, students, unemployed people and anyone else not mentioned here. Volunteering is for everyone.

Young people can volunteer in some organisations, although 16-17 year olds have more roles open to their age group. 
You are also welcome to come into our Centre  for advice on what roles are available

You can still volunteer with a parent’s or guardian’s consent, but difficulties with insurance means that only a very few organisations take on volunteers who are under 16.  Your options?

  • Some volunteer roles are open to 13 - 15 year olds. 
  • Talk to your school about helping you get into volunteering – there may be roles you don’t know about, or the school might be able to develop a role for you
  • With the help of a parent or guardian, contact local community centres, youth groups or churches to see if they run activities that you could get involved with.

Yes, there are roles that run evenings & weekends. For example: campaigning, fundraising, staffing helplines, trusteeships, befriending, working on environmental projects or sports activities.

Yes - you can volunteer as many hours as you want. There are no restrictions on asylum seekers volunteering. You are not allowed to do ‘unpaid work’ but volunteering is different. You are allowed to volunteer in a charity.

You can, and many people with criminal convictions do. It all depends on the nature of your conviction, how recent it was, the kind of voluntary role you are interested in and the organisation where you wish to volunteer. Contact us  for more information and advice.

Yes you can.  Volunteering is recognised as giving you a better chance of finding paid work. You can volunteer as many hours as you like while you are on benefits, as long as you still meet the terms for getting them. If you are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance you need to be:

  • actively looking for work
  • willing to stop volunteering if you get a job (you must be free to start a job with one weeks notice)

It is always a good idea to discuss your volunteering with your benefit agency so they are in the picture. Ask your adviser for the ‘Vol work 1’ form, which it is a good idea to complete.
For the latest guidance see our  Volunteering on benefit

Volunteering can really help you get a job - but not always as quickly as you’d like. To get the most out of volunteering it helps to have realistic expectations.
If you take on a volunteer role, and are committed, you will get huge benefits. For example you can:

  • Keep your skills fresh
  • Get new skills and experience
  • Transform your cv 
  • Increase your confidence levels
  • Get references
  • Socialise

The experiences you gain through volunteering will really help when you come to complete job applications and do interviews. But of course you will still have to apply and compete for any job. You may or may not get the first job you apply for, but you will be on the road to getting paid work.

To get the most out of your volunteering, it helps to think beforehand about what you would like to gain, such as particular skills or experience.

And, volunteering should be something you actively want to do. To put it another way, you shouldn’t be volunteered – but you might want to volunteer!

Yes you can, but the choice of roles will not be as varied, because often organisations are looking to fill one volunteer vacancy.  However, some volunteering is done in groups and two or more people can easily join together.  Examples are practical conservation and fund raising and one-off events. 
If you’d like to volunteer with your work mates  contact us

We don’t ask don't ask you to a formal interview( most of the organisation don’t ask ) before they take you on as a volunteer, but they will probably invite you in for an informal chat in a same way we do . If the role involves some responsibility (for instance handling money) or if you will be working with people, or with specialist equipment, the interview may be more formal. In either case this initial meeting gives you, and the organisation, a chance to get to know one another.

The sort of questions the organisation will probably want to ask you will vary from one organisation to another and will depend on the type of voluntary work you are interested in. However, a typical interviewer (formal or informal) may ask any of the following:

  • why you are interested in volunteering
  • what sort of voluntary work are you interested in
  • how much time can you offer
  • what experience you have
  • what new skills you would like to learn through your volunteer work.

You can ask them anything that you feel unsure about. You may want to check some or all of the following:

  • how and when will my expenses be reimbursed
  • what variety there will be in the voluntary work I do
  • what type of training will I have to do the role
  • what support or supervision will I get - will there be someone to talk to regularly about how I’m getting on

An informal chat or interview can also give you an opportunity to look at where you will be volunteering and meet some of the other staff and volunteers.  You may also be required to complete an application or registration form and in some cases provide references.

It can take a little while for an organisation to get back to you after an initial enquiry.  Don’t lose heart!  It is probably because they are overstretched and understaffed.  Contact them again, if you hear nothing after two weeks.  Then the application and recruitment process may take a few weeks.  One thing that often takes the most time is the police check (DBS Check), though not all voluntary roles require one.  Ask if there are any tasks that you can do whilst you are waiting for the CRB check to come through.

Yes, they should be. It’s good practice for organisations to cover any expenses that you incur as a result of volunteering. They should cover the cost of travelling to and from the volunteering.  Ideally, lunch expenses should also be covered, if you volunteer for more than 4 hours.

We ask all organisations advertising with us to pay expenses. If they have paid staff we won't advertise a role if they don't pay volunteer expenses. We do make exceptions for small volunteer led groups without paid staff. Before you start volunteering, ask if your expenses will be paid.  Very few charities have the funds to pay childcare expenses, but you can ask about these too.

If you have difficulties getting your travel expenses paid, contact us for advice.

This depends on you and the nature of the role you're interested in. You can find volunteering that takes only an hour a month. However, the less time you have the harder it can be to find something that’s right for you, or something that you can get your teeth into!

You can volunteer at any time of the week. While a lot of volunteering takes place during office hours, you can volunteer at evenings and weekends too, again depending on what you want to do. Typical volunteering out of office hours includes befriending, campaigning, helplines, environmental projects, sports and being a member of an organisation’s management committee or Trustee Board.

If you come and see a Volunteer Centre adviser at our drop-in; they will search our database for roles that match the time you have and will help you decide which might suit you best.

Search online through our database of voluntary roles - where you can select exactly what times you will be available.

Yes, of course. You are under no obligation to keep volunteering for an organisation if for any reason you don’t like the volunteering you are doing.

However, it is always worth talking to somebody before leaving as it might be possible to address and solve whatever is making you unhappy and this might mean you no longer feel you want to leave.  Also, if you’re experiencing a problem others might too.  By raising a problem you might improve the situation for everyone.

The person to talk to is your volunteer co-ordinator (if there is one), your supervisor or the person in the organisation responsible for you, or someone you have got on well with. You can then discuss the reasons why you feel unhappy and what you feel would improve things for you as a volunteer in the organisation.

It is also something you may want to talk about with other volunteers in the organisation. You could either do this informally, or if your organisation has a Volunteers Council or a regular meeting that all volunteers attend, you could bring up your problem there.

If you feel that something is seriously wrong or someone is treating you badly it is also worth checking whether your organisation has a complaints procedure.

If you would like advice or support with raising issues that concern you as a volunteer, please contact us

Almost anything you want to do or can think of! You can volunteer to rescue people from mountains, to farm organically,  write a magazine, serve as a magistrate, coach a youth football team, walk an older person’s dog, support troubled young people, drive a mini bus – there are organisations that cater for almost every interest.

It depends on the voluntary role.  Often no particular skill is required. If a skill is needed this should be made clear in the task profile when you contact the organisation.

Usually you don’t. Some very skilled work may require qualifications, but usually organisations offer training to enable you to do the voluntary work they require.

Yes, you will be trained.  The amount of training offered depends on the type of work you will be doing. If you’re spending one day clearing overgrown paths, expect about 15 minutes at the start being told what to do, how to use the tools and what health and safety precautions to take. But if you volunteer to give welfare benefits advice you might get 10 two-hour training sessions spread over several weeks before you see a client, plus ongoing training to keep you up-to-date.

You can ask about training when you get in touch with an organisation about volunteering.  It varies a lot.  Some organisations offer substantial training and support, others don’t and expect you to learn as you go along or to use existing skills.

It’s becoming more common for organisations to offer volunteers qualifications such as an NVQ, but it is still unusual.   This does not mean you will not learn a lot and gain valuable experience and skills, which you can include on your CV.  Volunteering can also provide you with a reference if you are applying for jobs.  If you do need a formal qualification, ask at interview.

Some Social Services departments take on volunteers, but you’ll have to contact them directly.

There are many organisations working in the health and social care field that involve volunteers in frontline care roles, for example hospitals, hospices, and organisations of and for disabled people. 

You can, but only under certain circumstances. Most residential voluntary work offers board, lodging and some form of pocket money. This work can be for a week or two or a whole year.

Volunteering England has an information sheet on residential voluntary work. 

There are two types of overseas volunteering:

  1. For at least a year
    Aimed at people with professional skills in demand for overseas development, for example medicine or construction. Such volunteers typically receive flights, accommodation and a local wage. The aim is usually to pass on skills so local people are more self-sufficient when the placement ends.
  2. For up to a year
    Volunteering for anything from a few weeks to a year by people without relevant professional skills. For this type of volunteering you will usually have to fundraise a substantial amount, perhaps as much as £2,000, 
  3. though some projects are cheaper. In return you take part in what many see as an exciting chance to experience something completely different and gain an understanding of another culture.

For both types of volunteering it is best to apply well in advance. There are well over 100 British organisations specialising in arranging overseas volunteering offering a choice of either a particular country or type of work. Volunteering England has an information sheet on overseas volunteering

General volunteering advice: contact Shpresa Programme

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