James, lead volunteer James, lead volunteer

Volunteering gives me a purpose. It has a really positive effect on me mentally and physically. I have gained so much confidence. I feel useful.” 

Unable to work due to a disability, James started volunteering with the Trust in 2018. The experience has helped him to develop a level of confidence he never thought possible. Now he leads a team of volunteers, something he couldn’t have imagined doing when he first joined us. 

In James's words

When you’re home alone you can feel terrible. If I didn’t have volunteering in my life, especially during the pandemic, I would be very depressed.  

Without volunteering, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get out much. I’d be a lot less active and would weigh more, as I wouldn’t be getting the exercise that I get now. I wouldn’t be as social. I’d know less people and wouldn’t have the courage to speak to the public like I do now. 

I like that I am helping people and the environment. I spend between one and three days a week volunteering, and have been part of the Trust for almost four years.  

James has found purpose through volunteering James, volunteering in Manchester

Growing my skills and confidence

I started off by getting involved in the Parbold Dry Dock restoration. I had such a good experience that I wanted to learn more about the environment, explore new places and meet new people. I then trained as a volunteer lock keeper, a photographer and am now lead volunteer for the Green Recovery Challenge Fund in Manchester.

As lead volunteer, I oversee the team and take part in the work too. Through the GRCF, we do lots of fun activities such as planter, bird box and bug house building, wildflower meadow creation, hedge planting, litter clearance and invasive species removal. I also use my skills as a lock keeper to assist with moving boats to complete offside planting and vegetation maintenance.

During community events I help set up the area and engage with the public, encouraging them to get involved with the Trust and specifically green recovery. I could never have imagined being confident enough to do this before becoming a volunteer.

Volunteers by the canal in Manchester From L to R – Sara Ponting (community engagement coordinator, GRCF), James Atkinson (lead volunteer), Clive Eastwood (volunteer), Gary Rumens (Castlefield clean and green), Dr Carl Austin-Behan OBE (LGBT+ advisor to mayor of Greater Manchester), Neville Rumsby (lead volunteer)

Instant benefits

When I first started volunteering, the mental benefits of getting out and about and being with people were instantaneous.

After years of dealing with low confidence, it only took a few weeks for me to become more and more involved and take on added responsibilities. Being relied upon grew my confidence and brought me out of my shell.

I've made so many new friends and met people who I wouldn't have otherwise. I've discovered I really enjoy speaking to people and hearing about their backgrounds.

When so much during Covid-19 was paused, having something safe and outdoors that I could still do had a big impact on my wellbeing.

James by the canal James by the canal

Learning and discovering

Before volunteering with the Trust, I didn't know it existed! I've learnt so much about what the Trust does and how important their work is.

I didn't realise how important canals were to the environment, they're like this hidden escape in the city, especially big cities like Manchester. I value greenery a lot more and have learned a lot about the flora and fauna, especially invasive or damaging species which we remove. I spot them when I'm out and about now.

It surprised me the variety of activities you can take part in, and the number of things I can do now as a result of my involvement. 

James has found confidence and friendships through volunteering James has found confidence and friendships through volunteering

The best part? 

For me, the best part about volunteering is the social aspect. I enjoy making new friends, becoming part of a team, working with people, and having fun. I genuinely look forward to getting out and taking part in events.

It's also great being recognised for my work. We have regular volunteer thank you events to acknowledge our efforts and the impact we have. I'm proud to have received a Volunteer of Special Merit certificate for my assistance with events and operational volunteering.

Get volunteering

Give volunteering a go. You may be surprised how much you can do and how much it helps your wellbeing. Knowing that you're making a difference creates a strong sense of self-worth.

When you're feeling lonely, getting out there and taking part in something makes a huge difference. The face-to-face contact with people that you may not want at the time has a really positive effect on how you feel. You are no longer alone.