Volunteering often evokes thoughts of child mentoring programs and helping out at your local library, programs that are vital to strengthening communities and are always in need of more support. But not everyone is suited to or interested in these kind of roles so we thought we'd compile a list of some of the more unusual and unique opportunities we've come across.
From experiencing life alongside an Indian Elephant at the London Zoo or immersing yourself in the chilling atmosphere of Highgate Cemetery there's lots of interesting stuff out there you can get involved in. To find out more follow the links below.
1 Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew comprise 121 hectares of gardens and botanical glass houses in south west London, the world’s largest collection of living plants and an important centre for plant and fungal research and conservation. If you have a green thumb, you can join other horticultural volunteers in the maintenance of Kew’s extensive collection of plants and gardens. If your talents lie elsewhere but still would like to volunteer in an environment of stately gardens and exotic plants, then you can help lead tours as a Kew guide. Both opportunities offer a learning environment for the volunteer in one of the most renowned tourist attractions in London, and you can experience it all for free each time you volunteer.
2 Bishopsgate Institute
Bishopsgate Institute is a unique resource centre promoting independent thought and adult education through a variety of services. The Institute regularly holds cultural events such as concerts and debates, offers continuing education courses ranging from Japanese to art history and maintains a library with a large and varied collection. These books are in need of archiving and cataloguing and offer the volunteer a great learning experience, especially on the history of London as well as labour, activist and free thought movements. The Institute also requires volunteers to take oral histories with local residents who wish to share their experiences of living and working in the East End. This is bound to interest those who want to know more about this part of London and meet truly inspiring characters. This unique centre has recently been refurbished and its architecturally impressive structure holds many important cultural events which also require volunteers to help organise. Whatever your interest, it is likely that the Bishopsgate Institute has something for you.
3 London Zoological Society
The London Zoological Society is responsible for the running of the London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo located north of London in Bedfordshire. The zoos are not merely living animal museums as they function as research centres and are affiliated with 50 conservation projects worldwide. With so many demanding projects, you could find yourself walking past a Komodo dragon or Sumatran tiger on the way to your assignment amongst a kingdom of over 750 species. Both zoo locations regularly need volunteers to educate visitors on animals and their habitats, assist the librarians in the zoological library and help with administration tasks and fundraising. This opportunity is situated in one of the sought after tourism spots in central London and you could enjoy it for merely contributing some spare time. For those of you who like working outdoors in an ever changing environment then these two zoos will be a great way to get closer with nature.
4 Highgate Cemetery
Notable as the final resting place of Karl Marx, Douglas Adams and George Eliot, Highgate Cemetery is a picturesque gothic cemetery in north London. Reminiscent of a vampire movie set within canopies of trees darkening the footpaths and granite angels rising out of an overgrowth of vines, this volunteer opportunity is as atmospheric as they come. It’s perfect for someone who appreciates working outdoors whilst enjoying the peace and quiet. Being home to thousands of plants and flowers, the upkeep of the cemetery is a formidable task and is always in need of volunteers to assist with landscaping, gardening and general maintenance of the grounds. If outdoor work is not for you Highgate Cemetery also requires help with ticketing, as the site is a popular location with tourists. In addition, as this is still a working cemetery, those with computer skills are needed for data entry of grave and burial details.
5 Volunteer in a Prison
JustPeople is a charity dedicated to helping prisoners turn their lives around. They need volunteers to play with children during family visits, especially those of a young age who find it difficult in these environments, to allow parents to have productive trips. Volunteers are also required to help teach prisoners new skills, which allow them to make their time in prison one where they will be better equipped to rejoin society. Volunteers are also needed to help vulnerable women prisoners access support services to prevent them from re-offending. If you have skills in embroidery or needlework you could help volunteer with Fine Cell Works, a charity that trains prisoners in paid embroidery and needlework, and a trade that restores dignity to their lives and allows them to earn a living after release. These types of opportunities are not only intrinsically very rewarding but look great on a CV for those interested in social justice work from counselling to legal practice.