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This week, 17 and 18-year-olds across Scotland are celebrating their results in the Scottish Highers and making plans for the future. In these challenging economic times, the prospect of going to university, or embarking on an exotic gap year in Asia, is not always realistic or appealing.

So, what options are available in the rest of the UK? At Volunteering Matters we run a full-time volunteering programme for young people who want to support disadvantaged people, develop new skills and play an active and meaningful role in their community.

Our volunteers commit to a six to twelve month placement in a range of settings. Many volunteers provide one to one care for an adult with care and support needs; others provide care for a group of adults or volunteer at a homeless shelter.

Communications Manager Kate Bermingham spoke to volunteer Kirstie McVie about her experience of full-time volunteering in the UK…

Kate: What made you decide to volunteer in the UK after your Scottish Highers?

Kirstie: I have always been interested in helping others. I wanted to gain new life experiences while doing something completely different to what I have done before.

Kate: Were you tempted to go to either university or a gap year abroad?

Kirstie: Going on a gap year abroad, while being an exciting idea, would be expensive and I didn’t have the funds to do so.

Kate: Tell me a bit more about your experience of volunteering…

Kirstie: I supported two ladies with learning disabilities in their home. They are both in their 60s and require support with daily tasks. I moved from Livingston, just outside of Edinburgh, to Stratford upon Avon to complete the placement.

It can be very challenging at times, but I have a lot of support from the people around me – staff, family and friends. I am put up against new challenges every day, and it is rewarding to find ways to overcome them. I love the feeling that volunteering gives me, and knowing that I am making a difference and helping people.

Kate: What new skills did you learn through your volunteer placement?

Kirstie: Before volunteering I was very nervous about talking to people. However, since then my confidence has grown and my communication skills have improved.

Kate: Would you recommend full-time volunteering to other young people?

Kirstie: I think full-time volunteering is a great thing for anyone to do and I’d definitely recommend it. It gives you a great deal of independence and you can learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of. You’re thrown into a completely new environment with new people and different surroundings; it can be very daunting but also very exciting.

Kate: What’s your favourite memory of full-time volunteering?

Kirstie: My favourite memory of volunteering was meeting other volunteers in different placements.  Their support is so helpful because you have someone there who you can talk to and share experiences with. This helps to reassure you that you’re not alone.