Lady Dannatt, the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, writes about the importance of volunteering

Recently Richard and I were invited to see Anna Mudeka’s sensational performance of Mama Afrika at the Westacre Theatre.  
Anna, as you would expect, was beyond sublime. But Westacre Theatre was pretty special too.

It was our first visit despite many entreaties by its co-founder and my previous Vice Lord-Lieutenant, the late Peter Wilson. 
To say we were blown away is an understatement.  

(Image: Newsquest)

Like most theatres in our region, Westacre relies heavily on volunteers - and what a superb bunch they are.  

All of this got me thinking about the vital and diverse role of volunteers within our communities, and within our county.  
Strip Norfolk of Volunteers and what a grey, and hugely unattractive place it would be, devoid of any colour or extra kindness whatsoever.

Volunteers would then disappear from our community spaces, youth and sports organisations, hospitals, schools, the arts, churches, environmental support, elderly care provision, judicial system (think Magistrates) law firms (think Norfolk Community Law Association) hundreds upon hundreds of wonderful, life enhancing charities - and I am only just starting to scratch the surface here.  

The bleakest of bleak scenarios indeed. 

To an individual, the benefits of volunteering are well documented.  

Volunteering builds confidence and self esteem.  It helps with a person’s physical and mental health, and can radically reduce loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety.

Above all perhaps, it adds to the power of kindness.  Kindness is a priceless commodity that frequently appears diminished in the workplace today, where bullying and discrimination remain rife - oft tipping beyond into the family home.

Essentially, in a world where time has become a commodity, choosing to spend your time doing something you are not paid for is an invaluable act of service.  

Giving of your time, and your heart, is a powerful indicator of a person who is willing to commit to massively improving lives for individuals and communities - and how grateful we are as a result.

Young people often get a bad press, with a recent national think tank finding a collapse of community among the young.  

My experience is precisely the reverse.  

In Norfolk we have an extraordinary number of young people doing really exceptional things for other people, as the Celebration of Norfolk’s Young Diamonds at the Royal Norfolk Show will demonstrate later this month.  

Too many to name personally, but if their stories could move mountains, these would.

I am writing this from Normandy, where a number of us are privileged to be gathered for the 80th Commemoration of D-Day.  

The courage of the astonishing remaining Veterans is, in my eyes, only matched by the deep level of compassion and tenderness with which they are being so beautifully looked after by the hundreds of volunteers all taking part at their own time and personal expense.  

This morning I had an email from a dear friend ending with the well-known words of St Francis of Assisi “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
He wasn’t referring in this instance to volunteering, though he might well have been.

None of us can change the world, the things that cannot be changed.  

But when a person is struggling that world can become very small.  
For the individual, or group of individuals, a life can be transformed beyond measure by the kind intervention of just one person, absolutely determined to make a real difference.  

I salute each and every one of you who do precisely that, day in, day out. 

At the end of the day it is only love and kindness that ultimately counts. 

We are immensely blessed here in Norfolk to be surrounded by so much of both in our outstanding community of volunteers.  

We owe you all - and our young people in particular - a profound debt of gratitude indeed.

As Sir Winston Churchill so famously said “We make our living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give”.

How fortunate are we to live in a county of such great givers.