‘So how long is your closing speech for the conference’ a colleague asked me on Monday.  Somewhat hilarious facial expressions ensued as my mouth opened and closed several times, whilst my brain scrabbled to remember what conference speech I was meant to be writing!

As well as running Lime House Yoga, I am privileged to be a Trustee of Volunteer Cornwall, a charity dedicated to developing active and engaged citizens through volunteering.  Thursday is our annual Celebration of Volunteering award ceremony and one I’d forgotten I was closing this year!

The award ceremony is one of the highlights of my year, where Cornwall recognises the work of volunteers who do amazing things every day, up and down the county.  Every year I am inspired and humbled by the passion and commitment of people from every walk of life, who find the time and energy to support others and the communities in which they live.

Volunteering has a long history, really as long as humans have existed on the earth.  But it is relatively recently that volunteering has had such a profile and this brings with it huge opportunity and challenge.

The last time statistics were gathered, I’m proud to say that Cornwall topped the league table for volunteering with 32% of people volunteering formally compared to an average of 26% for the rest of the country.  That’s an estimated 140,000 volunteers in a county with 540,000 population!  The contribution they make to the Cornish economy just from their hours alone, is estimated to be worth £490 million – and that’s before you add in the social value of the work they do.

If you look at this across the UK, the Cabinet office – Community Life Survey found that 12.7 million people volunteering in England once a month, and 19.2 million once a year.  That’s a lot of people, supporting people, places and communities every year.

So why do I often hear people say “I don’t have time to volunteer”?

Whether it’s the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service or ITV’s Pride of Britain Award, there are so many public stories showcasing volunteer’s selflessness and commitment somehow it feels as though they exist outside of our own daily lives. Whilst it is fantastic to see volunteers being recognised for the amazing work they do, one of the unforeseen consequences is that when we think of volunteering we think of these stories.

Somehow by giving volunteering a name, we’ve made it something that someone else does.

I wonder if we have moved too far from the original definition, which simply means ‘to freely offer to do something’.  If we take this definition and apply it to our lives, there are very few of us who can’t call themselves volunteers.  We all do things for others – we take bins out for our neighbours, pick up shopping for elderly relatives, collect and look after other people’s children alongside those more formal roles like Samaritans or Citizens Advice.

Here at Lime House, we believe in ‘being the change you want to see in the world’ (Mahatma Gandhi).  That’s why it’s not enough just to talk about change, we have to make it happen and for us this means many things.  From donating a percentage of our profit to causes we feel passionately about and choosing who we bank with and where we buy our energy, to the much smaller but no less impactful actions we take every day.

These small things can make a huge difference to a person’s life.  One day it might be offering a free class pass because we know someone is struggling to afford to come, the next it might be as simple as asking how someone is when we know they have a loved one dying and then giving them the space to talk and cry about it.

Because over the years, what we’ve realised is that every day offers us an opportunity to affect someone’s life and no matter how big or small the gesture, each and every one of us can make a difference to a person, a place or a community.

The ethos with which we’ve built the wonderful community we call Lime House Yoga, is not about a building, a yoga pose or class.  It’s about always asking ourselves and each other…“what can I do to make a difference?”

This week I had the privilege again in my trustee role, of being invited to the opening of a new cancer centre in Cornwall – The Cove Macmillan Support Centre in Truro.  It’s the culmination of over a decades work in planning, persuading and fundraising over £1million. The purpose-built centre is now open and provides a space where people affected by cancer can come and find solace, support and information.  It’s an issue very dear to our hearts having lost Jock’s mum to cancer in 2009. Listening to the powerful stories of organisations and volunteers who work day in day, out to support the most vulnerable in our communities I was again struck by the question…“what can I do to make a difference?”

By the end of the afternoon the centre manager and I had swapped stories and cards and we hope to be able to offer free yoga classes there next year to support their work.

Our planet and the people and communities we live in need us more than ever, so whether the action is big or small, please ask yourself… “what can I do to make a difference?”