Of course, an obvious place to start is volunteering, as there are loads of opportunities to volunteer for local charities. You may be interested in the opportunities to volunteer for the NCT. NCT Volunteering roles are available at local branch, regional or even national level. Roles range from helping to arrange nearly new sales to organising local babies and bumps meet ups. You can apply by contacting your local branch.
On my search for things to get stuck into I also came across Muck in 4Life which is part of the Change for Life movement. It provides opportunities to get involved in free family friendly environmental activities. Opportunities include conservation activities in the water, countryside and urban activities. There are a wide range of local and national partners including the Lee Valley Park and Thames 21.
Another area to explore is becoming a breastfeeding peer supporter. The Breastfeeding Network provides training courses for mums leading to a nationally recognised Open College Network accredited qualification. With this qualification you can provide support to other news mums, or even continue to become a BfN Registered Breasfteeding Supporter.
One option is to become a school governor. There are approximately 300,000 governor places in state schools in England. Anyone aged 18 or over, who is legally resident in the UK (and not disqualified under relevant legislation) can become a governor. Volunteers do not have to be parents, nor do they need experience of the education system. Particular skills gained from life or business experience can also add value.
The process to apply to be a governor is surprisingly easy. There is a website helpfully entitled "Governor's One Stop Shop" which is an independent charity dedicated to recruiting volunteers to serve on school governing bodies across England. The charity offers its services free to volunteers, employers, schools and Local Authorities. This website aims to show you what being a governor involves, the need in your area and how you can apply. In particular the site gives you lots of information about who can become a governor and what is involved. It's very easy to apply online through the site- upload a CV and a statement of why you would like to be a governor. Your CV gets forwarded to the local authorities you select, and the estimated timescale for getting appointed is about 6 months.
It feels surprising to be at an age (or indeed well past!) an age for possibly being a magistrate- but there it is (you can actually become a magistrate from 18). You can find out about becoming a magistrate through the directgov website.
Magistrates deal with about 95% of the criminal cases in the UK. You don't need to be legally trained as there is training plus a legal advisor in court. You need to be able to commit to at least 13 days or 26 half days a year in court. Your employer must, by law, allow you reasonable time off work to serve as a magistrate.
If you are thinking of applying to be a magistrate you should visit a local magistrate's court at least once. If you decide to go ahead, there is quite a long application form to complete through the directgov website, which covers personal and educational details, details of previous convictions etc, and a set of detailed questions regarding why you wish to become a magistrate and what you can contribute. Applications are dealt with by local advisory committees who recruit at different times so it is worth checking out the website for this information. If your application is successful you there is then a 2 stage application process with an appointment finally made by the Lord Chancellor. Serious stuff!
Trustees are responsible for the direction and performance of their charity. You can be eligible to become a trustee if you are over 18. If you want to find out more about what being a charity trustee means, then dip into the Charity Commission site which gives a useful overview. There are a number of different networks set up to make charity trustee roles available. Do It is run by the charity Youthnet and provides opportunities for people who want to volunteer, hosting a national volunteering database. The Trustee Network is (as it sounds!) a national network for trustees providing a forum for sharing information as well as a place for advertising and looking for trustee positions through its trusteefinder tool.
If local parking charges, or speedbumps, get you going then one way to really have your say is to become a local councillor. The fab site "be a councillor", tells you everything you need to know about what councillors do and how you can go about becoming a councillor. You don't necessarily have to be affiliated to a political party- you can apply as an independent- what you need is a knowledge about and opinion on local issues.The site usefully points you to the councillor information sites of the main political parties as well as the independent group on the Local Government Association which can provide information for independent councillors and candidates.
What did I decide? Well I have been lucky enough to be a community governor for a local school for the last 9 months - and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone who is looking for a new challenge.
We'd love to hear what opportunities you would recommend!