A NEW survey has found 74 per cent of all volunteers in Wales are between 18 and 24. But why are so many young people volunteering? KEILIGH BAKER meets Gwent youngsters who are making a difference.

THERE was a time when it appeared volunteering was solely the realm of the retired and bored. Yet research has shown the 18-24 age group as being the most likely to give up their free time to help in the community, with 85 per cent saying they are ready and willing to commit themselves to voluntary projects.

Monmouthshire Youth Service has 28 volunteers between 16 and 24, with eight more currently undergoing the application process.

Claire Rogers, youth and community officer for Monmouthshire Youth Service said: "The scheme helps young people, particularly those most in need."

"Volunteering can help acquire new skills and knowledge but also challenge and develop young people personally. Volunteering is recognised by employers, colleges and the local community -–it gives young people experience and can help them get into university or get a job."

Martyn Pugh, 17, from Newport., has volunteered as a police cadet for nearly a year. Before joining the police cadets, he had volunteered for the St David’s Foundation Hospice Care.

He said: "I want to be in the force and being a police cadet is the only way a 16 or 17 year old can get practical experience towards that career. The role is strictly non-confrontational, so we tend to just help out at local surgeries and assist the PCSOs [police community support officer].

"My mother worked for the St David’s Foundation, that’s how I got involved. I thought, it’s good experience, it will look good on my CV and I got a reference out of it. Volunteering is brilliant, it’s work experience and it helps you to build on your confidence and your communication skills.

"A lot of my friends volunteer so I suppose I’m around a group of similar minded people."

Stacey Butler, 18, from Croesycelliog, has volunteered for the Torfaen Playscheme for two years. She volunteers because it gives her practical experience of caring for disabled children, something she would like to do in the future. She said: "My sister had volunteered with them before and she thought it would be good experience for me, as she knew I wanted to work with children in the future. I really enjoy working with all the kids."

Jenni Hughes, 19, from St Julians, has been a volunteer for three years. She said: "I’m going to Pontypool college to do health and social services. I volunteer to get the experience I need for my course. On the playscheme I work with autistic children, which is good as eventually I want to work with autistic adults."

Ross Weaver, 17, from Pontypool, has volunteered with the Torfaen playscheme for two years. He volunteers as he hopes to work at Camp America next year, and believes his chances of being accepted will be far more likely with the experience he has gained. He said: "I have worked with mainstream kids before, but this year I’m doing a one to one with a child with extra needs, which is brilliant. I stay with them all the time.

It has been a really good experience.

Victoria Couzens, 18, from Cwmbran, has been a volunteer for various charities for six years. This is her first year at the Torfaen Playscheme. She said: "I’m going to Glamorgan University to study an early years development course in September. I volunteer because I want the experience of working with the kids, for my course and because eventually I want to be a teacher. I think volunteering is a really good idea.

Lowri Taylor, 17, from Llanyrafon is a sixth-form pupil at Llantarnam comprehensive school. She said: "Volunteering is rewarding. I want to be a social worker, so it’s good for me as it gives me practical experience of a job I really want to do."

Gemma Nicholls, 22, from Pontypool, attended the Torfaen playschemes when she was younger. Now, she is in her third year of volunteering for the scheme. During term-time Gemma volunteers in the office for one day a week, doing general administration.

She said: "I just love helping with the kids, and I love looking after them."

Andrea Sysum, 33, from St Julians, is the Play Policy Officer for Torfaen Play Service. She is one of five paid, full-time staff, and it is her job to employ Gemma and the other volunteers.

She said: "We also run Torfaen council’s transition to employability project, where volunteers with additional needs learn transferable employment skills within the work place.

"We have a large number of people on that project volunteering here. They help with the children and work as a part of the team while learning employment skills."

Lucy Fell, 21, is a student at Newport University studying documentary photography. She has volunteered with the King’s Church youth team for four months, mentoring 11 to18 year-olds.

She said: "I’ve been going to the church since about Christmas time, and I knew I wanted to volunteer in some capacity, and the youth team seemed like the natural choice.

"I think the reason I volunteer is because of my experiences with my own youth team at my church when I was younger. They were really there for me when I was 15 or 16 and going through a tough time at home. At that time they were really a key part of my life, and going to the youth team was my way of getting away from everything.

"Having been on the other side of all that I suppose I thought this is my chance to be that person to someone else, to be the one supporting rather than needing support."

Rhiannon Boucher, 22, is from Goytre, Pontypool. She is studying beauty therapy at Pontypool College. When she was offered the chance to volunteer at Llanarth Court care home, she jumped at the chance.

She said: "I used to volunteer at my local GAVO centre and really enjoyed it. I volunteered at Llanarth Court because I’m doing a beauty therapy course and I saw this as an opportunity to put what I had learnt in college into practice.

I went along and did people’s nails and generally pampered them.

"I volunteered to build on my confidence and to get more work experience. It was really good to meet people and make them feel nice. I think volunteering is a really good opportunity for everyone. I would definitely volunteer again."

A study of 2,000 people for volunteering charity CSV showed 47 per cent of 18-24 year-olds had volunteered recently, compared with just one in six older people.

41 per cent of people surveyed said they had volunteered while they were 24 or younger.

Half of all 18-24 year olds questioned said everyone should volunteer at least once in their life, whereas 55 per cent of over 55s in Wales admitted to never volunteering.

Yet 58 per cent think those in full-time employment are busier than previous generations.

66 per cent of people in Wales say work commitments, their employer, or a lack of time is preventing them from getting involved in their community.

37 per cent of people surveyed said they are planning on volunteering when they retire.