Celebrating our volunteers

June brings Volunteers’ Week. Here, Jackie Bischof interviews Danni, a valued member of the Hornsey Vale team during lockdown.

As a child growing up in Norfolk, Danni Haylett was a regular attendee at the extracurricular drama clubs at her local community centre. She appreciated the role they played as a “safe space for young people” to try different activities and discover their interests. And so, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down theatres last year and put her career as a stage manager into extended intermission, she was instinctively drawn to ways she could help give back to a community resource that gave so much to her growing up.

With her previous work freelance and intermittent, Danni says she “wanted a way to connect with new people and feel more of a part of building a team.” She reached out to Hornsey Vale Community Centre for ways to help, and was asked to get involved with the lunch club, which became a weekly food delivery service for elders in the community during the pandemic, as well as on other projects supported by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Bringing meals to neighbours allowed Danni to meet new people and make the connections she was looking for. “Those conversations can really have an impact on people, and brighten the day a bit,” she says. “That really struck me.”

June 1—7 is Volunteers’ Week in the UK, a time to recognise the contribution that volunteers make in their communities, and to hopefully inspire others to consider doing the same. Danni’s advice for those who are hesitant to consider volunteering is that no contribution is too small, and that it helps to pick the amount of time you can make space for in your calendar, even if it’s an hour or two, and stick with it. “That small amount of time is so valuable for somebody else who [might have had] a job on their list of ages. It helps them tremendously,” she says.

The community centre has been led and managed by volunteers for 30 years, and is always on the lookout for a diverse range of volunteers, particularly young people like Danni. Volunteers are encouraged to be part of building a supportive community, and in a tough job market, the centre can provide people with opportunities to use and develop their skills. It offers a wide range of things to get involved in, including publicity and marketing, fundraising, gardening, decorating, consultation with the community, governance and hopefully, soon, events —all tasks done by locals.  

As the theatres reopen and work picks back up, Danni says her volunteering experience and the joy she’s found in community engagement over the last year has her thinking about what’s next. She’s pursuing a few more volunteer experiences to help her figure out her next move. “I’ve enjoyed being part of a community, and working with a team,” she says.

If you’re interested in getting involved email to request a volunteering application form.

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