An informal conversation and guide to the sometimes confusing world of volunteering.

Eat, Pray, Love, Volunteer

Do you ever feel like you can get really into something so much so that it starts to affect everything that you do?!

Well that's what happened to me when I started reading a really great book, Eat, Pray, Love. And yes, exactly my point, it's now been turned into a film starring Julia Roberts. Its all about a middle aged (well 37 year old) woman who decided to let loose and be a free spirited traveller after going through a painful divorce.

Then the other week it was all over the papers that the midlife crisis is now hitting people as young as their thirties!

Now I'm not saying I'm going through a mid-life-crisis, (oh grow up Heidi!) but its definitely got me thinking about how modern life worries about money, work and relationships can really take their toll.

But you don't have to go to Italy, Bali and India to get through it. Here's where volunteering comes in.

Volunteering can really enhance your life and it could be just what you need to get out of the routine that you've been stuck in for the last 20 years or so. A lot of people at this age also realise the importance of giving back to society - so why not act on it? It doesn't have to be hard and you can fit lots of types of roles in amongst yoga, chai teas and your new found love of sports cars!

Or if you want to volunteer to help people who are experiencing a real mid life crisis there are a number of charities that help. Carers UK, Womens Health Concern and Relate are all charities that offer support to people to cope and move on from a mid-life crisis.

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Pink, pink to make everyone think

Last week I mentioned a great way to do your bit for Breast Cancer Awareness month, so on that theme, here's another. Breast Cancer Campaign, fund innovative world-class research to find out how breast cancer develops. They want to improve diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure.

Get involved by becoming a volunteer speaker You'll get out and about and help to raise awareness of Campaign's vital work. Or, if you'd rather volunteer from the comfort of your own home, become an online volunteer.

There are lots of other ways to support Campaign's work - find out how you can get tickled pink.

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How do you know what volunteering's really like?

I just spotted what someone left on our website about volunteering with CHICKS (Country Holidays for Inner City Kids) and it made me want to do it straight away.

"Definitely one of the best volunteering experiences I've ever been a part of. Although you may feel shattered by the end of the week, it is completely worth it especially when you see just how much the kids develop and get out of their week away. The facilities available are fantastic and the staff are brilliant. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone and everyone."

So, if you've ever volunteered, share your insights and help others work out if it's for them. Rate your volunteering here

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Shoulder to Shoulder

The government this week unveiled new measures to improve the care for troops experiencing mental health problems, including a free 24-hour helpline and more dedicated nurses.

These new services came as a result of reforms recommended by a review published last month. The review also calls for better health screening and new networks of voluntary support. And here at TimeBank we're ahead of the game as we'll soon be launching our latest mentoring project - matching ex-service personnel experiencing mental health issues with volunteer mentors. Shoulder to Shoulder will be launching next month, so watch this space!

You can't sign up to volunteer yet but we're looking for a Project Coordinator to oversee the project.

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Young people lead The Big Society way

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David Cameron delivered his 'call to arms' speech yesterday at the Conservative Party conference where his Big Society vision took centre stage. But his rallying cry was greeted with silence and even Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has admitted it will be chaotic.

But it really doesnt have to be all doom and gloom. Our very own Junction49 project which inspires and supports young people to develop their own community projects, campaigns and events, is living proof that The Big Society can actually work. All they needed to bring their ideas to life was a little help from their fellow volunteers and some tips and guidance from us.

Since the project started in September 2007, nearly 8,000 young people across the country are registered, well over 1,000 community project ideas have been generated and a quarter of these ideas have been delivered.

Take a look at just some of the great things they've been up to:

Young people have been doing some incredible things in their local communities.

Should we all be taking a leaf out of their book if we are to help Mr Cameron's Big Society vision really happen?

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That's how many people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. That number doesn't even include the husbands, sons, mums (the list goes on) who are affected by their loved ones news. Unfortunately, nearly everyone you speak to knows someone who's had breast cancer or the big C in one form or another - me included.

There are ways to do your bit. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and fundraising is obviously essential to support charities like Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer do the amazing work they do.

However, if you're looking for a fantastic way to volunteer, how about this? If you're a qualified beautician (or know someone who is) Look Good Feel Better need volunteers. For a few afternoons a year you will help run beauty workshops for women who have undergone invasive and appearance changing cancer treatments. Find out more about getting involved.

I wish I were a beautician.

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Volunteering away from home

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Changes to the immigration system in 2008 may be having an impact on volunteers coming into the UK.

Many of us know someone who's volunteered abroad on their gap year or as part of a career break or extended holiday.

But did you know that lots of people come here to the UK to volunteer too? Volunteering England is the national development agency for volunteering and supports, enables and celebrates volunteering. I work for Volunteering England's policy and information team and we are looking at the impact these changes may have had on volunteers coming into the UK.

If you've come to the UK to volunteer from outside the EU or EEA, or know someone who has, please take a couple of minutes to let me know how you found out about getting the right visa and what the experience was like. You can do this through this online survey and you can take part anonymously.

Details from the survey will help me find out how the system works for individuals, and whether visas are actually affecting volunteering. The survey should only take a few minutes of your time and if you want to find out more about volunteering abroad, take at look at our website

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Know a great volunteer?

We let you know recently about the vinspired national awards - where you can nominate an outstanding young volunteer for one of thier eight awards.

Just to let you know they've extended the deadline to Wednesday 6 October. So go on, now you''ve got an extra six days to nominate there's no excuse not to!

Go to their website or call 0800 089 9000 to request a paper form.

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