Yesterday morning I spoke at a volunteering seminar organised by the Relief Society sisters at Romford Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was joined by contributors from other Essex based organisations including the Thurrock Women's Refuge and St Luke's Hospice.
The aim of the event was to talk about various options for volunteering and I spoke about local politics, becoming a councillor, magistrate or school governor. I reassured the audience that to become a councillor you didn't need to have a political background or know the right people.
Selectors sometimes think that someone who vocalises strong opinions over a pint or two would make a good councillor, but often such people fall silent when they have to defend their views in the cold light of day. The ability to work as part of a team and to appreciate others' points of view is much more important. As is the intelligence to grasp complex issues and explain them to others - a politician who says "They don't understand" really means "I can't explain". A grounding in the community is also essential as that is what distinguishes elected members from their officers and advisers. Finally a willingness to work outside normal hours, sacrificing evenings and weekends is essential.
All the speakers agreed that volunteering provided a good way to learn valuable new skills as well as putting something back into society. They also agreed that a volunteer should select their activity carefully, looking for something they enjoy and are committed to.