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Rural volunteers give back to the community

Rural volunteers give back to the community
Volunteering as a firefighter is a great way for Penny Stilgoe to give back to the community. PHOTO SUPPLIED

As far as rural firefighter Penny Stilgoe's concerned, volunteering is the backbone of the community.

So perhaps it's no surprise that a new report has found people in rural communities are more likely to put their hand up than their urban counterparts.

A new report from Volunteering New Zealand found that 58.6% of rural people help their communities by volunteering, above the national average at 50.7%.

For 21-year-old Stilgoe, volunteering is a great way to meet a diverse range of people and broaden her skill set.

Growing up with a mother who volunteered as a firefighter and served as the local fire chief, Stilgoe took her first assessments to join the Willowby Volunteer Fire Brigade as soon as she turned 16.

"I was pretty much born into it," she said.

Stilgoe also recently joined the Ashburton rural brigade, was part of TeenAg during her time at Ashburton College, and is now a member of Pendarves Young Farmers.

Last year she was in charge of social media for the group and is currently vice chairperson. As part of Young Farmers, Stilgoe has had the chance to organise a range of events and competitions.

As she and her extended family had been given a lot of support from the community, volunteering was her way of giving back.

"Get involved - it's very rewarding," she said.

Another local volunteer, Don Geddes, also sings its praises.

Which makes sense, given he's been a volunteer in several capacities for nearly 50 years.

He's been part of Methven Land Search and Rescue "coming up for 48 years", including almost two decades as the group's chairperson.

He's recently stepped down as a trustee for the Mid Canterbury Rural Support Trust, but is still involved in aspects including the welfare and significant event response.

Geddes is also currently chairperson of WanderSearch Canterbury, which provides tracking devices for people who have a tendency to wander, such as people with autism or dementia.

Over the years he has also been involved in the likes of Forest and Bird and Birds NZ.

Geddes said volunteering was a way to give back to the community and having fun while doing it - with the benefit of camaraderie found working with like-minded people.

"Whatever organisation you belong to, the satisfaction and pay back you get out of it is proportional to what you put in."

Volunteering New Zealand chief executive Michelle Kitney said turnover rates of volunteering were lower in the smaller towns and cities, compared to main centres.

“When it comes to the type of volunteering, people in rural areas have higher rates of informal/direct volunteering (at 43.8%) compared to the national average of 36.0%.

"Yet this doesn’t come at the expense of formal or organisational volunteering which is above the national average."

The report found South Islanders as a proportion of the population were more likely to volunteer than people from the North Island, but the hours volunteered in an average month per person in the South Island was lower than those in the North Island.

By Sharon Davis