Originally published in The Ilkeston Advertiser and Bakewell Today, 15th August 2008.

Volunteering charity CSV is offering a free gap year option to students across the UK who may have gained ‘unexpected’ A Level results this week, whether for better or worse.

Thousands of young people will be making tough choices based on their A Level results of whether to go straight to university, start a job or take a year out.

But with a gap year abroad costing on average around £5,000, and increasing worries over student debt, the ‘year out’ experience can be out of reach for many young people.

For ‘gappers’ committed to using their time to help others an affordable option is to take time out in the UK for free with CSV, the UK’s leading volunteering charity.

CSV offers UK based gap years lasting 4-12 months for people aged 16-35. Volunteers live away from home and are provided with free accommodation, food and travel expenses, plus a weekly living allowance.

CSV volunteers support young offenders, homeless people and adults with learning difficulties as well as helping people with physical disabilities lead independent lives.

Is Szoneberg, CSV Director for gap year volunteering, says: "You don’t need to travel to far-flung destinations, spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds in doing so, to help others.

Young people can still have a life-changing experience by taking a gap year in the UK. The UK has many people in need of support, and each year hundreds of CSV volunteers help disabled adults live independently, support children with learning disabilities and help run homeless shelters.

The experience and the skills that volunteers gain from their placement help them to stand out from the crowd and help them take their first step on the career ladder."

A gap year is a great way of building up skills essential to the workplace and research by CSV indicates that four-fifths of graduate recruiters believe graduates who possess skills gained through volunteering progress through companies more quickly.

Case studies

Daniel Glover, 21, from Cleckheaton near Leeds is volunteering with CSV at a centre in Fulham helping adults with learning disabilities gain life skills.

"I plan on going to university next year and initially I spent some time doing part-time jobs. To be honest I felt a bit lost. My family recommended volunteering and I wish I’d done it sooner. It has really helped me focus.

"I live with three people with mild learning disabilities and help them with day to day stuff. The work can be challenging, but having that kind of responsibility helps you develop humility and brings out a more caring side of you.

"Volunteering is an opportunity for young people to mature and experience a life completely different to their own. I wish I’d thought of it sooner. Why spend thousands of pounds backpacking on the other side of the world when you can gain so much through volunteering at home?"

Alison Grice, 18, from Walsall is volunteering through CSV at St Elizabeth School in Hertfordshire as a classroom assistant for children with learning and physical disabilities.

"I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after sixth-form and read about volunteering. I chose CSV because it was more affordable than volunteering abroad and I could still live away from home.

"There is usually one adult to each child in the classroom and we help them with their lessons. The work can be tiring as some of the children are quite severely disabled but it is fun and I have learned a lot about communication.

"Volunteering has opened my eyes to jobs that I may not necessarily have considered otherwise. I really enjoy the social side and work and live with other young volunteers from all different backgrounds, which has been great."

Christopher Branch, 19, from Fordham near Ely in Cambridge is volunteering with CSV in Norwich as an outdoor instructor for the Girlguiding UK.

"I wanted to take a year out after my exams and thought of doing care work but the role of outdoor instructor was perfect for me. I have completed courses in archery, canoeing and kayaking; it’s amazing how much I have gotten out of it.

"I am the first guy to be taken on to do this role and I live with three other volunteers. The work can be challenging, especially dealing with small kids. Archery, for example, is a very dangerous sport to be supervising but having that kind of responsibility has really helped me become more independent and mature.

"I would definitely recommend volunteering to anyone, when I looked into it I just thought ‘wow’, this is something I really want to do."

Sarah McCulloch, 19, from Romford in Essex is volunteering with CSV at the Disability Office at the University of Bradford.

"I wanted to take a year out before going to university and I thought CSV would be a good option. I considered going abroad but most of the programmes wanted me to pay.

"I help the students get around and take notes for them in lectures. I also help with personal care. While it can be draining, I’ve enjoyed the experience. It’s also been great to experience living away from home. All the volunteers live together in a student flat and I have made some friends who I know I’ll stay in touch with.

"I would definitely recommend volunteering to anyone. It has really made me more aware of disability rights. So many places are inaccessible to wheelchair-users. Volunteering has also made me a lot more grateful about what I have and that’s something I’ll always take with me from this experience."

For volunteer information and an application pack about gap year volunteering for people aged 16-35 call 0800 374 991 or visit the website www.csv.org.uk/gapyear to apply online.