Give a little back in 2022: volunteering options for the new year

Ten ways to help out, from canal clean-ups to involvement in academic research

Climate change activist Flossie Donnelly and her fellow beach cleaners in action in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
January is Health Month in The Irish Times. Throughout the month, in print and online, we will be offering encouragement and inspiration to help us all improve our physical and mental health in 2022. See

At this time of good intentions and resolutions for the new year, here are just a few examples of current volunteering opportunities that two or more family members could consider:

Letter writing 
Here's something to start today from the comfort and safety of your own home. An Post has promised free delivery of all card and letter mail posted to residents of nursing and care homes in the State until December 31st. Various volunteer groups, such as Fingal Volunteer Centre, have been inviting and organising dispatches of cards, poems, drawings etc to named residents in local homes. Maybe your family knows a resident you could send new year greetings to?

Canal clean-up 
Put your new year resolution about volunteering to the test on January 1st by joining the Friends of the Grand Canal in its monthly clean-up in Dublin on the first Saturday of the month. It meets at 10am on Wilton Terrace, at the fourth bench from the Leeson Street Bridge. Gloves, pickers and bags are provided "so you just need your energy and dress for the weather", it says. More information at Its Royal Canal counterparts will be doing its monthly clean-up the following Saturday, January 8th, from 10am. Find them on Not a canal, but the Dodder river is another city waterway that needs regular loving attention from responsible citizens of all ages. See the Dodder Action website to find out how you could get involved.

Beach combing 
If you have reasonably easy access to the coast anywhere around our island, your family could join the army of volunteers who help to keep beaches free of litter and washed-up debris. Clean Coasts, a charity programme run through An Taisce, works with communities to "adopt" a piece of coast. There are more than 1,800 clean coast groups, involving about 37,000 volunteers.


“Most of our groups encourage people of any age to come along and for parents, guardians and grandparents to bring children and grandkids,” says a spokeswoman for Clean Coasts.

A child has led one Co Dublin coastal initiative against plastics, namely Flossie and the Beach Cleaners. Flossie Donnelly, now aged 14, who went out with her parents from about the age of eight to help clean Sandycove beach and other stretches of south Dublin coastline, became passionate about the war on plastic. A high-profile voice in the climate change movement, she is always looking for volunteers of all ages to join their hands-on coastal clean-ups and campaigns.

Tidy towns 
Your own household will benefit if you're helping to beautify the surroundings on your doorstep. Categories in the annual national TidyTowns awards range from the smallest population clusters of 200 and under to centres of 25,000-plus, so the chances are there's a TidyTowns committee in your area. If there isn't, what's stopping you starting one?

Various TidyTowns committees have their own Facebook pages and/or are registered with Or just look out for members in their high-vis jackets volunteering in your area as a point of direct contact.

Natural life 
Between December and February each year, Birdwatch Ireland asks members of the public to keep note of the highest number of each bird species visiting their garden every week. Other information such as the size of the garden being surveyed and the kinds of food, if any, being offered the birds is also requested. By sending your results in online, by email or by post, your family will be making a contribution to the bigger picture of how not only the garden birds are doing, but also how our environment is faring in general.

St John Ambulance Ireland has a cadet programme for children aged 10 to 17, through which they will learn about first aid. Photograph: Getty Images

First-aid response 
Children as young as four can become members of the youth strand of the Irish Red Cross, which has branches throughout the country. It also needs adult volunteers to be trained for first aid and rescue services and for community support.

Likewise, St John Ambulance Ireland works with volunteers of a wide age range. It has a cadet programme for children aged 10 to 17, through which they will learn about first aid and get the opportunity to attend events with other service members.

The Ambulance Corps of the Order of Malta also has a cadet programme for those aged 10 to 16. They can get involved in assisting older people and those with disabilities in the community as well as accompanying senior members to sporting events.

Special Olympics 
Families with older teenagers could volunteer together at Special Olympics where there is a great variety of roles, from admin and club helpers to coaches and stewarding once-off events. For example, the Special Olympics Eastern Region (Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow) is currently looking for people to help out with both basketball and swimming. Volunteers need to be over 15 and able to commit to at least one hour a week for a year.

Parkrun stewards 
Opportunities for family physical exercise and volunteering come together through the international parkrun movement. Whether or not members of your family participate regularly in the free, timed 5km runs at 9.30am on Saturdays, or the junior 2km version for those aged four to 14 at 9.30am on Sundays, there are also chances to volunteer on the days you're not running/walking the course.

"Children of any age can volunteer at some level with the appropriate safeguarding procedures, though there are some volunteer roles that can only be performed by an adult, like event director etc," says Matt Shields, who manages parkrun Ireland. However, "even in these roles a junior can fill the role shadowed by a responsible adult who in effect is accepting the responsibility".

Currently, there are more than 127 parkrun events operating in Ireland each weekend.

Academic research 
A PhD student at the UCD School of Psychology is seeking participants for The Body Image and Self Surveillance Study, which is looking at body image in teenage girls aged 13-17. It is hoped the research will contribute to the prediction, and therefore early intervention, of body-image issues. Parents/guardians of girls in that age group are invited to read the information at, to discuss the research with their child and see if the child is interested in volunteering. The name of the child is not required.

Blanket stitch 
If you ever had a notion to teach your children how to sew, creating a sensory blanket together for children with intellectual disabilities might be a great end goal. St Catherine's Association, which provides education, training, healthcare and residential/respite care to more than 250 children and families in the Co Wicklow area, is always in need of more of these comfort blankets. For more information, contact

– Many other opportunities are listed on Volunteer Ireland's extensive data base, which can be searched using a range of filters, including location, availability, types of activities and under 18, etc.

Read: Family volunteering is a new ‘win win’ frontier