Volunteering not only benefits communities but also provides opportunities for people to develop personally and professionally.

Two Neath Port Talbot residents who have benefited greatly from volunteering are Workways + participants Rhodri Isaac and Michael Dugay.

Rhodri, 31, has acute social anxiety and has not been able to work for four years.

This condition has limited his opportunities both socially and professionally. Rhodri has experienced times when he was not even able to leave his home.

Michael is a single parent and for many years was a lone carer for his mother. Michael has depression and anxiety issues and has not been able to work for 10 years.

Workways+ is a fully funded service that helps people with getting a job, volunteering, work experience and skills training. They offer one to one support to help people improve their lives.

Workways+ assigned Rhodri and Michael a dedicated Mentor, Iain Forbes, to work with them individually and an Employment Liaison Officer, Carol Hooper, to help connect them to additional support and potential employers.

Their mentor Iain helped them develop action plans based on their needs and aspirations.

Iain recommended that both Rhodri and Michael would develop through volunteering and learning new skills at the Riverside Trust, a social enterprise based in Pontardawe. Both Iain and Carol are part of the Neath Port Talbot Council Workways+ team.

The Riverside Trust helps people develop confidence, self-esteem and practical skills. They don’t exert any pressure on the volunteer and allow them to control what activities they do and when they do them.

Many of the people supported are long term unemployed, ex-offenders or may have experienced mental health issues. Volunteers may have their own internal barriers – such as lack of confidence, self-belief, aggression and frustration.

Through problem solving, positive affirmation and a focus on the individual rather than a team, the Riverside Trust helps to remove these barriers, instilling confidence, self-reliance and encouraging a positive attitude within the volunteer.

Maintaining a 25-acre country park within Pontardawe, the Riverside Trust has plenty of scope for helping volunteers gain hands on practical experience and transferable skills.

Rhodri said: “My dad introduced me to Workways and they have been a great help giving me practical support and have made me feel more optimistic about the future.

"Volunteering with the Riverside Trust has made me look at things in a different way and I’ve learnt new skills and put them into practice.”

Michael said: “I have had a lot on my plate and Workways have helped me to see a clear way through. Riverside has made me feel more confident and the social part has been great.

"I have made new friends and learnt valuable skills.”

Rhodri’s journey is at the point that he is now training to be a counsellor at his local college. Michael would like to further develop and get a job in grounds maintenance.

Rhodri and Michael now have experience and skills in fence building, clearing pathways, trimming back trees, bushes, installing bird feeders and putting in bollards.

Robert Clapham, Operations Director at the Riverside Trust said, “Our volunteers come here without any form of coercion and they are here because they want to be.

"We work hard to help them get rid of the barriers they have that are preventing them from leading a better life.

"Many of our volunteers come here feeling disengaged, left behind, ignored, but we work with them to get past that and to open their eyes to the potential they have.

"In Workways + we have likeminded people like Carol and Iain that really care for their participants and will do everything they can to get them on the right path. It’s a great partnership.”

Workways + is delivered by Officers from Neath Port Talbot Council, Swansea City Council, Pembrokeshire Council, Ceredigion Council and Carmarthenshire Council and is part funded by the European Social Fund via the Welsh Government.

To find how Workways+ can help you please access www.workways.wales

For further information on Workways+ please call 01639 684250 or access www.workways.wales.

To speak to Robert Clapham at the Riverside Trust please call 07787 123739.