With less than one week to go before Christmas, most of us (except the smug ones who did all their shopping in June - you know who you are) are running around like headless turkeys, trying to pick up last-minute presents and food, and probably worrying about the credit card bill at the same time.

But there is one thing that anyone can give that is a wonderful present and which doesn’t cost anything: your time.

An estimated 15 million people in the UK volunteer every month, rising to a whopping 23 million on an annual basis. But that’s still less than a third of the population.

So why aren’t more of us doing it?

Lots of people are put off volunteering because they think it has to be regular or formal, or - let’s face it - seems a bit worthy or dull. But how about if it was fun?

Last December, United Response’s Community Network in Folkestone opened its doors on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. People gave their time to share music, poetry, companionship, festive food and gifts; basically to put on a great big Christmas party for the many people who would have been alone over the festive period. It wasn’t just the people who were 'isolated' who benefited; the 'volunteers' themselves had a whale of a time, so much so that they are doing it all again this year.

Think differently about volunteering

So, this Christmas and New Year, why not think a bit differently about volunteering to help someone who is isolated in your local community? You don’t have to go as far as throwing a party; it could just be taking someone shopping, popping in for a cup of coffee or taking a trip to see the Christmas lights. It doesn’t have to be the promise of more, or of regularity or any kind of ongoing commitment... although you may find you love it so much that you want to do more!

If you are keen for something more, then websites like www.do-it-org.uk can help you find more formal volunteering opportunities in your area.

Diane Lightfoot, director of communications and fundraising.