If you’re reading this somewhere in regional NSW, there is a very good chance you’ve helped others, or have been helped yourself, by a community minded volunteer – someone who is working without pay to build a healthy and well connected community.

That’s because regional NSW is a veritable volunteering hot spot, where people are more inclined to give their time to help others compared to citizens in large cities.

The most recent ABS data to measure the social contribution of Australian households showed that the rate of volunteering outside capital cities was about 15 to 20 percent higher.

There is probably a good mix of reasons why this geographic divide exists.

A greater need and greater attachment to traditional close-knit communities, or perhaps a ‘just get in and do it’ attitude.

Maybe it’s partly because people living outside capital cities have family members or friends that are the perfect sales people on the personal benefits that come from volunteering and helping others.

Or the knowledge that if communities don’t pitch in and help themselves then there will be no other help at hand.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive research that has sought to delve into volunteering rates or motivations in country versus city areas.

However, in my work at The Centre for Volunteering I travel more than 10,000 kilometres to dozens of towns across NSW each year to meet with and celebrate the work of tens of thousands of volunteers as part of our Volunteer of the Year Awards, and I learn firsthand about the motivations and attitudes of regional volunteers.  I believe I’m well qualified to support the view that together, we should do better to celebrate our regional volunteers.

The Awards have grown to become one of the largest celebrations of volunteering across the country. Last year more than 80,000 volunteers from almost 400 organisations were recognised across country NSW. That’s over 70% of all nominations received in 2018.

Our Young Volunteer of the Year, Volunteer Team of the Year, Adult Volunteer of the Year, the recipient of the Excellence in Volunteer Management award and the 2018 NSW Volunteer of the Year, all came from regional and rural NSW.

We celebrated people like Anne Hopwood from the social enterprise FoodCare in Orange. Anne works with about 50 other volunteers to provide low cost and free food, groceries and household items to people on low incomes in Central West NSW.

FoodCare has helped hundreds of families in the region for the past seven years.

I met others like the 2018 Young Volunteer of the Year, Amy Caulfield from Tamworth, who is only in her early 20s. Amy gives her time for Youth Insearch – often on weekends or outside work hours – to support and talk to other young people to help them deal with so many isolating and debilitating issues facing young people in regional NSW.

There are so many more people –  Kay Locke from the Murray Art Museum, 2018 Volunteer of the Year Wendy Dalton from Grafton supporting indigenous families, David Blows from Broken Hill working with Far West HACC services, Di Skelton from Eurobodalla Transport to Treatment or Julie Brady for the Great Lakes Women’s Shelter.

Their work doesn’t detract from the contributions of people in large cities – but their stories should be shared, their efforts celebrated, and wherever we can, honour the organisations they work for and ensure they are supported by all levels of government and business.

So many regional and rural communities rely on our volunteers who fill the gap left by governments and go that extra mile to build healthy and well connected communities.

Nominations for the 2019 NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards can be submitted at www.volunteering.com.au/awards. Nominations close on Friday July 12.

Gemma Rygate, CEO The Centre for Volunteering