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52 acts of kindness: how to spread joy in every week of 2023

Whether fostering kittens, donating blood or delivering boxes of biscuits to striking workers, there has never been a better time to help out. And it will improve your life too.


Navel-gazing is always a danger at this time of year – and not just to admire the results of a two-week assault on the fridge. Indoctrinated by “new year, new you” messaging, we fixate on self-optimisation: one hand dredging the Celebrations tub and the other searching online for “hot yoga near me” or “should I read Ulysses?”

But there is another way to be better: by doing something kind. This doesn’t mean giving money (welcome though that always is), it’s about giving your time, empathy, support and thought – finding ways to help the people around you.


To make this list of suggestions, I explored acts of kindness given and received, acutely needed and fondly remembered, with Guardian readers, charities, friends and family, marvelling at how much quietly industrious kindness goes on around us. I hope there is something for everyone: some require commitment; others need nothing more than the ability to boil a kettle. But what all these acts have in common is that they will make you feel good: research shows that being kind make us happier. So you can help others and feel better yourself all at once. You won’t get that kind of win-win from a gym membership.


1. Give blood

Each donation can save up to three lives and you get free biscuits. Everyone eligible is welcome, but “we urgently need more blood donors of black heritage”, says Rob Knowles of NHS Blood and Transplant (they are more likely to be able to help the increasing number of patients with sickle cell disease). Sign up at blood.co.uk, call 0300 1232323 or use the NHS Blood app. If you can’t get an appointment immediately, don’t worry: your donation will be vital whenever it’s given. To donate quickly, the best appointment availability is at the 25 permanent donor centres across the UK.


2. Walk a dog

The Cinnamon Trust provides support for elderly and terminally ill people who need urgent help to walk their pets so they can keep them. Check the map at cinnamon.org.uk, register as a volunteer and you will be ready when help is needed in your area.


3. Buy a Big Issue when you can – but also talk to your seller

Generally, having a chat with someone on the streets is a nice thing to do and often appreciated. It needn’t be anything heavy: ask how their day is going and if there is anything they would like or need help with. Some people want to chat, some don’t – just be respectful. If a homeless person tells you they are having difficulty accessing medical facilities or with other practical issues, the Big Issue suggests alerting StreetLink, which connects rough sleepers with services they need.


4. Target your support for food banks

On top of the obvious non-perishable foods, the Trussell Trust says donations of toiletries, laundry and washing-up stuff, baby supplies and sanitary towels and tampons are always welcome. The best way to support food banks, though, is to find out what they need from day to day. I follow my local, the Collective Sharehouse, on Instagram, where it posts requests for urgent help. Remember, you can donate time as well as goods: “Food banks are busier than ever and very grateful to anyone who can spare a few hours on a regular basis,” says Ellie Lambert of the Trussell Trust. Help can include picking up or unpacking corporate donations, delivering to most in-need clients and even assistance with social media.


5. Bee prepared

Learn to revive a tired or struggling bee. If it’s wet, put it in the sun; otherwise deposit it on a high-nectar flower such as buddleia or sunflower, wait a while and if that hasn’t helped, offer a little sugar water (two tablespoons of white granulated sugar to one tablespoon of water, left on a spoon or in an eggcup).


6. Go guerrilla gardening

Inspired by the Incredible Edibles movement, create a “propaganda bed” – an easily accessible pot or bed planted with herbs and vegetables for people to help themselves. Label it so passersby know what’s what, and that it’s all free.


7. Give a coat to Calais

During winter, Care4Calais needs coats for refugees in northern France, where 2,000-plus sleep rough. If you have a warm coat in reasonable condition, find a drop off point and pass it on to someone who needs it.


8. Repair something

Repair cafes are booming and, as the BBC One series The Repair Shop shows, they can be a great source of joy. If you are handy with a sewing needle, bikes, carpentry, electricals or computers, your local repair cafe would almost certainly be delighted to have your help. If there isn’t one locally, why not start one?


9. Be a bin hero


Full? Take it out rather than leaving it for someone else in your home. Emptied? Take it in. It’s scientifically impossible to be anything other than thrilled when someone else deals with the bins.


10. Help prisoners with reading

About 50% of people in UK prisons struggle with reading. The Shannon Trust helps them to help one another throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. “Our prison volunteers train and support prisoner mentors to work one-to-one with learners,” says Karen Ryan, director of prison delivery.

At the moment, the trust particularly needs volunteers in central and eastern England. There is training and support and you are accompanied on your first prison visits. “We know volunteering in a prison setting isn’t for everyone,” Ryan says, “but we also have roles in the community to help people directly with learning or to help our area teams with administration and data collection.”


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