Free ways to save a life

Save a life John Lewis

Befriend someone

We’ve all seen John Lewis’ Man on the Moon advert in association with Age UK. Around a million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone - that’s utterly heartbreaking. Humans are sociable creatures and generally don’t do very well alone.

There are lots of befriending services out there (check your town’s local service), but there’s a UK wide service from Age UK. The service works by assigning each older person a befriender, who provides friendly conversation and companionship on a regular basis over a period of time.

If you find it difficult to sign up a befriending service you could call up your local hospital or old people’s home and ask if they want volunteers, you could be reading to people, transporting them to doctor’s appointments or just coming in for a chat.

Animal lover? The Cinnamon Trust is a charity that helps the elderly and terminally ill with their pets. Sometimes this means walking a dog for someone who isn’t able to do so, and other times people need someone to look after their pets while they’re in hospital. This is a great cause to get involved with, especially if you’re not allowed pets in your student house.

Who can become a befriender?

Anyone can, you don’t need experience, although some schemes will want to do a background check.

Contact your local volunteering service, or Age UK to see how you can get involved.

How much time would I have to spend?

It doesn’t take a huge amount of time to dramatically improve someone's life. Involvement can start for as little as 30 minutes a month, or as much time as you like.

Feed the hungry

There are lots of schemes all over the UK which allow you to volunteer to help feed the homeless, check your local authority website to see opportunities.

If you are in London you can get involved with the charity AMURT UK, which feeds over 300 people in central London. Meals are cooked using fresh produce donated by stallholders at Spitalfields market that would otherwise be wasted.

Who can volunteer?

Anyone! No qualifications or experience is needed - you just need to be willing.

How much time do you need?

It very much depends on what your local scheme needs - but a couple of hours a week will usually do.

At AMURT, you can volunteer as a produce collector (this involves a 7:30am start and you’d need to be able to drive). If you like cooking, you can help with the cooking session that starts at 2:30pm and finished every 5:30pm every Thursday. But if you enjoy meeting people (or only have time after uni) you can volunteer as a server who plates up the meals. You start at 6:45pm and finish at 8pm. All this is on a Thursday.

Give blood

Donating blood is a quick and painfree way to save a life which you can do on a regular basis. Donated blood is a lifeline for many people needing long-term treatments as well as medical emergencies.

Who can give blood?

Most people can give blood. As long as you are fit and healthy and weigh over 7 stone 12lbs and are aged between 17 and 66. Male donors can give blood every 12 weeks, while female donors can give every 16 weeks. Find out if you are able to give blood and where your nearest blood donation session is.

However, there are some people who can’t give blood. Reasons include:

  • You have a chesty cough, sore throat or active cold sore.
  • You are currently taking antibiotics or you have just finished a course within the last seven days or have had any infection in the last two weeks.
  • You’ve had hepatitis or jaundice in the last 12 months.
  • You’ve had a tattoo, semi-permanent make up or any cosmetic treatment that involves skin piercing in the last four months.
  • You’re a man who has had sex with another man (anal or oral - with or without a condom) in the last 12 months.
  • You’re a woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man, in the last 12 months.
  • A commercial sex worker.
  • Anyone who has ever injected themselves with drugs.

Get the full list on the NHS Give Blood website.

How long does it take to donate blood?

Not too long. You’ll have a private health screening, where a donor carer will confirm your identity. They will ensure that it’s safe for you to donate and your donation is safe for a patient to receive (which means you’ll be asked some confidential/personal questions).

You’ll then be tested to see if you have enough haemoglobin in your blood - with involves a prick in the finger to test. Assuming all is good, you’ll then start donating - which will take between 5-10 minutes.

You’ll then have to hang around in a refreshment area and have a drink and a snack for at least 15 mins. You can then get on with your day.

Bone Marrow

Forget the horror stories you might have heard, donating bone marrow is surprisingly easy and relatively painless - yet there are thousands of desperately ill people on the waiting list. Diseased or damaged bone marrow can be replaced by donated bone marrow cells (in your blood), which can often cure many life-threatening conditions such as Leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and immune system diseases.

Who can donate bone marrow?

If you’re between 16-30 and in good health, you can sign up to the Anthony Nolan register (you’ll stay on it till you’re 60), and it will send you a spit kit in the post so that you can give them a quick saliva sample. With that sample, it can find you a match.

How do you donate?

Sign up to the British Bone Marrow Registry (which is part of the NHS) and the Anthony Nolan Trust register.

There are two different ways to donate bone marrow. The most frequently used is to donate stem cells from your blood, with the second being donation of the bone marrow itself (which is a bigger procedure using a needle under a general anaesthetic in a hospital).

You aren’t able to donate if you have certain medical conditions, such as HIV and AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, heart disease, kidney disease, a BMI of over 40, type 1 diabetes and cancer.

How long does it take to donate?

Donating Bone Marrow does take some time - it’s not a quickie like when giving blood. Before you donate, there are several steps to make sure you are the best donor for the patient. These steps include an informative session to make sure you understand your decision, as well as appointments for additional blood tests and a physical exam. The typical time commitment for the donation process is 20-30 hours of your time spread out over a four to six week period.

Sign up to the Organ Donor Register

Ok, this one sucks a little bit because you’d be dead - BUT - it’s not like you need your body any more is it?

In the event of your death, there’s a chance your organs could help save someone else’s life. The NHS Organ Donor Register can be accessed by healthcare professionals to find out whether an individual has registered to be an organ donor.

If you want to be a donor, add your name to the register and tell those closest to you. This will make it easier for them to ensure donation goes ahead in the event of your death, the person closest to you will be asked to confirm that you hadn’t changed your mind before your death.

Who can/can’t donate?

Most people are able to donate their organs after they die, although there are three conditions where an organ donation is ruled out completely. These include cancer that has spread in the last 12 months, a severe or untreated infection or Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

Sign up to donate.

Learn first aid

There’s no better hands-on way to save a life than to administer first aid on someone in trouble. It’s really no fun being with someone in a real medical emergency, and not knowing what to do.

If you want to go on an actual course, that’s going to cost you (although you could try and convince your work, club, organisation that they should pay for you to do it). However, the St John Ambulance service has two free apps which you can download. There’s the standard First Aid Advice app, or the first aid for cyclists app, which helps you deal with common cycling injuries, including head injuries, cuts and grazes, and muscle injuries.


Nightline (the student version of the Samaritans) is a confidential, anonymous listening and information service. University can be a stressful place, and people have a tough time of it. Having someone to listen to them, with no judgement, really can be a life saver.

How much time does it take?

If you wanted to train to volunteer at the Samaritans, you’d need to be prepared to work over several weeks or weekends, and then once you’re trained up, the number of hours you give if agreed between you and your branch. The number of hours you’re asked to do varies due to the size of the branch and the number of volunteers.

Typically volunteers do a shift of 3-4 hours every week, including a night shift of 4-6 hours every 4-8 weeks.

Check yourself for lumps and bumps

As well as saving someone else's life, you can save your own by checking for irregularities. Knowing what’s normal for your body means you’re more likely to recognise something different - so get used to it, as spotting cancer at an early stage can save your life.

Some parts of our body we can see and touch - and knowing what they usually look and feel like is a good way of being able to know what’s normal for you.

Hey! You can’t touch all of you I hear you cry? Sure, you can go grabbing at your liver, or brain, but you can still be aware of how you usually feel, and notice when something is different (coughs going on too long/blood where it shouldn’t be etc).