Volunteering in decline?


We read that six million people in the UK took part in The Big Help Out on Monday 8 May. The event – part of the coronation celebrations – was intended to “highlight the positive impact volunteering has on communities across the nation”. Six million is a lot of us. However, as the organisers themselves say, The Big Help Out is not for one day only. We need to nurture the volunteering spirit. Our communities are precious, but many are in trouble. Volunteering in itself will not mend a broken community but, as we have argued before, it is a glue that can help bind a community together. Worryingly, newly published research suggests that there has been a sharp decline in volunteering in recent years. Life-Based Learning is about strengthening communities and bringing people closer together. We need to ensure that our children and young people have the knowledge, skills and values to want – and be able – to make an impact on the wellbeing of everyone by contributing positively to community life throughout their lives.

Time Well Spent is a research programme run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), focusing on volunteers and their experience. In 2018 it conducted a national survey through YouGov of more than 10,000 members of the UK general public. The survey explored volunteer participation, motivations and barriers to volunteering, the quality of volunteers’ experiences and the impact of volunteering. At the end of 2022 NCVO ran the survey again with 7,000 members of the public.

NCVO said that the impact of the ongoing crises “can be clearly seen in recent data”, with a drop in some key volunteering activities:

  • Those raising money or taking part in sponsored events was down from 11% to 6%
  • Those organising or helping to run an activity was down from 14% to 7%
  • Those campaigning on behalf of the group, club or organisation was down from 8% to 4%

It also found that, among recent volunteers, the overall likelihood to continue volunteering declined slightly from 80% to 77%. Most people cited less time due to changes in circumstances as the main reason for stopping.

The survey is also a useful reminder of the benefits of volunteering for the individual. Among those who had volunteered in the last 12 months through a group, club or organisation, 92% said that they were either very or fairly satisfied with their experience. Asked about specific benefits, at least 70% of respondents agreed with each of the following statements:

  • I enjoy it
  • It makes me feel I’m making a difference
  • It gives me a sense of personal achievement
  • I meet new people
  • It broadens my experience of life
  • It improves my mental health and wellbeing
  • It brings me into contact with people from different backgrounds or cultures
  • It gives me more confidence
  • It gives me new skills and experience

The data shows the impact of Covid on volunteering has been profound. People who were lifelong volunteers broke their habit during the pandemic and haven’t yet got back to it. Given how important volunteering is to our social fabric – and how much people get out of it – we need an urgent focus on helping people find opportunities that suit them.

There are also positives with high levels of satisfaction among volunteers. This is a testament to the hard work of volunteer-involving organisations. Many have had to adapt their volunteering opportunities over the last few years to respond to social distancing measures as well as new need in communities.

Sarah Vibert, chief executive of NCVO

Life-Based Learning and the importance of community

The long-term future of our communities depends to a large extent on today’s young people and on the generations that follow. That’s why community education matters. Any long-term strategy for building stronger communities must involve looking at what we are teaching children in school.

Life-Based Learning (LBL) would raise the profile of community by treating it as one of nine equal themes through which all subject learning can be delivered. LBL encourages community pride and activism, and – in a similar way to volunteering – promotes agency and empowerment.

In our blog Vibrant communities enrich us all and need to be strengthened, for example, we highlighted and celebrated the amazing community work of a small selection of young people. We also wrote about the importance of community education.

Life-Based Learning aims to organise learning around the modern-day challenges we face. The themes of Relationships and Community sit within a broader category called Society: crucial to human life and living is the ability to relate to – and interact positively with – others, be it family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues or wider society.

Image at the head of this article by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

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