Volunteering - what do you see?

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George Thomson examines what is a key period for volunteering in Scotland 

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14th February 2020 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

For many years, we’ve relied on volunteers to complete our tasks, fill our roles and help our organisations to function. Volunteers are vital to our endeavours; they energise and fuel our activities. But, as with many other resources, volunteers are finite. Just 19% provide 65% of Scotland’s volunteering hours and like fossil fuels volunteers are also susceptible to burn out.

Volunteering right now is largely exclusive in nature. Far fewer formal volunteers are from deprived areas or face multiple barriers. Volunteering, when viewed as a scarce resource, is in crisis. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We know that many more of us would like to volunteer and those that are currently the least involved have the most to gain. Regular volunteering is good for our health and wellbeing, builds our skills and knowledge and is at the very heart of our associational life. Our research shows that volunteering is a key ingredient in community building and strong communities have the potential to foster a form of volunteering that is more equitable and inclusive.

At this year’s Gathering, we’ll be examining volunteering’s relationship with community and investigating how we can work together to create a community-centred future for volunteering that’s both inclusive and sustainable.

George Thomson

George Thomson

Now is the perfect time for change. In 2019, the Scottish Government made clear its commitment to inclusive growth, with the launch of the Volunteering for All National Volunteering Framework. A shared ambition to create a Scotland where everyone can volunteer, more often, and throughout their lives.

We’ll be playing host to the first of three Volunteering for All evidence sessions at this year’s Gathering, where those with an interest in volunteering can learn from the latest research and use it to inform and transform their practice.

First up on the day will be Volunteer Scotland’s Matthew Linning, who will make a case for building strong communities as the route to increased volunteering participation: “Engaged communities are fundamental to a healthy and vibrant society. Our hypothesis is that associational life is the key driver of the ‘participation-to-volunteering’ pathway.  The research also shows that volunteering is a vital community building block, with 81% of formal volunteering being ‘local’ and one in five adults volunteering with a ‘community or neighbourhood’ group. The neighbourhood aspect is equally important to the 1.6 million adults who volunteer informally, and where geographical proximity and a sense of belonging are likely to be strong motivating factors. But how can we foster associational life and people’s engagement in their community to leverage the amazing contribution from volunteering? That’s a question we hope the collective expertise in the room can help us solve. There’ll be an opportunity for participants to share their experience and ideas on the day in our round-table workshop sessions looking at the relationship between community and volunteering.”

It’s clear that if we want to achieve a shift in volunteer participation and bring about active citizenship, we need to work together to change how we approach volunteering. We’ll be joined on the day by leading experts in the fields of volunteer engagement and community building. Keynote speaker, Dr Toby Lowe from Northumbria University's Newcastle Business School, will share his expertise of collaborative working: “The aim of the evidence sessions is to challenge the status quo and promote joint working across the sector. We hope it will lead to evidence-based changes to how volunteering is funded and managed, putting the Volunteering for All Framework into action. I’ll be sharing my research which highlights that we need to move away from target-based public management to free volunteers to focus on their work in their communities.”

George Thomson is chief executive of Volunteer Scotland. Volunteering for All, The Evidence Sessions takes place at The Gathering on Wednesday 19 February, 9.30am to 12pm in the Lomond Suite. Volunteer Scotland will host a National Volunteering Expo on 29 October 2020 and an International Expo in September 2021 at Stirling’s Barracks Conference Centre.