Volunteering can be described as giving your time and energy freely, and by choice, without concern for financial gain. It can describe hundreds of different activities that people choose to do to benefit or support others in the community. The word “volunteering” is used for a range of activities such as community service, self-help, charity, neighbourliness, citizenship, public service, community action, community involvement, trustee, member, helper.
There are volunteering opportunities in many different avenues such as health; social care; arts and culture; trusteeship; practical and DIY; management and in the environment. Volunteers save lives (Samaritans, RNLI); help run sports and social events (stewards, fundraisers, St John’s Ambulance); look after our wildlife and natural environment, fundraise, and support vulnerable people.
Volunteering increases community social capital and individual well-being for the volunteers themselves and for the people they support. It can help increase community capacity and build social resilience.
There are 32,000 third sector organisations in Wales, and within these 8,100 are registered charities. Denbighshire has the second highest number of charities per head of population – around 12.5 per 1,000 people. The NCVO Almanac shows the overall income of Welsh general charities to be £1,258million, with 28% of people in Wales volunteering each year.
During 2017 to 2018 in Wales, it is estimated that approximately 938,000 volunteers contributed a total of 145 million hours of their time each year. Volunteer time had an estimated value of £1.7 billion; estimated to be around 3.1% of Wales’s GDP at that time.
Charities are able to fill gaps in service delivery that the public or private sectors are not able or willing to fill. By being close to their users, charities have a unique perspective on their needs and how to improve services. There are also high levels of public trust in charities; they are the third most trusted group in society after doctors and the police. Clear majorities see charities as the best way of channelling good will; think they ought to have a greater role; and believe they are easier to engage locally. Many charities also engage in campaigning or advocacy around the same issue they deliver services on.
Benefits for the volunteer
People who engage in altruistic activities (like volunteering), report a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Many of the key ingredients for a happy and fulfilling life are encapsulated by the “5 ways to well-being” (a set of evidence-based public mental health messages aimed at improving the mental health and well-being of the whole population) and can be gained in volunteering activities: Connect, Be active, Take notice, Learn and Give.
A number of benefits relating to volunteering have been identified. These include:
Building of social networks and relationships, creating a sense of belonging
Enjoyment of purposeful activity, including ‘serious leisure’ activities such as sports coaching
Experience and skills gained. For example, for employment or career advancement, or simply the challenge of something new
Personal development, including building confidence and self esteem
Experiencing autonomy; developing an experience of and commitment to equality and fairness; improving individual dignity and decreasing individual vulnerabilities
Self-help and mutual support – for example those whose lives are touched by chronic illness, tragedy or caring responsibility draw benefits from association with others who have similar experiences; and
A sense of giving something back to society
Benefits to organisations
Many organisations are entirely run by volunteers, and would not exist without them. Where organisations involve both paid staff and volunteers, the most common benefits to the organisation are:
Volunteers’ involvement can improve open and inclusive strategic planning processes
It may be volunteers’ activity that achieves the organisation’s mission, with paid staff providing back up support.
Volunteers add to and complement the work of paid staff. They allow flexibility in service provision and experimentation with new approaches.
Volunteers may bring added value, through their personal qualities, experience and the time that they give to the client group.
As representatives of the community served by the organisation, they bring a local voice and add credibility to an organisation. Their ideas and involvement test and enrich an organisation and improve an organisation’s links to community and service beneficiaries.
Volunteers increase the potential for organisations to be more attractive to funders.
Benefits to the wider community, building social capital
Service provision: Volunteers can strengthen existing services. They play a very important role in healthcare, working in a range of settings and providing a variety of services alongside paid staff. Hence, volunteering helps to develop a strong civil society and resilient and vibrant communities.
Increasing social well-being: There is increasing interest in assessing not only economic well-being but also personal and social well-being. Well-being is about satisfaction and happiness, but also about fulfilment and connection with community.
Democratic participation: Volunteering is an expression of democracy – people exercising their right to associate and act for change. Where volunteers are involved with formal organisations, they can contribute a citizens’ voice to policy decisions. They can also contribute to the shaping of public services.
Inclusion and social cohesion: Volunteering is accessible to all, including those who may be excluded from employment and from other social networks. It can provide opportunities to foster understanding and friendship between factions within the community and to combat isolation and prejudice.
Volunteering in Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire
CVSC and DVSC both offer comprehensive volunteering support services via their volunteer centres. A volunteer centre offers a one-stop resource for information, advice and guidance on all aspects of volunteering for both volunteers and recruiting organisations. Volunteer Centre staff aim to link the skills, experiences, time and enthusiasm of local people looking to volunteer with organisations seeking to develop their services.
Volunteering directly contributes to the seven well-being goals in the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015. In Conwy County Borough and Denbighshire, our grants schemes all focus on how projects contribute to delivering the Act. Youth Led Grants list these goals as priorities and require applicants to directly identify which goal their projects contribute to. The annual Volunteering Wales Grants, administered by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), provides support and training for individuals to enable participation in quality volunteering opportunities. These are examples of how volunteering can contribute to, and directly support, the sustainable development principle and the seven well-being goals.
During 2019 to 2020, CVSC and DVSC:
Provided support to 844 individuals to access volunteering.
Provided training courses for 660 participants.
Received and responded to over 3,838 general enquiries
Received and responded to 575 funding enquiries
Provided nearly £1,000,000 of funding through grants and loan schemes.
There has been a major impact from the Covid-19 pandemic. Traditional volunteering more or less stalled whilst organisations re-purposed their service delivery online. Many of the traditional cohort of volunteers either changed their role to providing telephone or digital befriending services during this transition phase, or chose to leave. Again, the traditional demographic of volunteers meant that many were shielding.
Some of the people shielding and social distancing, including volunteers themselves, were and continue to be digitally excluded, and this posed challenges during a time when so much of the traditional face to face volunteering was re-purposed into a virtual world. Many volunteers stopped their volunteering either because of their digital exclusion, or because their motivation to volunteer was based on meeting people and socialising.
In contrast to this, however, was the tremendous local and informal emergency response, often at neighbourhood or street-level through mutual aid and pop-up Covid-19 support groups offering shopping and prescription support. This is an indication that more people, across all ages, wanted to volunteer in times of crisis. Vital and essential services via foodbanks were provided by volunteers and full credit must be given also to the community transport schemes taking people for their vaccines.
Indeed, both CVSC and DVSC experienced a huge surge of people coming forward to help. They were referred or signposted to these local informal groups where there was a need, and of course to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which in turn were experiencing unprecedented interest and challenges in managing the sudden surge in numbers. The volume of volunteers far outweighed the available opportunities. It has been a turbulent time of re-opening and lockdown; making it difficult to support and manage volunteers and retain their interest and enthusiasm. However, a real positive outcome has been the creation of large banks of potential volunteers who are supported and receive volunteering opportunities on a regular basis.
Though levels of interest in volunteering are currently as high as they’ve ever been, funding for volunteering is facing austere times in much the same ways as the public sector. Reductions in public sector services have also increased reliance on the voluntary sector to help support people, communities and infrastructure. In many cases, demand for volunteer support has never been higher. New technology is opening up new access routes and opportunities for people to participate, but the value of face-to-face volunteering has never been more apparent, and is widely recognised as the primary means of achieving the many benefits listed already (for example, social inclusion).
Many challenges remain for the volunteering sector. These include:
The impact of Covid-19 and the short to medium term lack of face-to-face volunteering experiences. Some volunteers may also feel worn out or traumatised following their experiences of volunteering during the pandemic. Volunteering is a core part of Covid-19 recovery.
Volunteers are not free! There remains a misunderstanding that involving volunteers will reduce costs. Volunteer management is a profession in its own right, but there has been a noticeable decline in paid volunteer manager/co-ordinator roles. Organisations need to invest in their volunteers, their management and development and training.
Involving young volunteers whose time is so often taken up by the demands of school, academia, extra-curricular activities and the pressures on their time, remains a challenge. Involving young people could lead to mitigating the growing issue and difficulty in recruiting new trustees
Reflecting local communities and the need for the diversification of the traditional volunteer base. This means ensuring that volunteering appeals to a wider range of people.
The ongoing need for infrastructure is clear as the voluntary sector is fast changing and support required to operate within the necessary legislative and quality frameworks. CVSC and DVSC are ideally placed to provide this support.
How can we develop meaningful partnerships between the volunteering movement and the statutory and business sectors, based on the principle of co-production?
What role is there for volunteering in the delivery of public services? What are the opportunities and dangers? How can we reform the commissioning environment so that it takes appropriate account of the contribution that volunteers can make?
What contribution can volunteering make to aiding employability? How can we safeguard the integrity of volunteering as an act freely given?
How can we increase the value, impact and recognition of volunteer management?
How can we re-shape the voluntary sector to take account of young people’s aspirations and ambitions?
How can we harness the benefits of digital technology and get a better blend of online and face-to-face social action?
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Volunteering and wellbeing in the pandemic Part II: Rapid evidence review
 Wales Centre for Public Policy (2021). Volunteering and wellbeing in the pandemic: Implications for policy and practice
People want to see people that they can relate to in volunteering roles, in terms of their language and culture.
People told us they value community assets like community-run shops, pubs and businesses, and they want to encourage people, including young people, to get involved in their communities.
They identified people with disabilities, including learning difficulties, and older people as people they feel should be supported, in particular to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. They thought that there could be ways of building generational links through younger volunteering to support older people.
Volunteers themselves have said:
“Even though it has been a really tough year, I have grown a lot personally and YouthShedz has helped with that”
“Where to start?! It would be impossible to deliver the wide range, volume and myriad of activities without volunteers. So many different skills, so much different knowledge. They’re part of the strength and fabric of societies and communities in which to build.”
‘Volunteering has increased my confidence greatly. It gives me invaluable experience to help me get back to work. I very much like the people I volunteer with. I was too unwell to work and it has helped me gain the confidence and steady progress needed to get back to work.’
“Volunteering has kept me busy throughout the pandemic and prevented me from becoming isolated. My volunteering has helped people access services and prevents isolation on their part. Volunteering has allowed me to meet new people which is nice.”
A report looking into the future of the sector in Wales is currently underway, led by WCVA. From a PSB perspective, it would be helpful to understand what the voluntary sector offers, how it is provided, and where. We would like to know if rural areas are adequately supported/able to support themselves for example. National statistics on the size of the sector, the size of organisations, employment, its economic contribution in terms of the economic value of volunteering is available but a strategic overview for Conwy and Denbighshire is needed.
The longer term impacts of Covid-19, including issues around the traditional demographic of many volunteers and the return to face-to-face volunteering, are not fully clear. We know we need to do more to encourage a diverse range of volunteers, including people with a Black Asian and Minority Ethnic and LGBTQ+ background.
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