Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Volunteers Take One Step Forward!

Frosts have returned but I guess that's what we expect this time of year. I was in a university car park in Hull today and there is still a heap of snow/ice there yet to fully melt - that must have been a hell of a pile.

I was doing some research work around the Governments Big Picture (which I have to say a lot of people are still waiting for a definition of) but I guess it revolves around finding alternatives to providing public services without public services delivering them and involving volunteers, the community, charities and the private sector. I have some views about this which I won't bore you with but I imagine you would believe I don't exactly wholly agree with it (some aspects perhaps, but not the ethos of it.)

What I also discovered was that there is something called an 'Emerging Gap' in the Big Picture and that is in terms of volunteers. The number of volunteers is declining dramatically.

I was fortunate yesterday (Tuesday) to have been involved in a day long workshop on the future funding implications for my organisation which, unexpectedly, was very enlightening and very interesting albeit you can't get away from the pain that will follow in the next four years. I was sat at a table with a lady who had been awarded an MBE, I understand mainly for her work in the voluntary and charity sector. Well done her, and I asked her about why she thought there was a decline in volunteers and she put a very interesting perspective on it of which she has first hand experience.

She described a society in which couples are under more pressure than ever. She particularly singled out women (nothing sexist in this) who firstly were often married and having to work. Unlike my parents generation, there were often enough wages coming in from the main wage earner to pay the rent/mortgage, not so much now, both couples are having to work to pay it. This is coupled with looking after children who they generally have a little later in life these days. Further couple this with often looking after elderly parents or relatives in addition to running a household and there is sort of a picture emerging where it is more difficult because of the pressures of modern life to find the time to volunteer for anything.

This is not stereo typical of course and there are a hundred combinations of circumstances which pin down singles, divorcees, no children couples, unwell people etc etc., who also have massive pressures which prevent volunteering too.

She also cited younger people are often less willing to volunteer as educational pressures and the need to earn extra money during university for example and those who don't go for further education who often work long hours to get a decent wage have less incentive and inclination to volunteer.

My mother has helped to raise probably hundreds of thousands of pounds for local charities in Cottingham in East Yorkshire and for the Lifeboat charity RNLI, and she also works for the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) once a week but when she retired at 60 ish, she had time on her hands without the responsibilities of more modern day life and she has her health which helps.

Do I volunteer? Not now. I used to sit on a Boys Football League with lots of responsibilities for ten years giving up three years or so ago. That was my contribution as a volunteer. Not very exciting but helped get kids off the streets, give them focus, team work discipline, fitness and skills and hopefully an interest in healthy activity and the opportunity to make friends.

Will I volunteer in the future? Who knows. There are some difficulties and bureaucracy to overcome for many people - Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, often insurance is difficult to obtain or premiums are too high. Currently I don't have spare time but I'm not sure if that's just an excuse.

Should I volunteer at all? Well, I believe we all have something to give to our communities or neighbourhood or to particular groups of people either in time or cash, but it's more about giving your skills which is predominantly about time - time which is so precious and short for a lot of people. It's good to volunteer of course, a bit of selfless and unsolicited activity for the benefits of fellow man (sorry ladies but that includes you too) is good for the soul.

But if we all did an unsolicited good deed for the day - helping old ladies across the road (never done that but everyone says it happens!) looking out for the elderly neighbour, doing a spot of shopping for them in bad weather, giving someone a lift to the hospital for an appointment, cutting the grass when they're ill, sitting and listening for ten minutes, doing a kindness for a stranger: "you've left your lights on your car," or "you've got your dress tucked into the back of your knickers," that sort of thing, actually for me would probably make a bigger difference to our society as a whole.

What do you think?

Chat soon



  1. I have very mixed feelings about volunteering because it may well take a paid job away from someone who needs it - i did for a long time volunteer on the nursing station in a hospice and I found it a most rewarding thing to do. But I get so disillusioned by things like the huge bonuses paid by banks etc., and the enormous wealth of some of our MP's who cannot possibly appreciate what it is like to be poor and out of work, that I am glad I am now too old for any kind of volunteer work.

  2. I volunteer at the cat shelter. Dous that count? It's as much for me as it is for them. I also volunteer at our church who had to cut back on staff (we're a large church) during the economic crunch, so now we have three or four volunteers doing the job one person was paid to do.

  3. I have volunteered since I had children, mostly in creches and playgroups, still do a few hours a week helping mums who've just had babies.

    Now I have expereienced working for charities, I know how valuable volunteers are, I cherish mine.


  4. Hi Weaver - interesting point about displacing a paid person. Well done on the nursing station volunteering. Thx for the comment.

    Hi ChrisJ - of course volunteering to assist our animal friends is perfectly valid. It's a shame that volunteers have replaced a paid person at your church, volunteering should be a bonus extra!

    Hi Auntiegwen - I know how important helping new mums and toddlers is - my wife did the same in the late eighties. Look after those volunteers.

  5. Hi RLS, The only voluntering I did when I was working was running a club connected with the job. Now I am retired. I was helping at the Scrapstore untill it closed. Now I am a litter picker in my village. I was worried that I might be doing someone out of a job, so I asked the council operative who comes round once a week. He said, 'No, you carry on doing it, I have got far too much to do, so you are a help'. I also clear overgrown public footpaths of brambles and tree branches, to make them safer for walkers. I think everybody who is able to should give an hour or two each week.

  6. Hi Meanqueen, thank you for visiting and for your comment. It was good that you asked the question of the one person who you could have affected. Carry on the good work.