Celebrating the impact and opportunities of volunteering and #IWill

Jenni Snell has recently joined YouthLink Scotland as #IWill National Development Officer, in her first blog Jenni takes a look at new research published by NCVO on volunteering across Britain and considers young people’s involvement in volunteering and social action.

Volunteering has a double benefit: It develops the skills, qualities and future opportunities of the volunteer and at the same time positively affects the community or societal cause in which they are involved. However, with the recent publication of NCVO’s “Time Well Spent” report we are reminded that volunteering is not solely about the development of skills and employability prospects but can be, and fundamentally is, about enjoyment and having fun! 10,000 British volunteers were reached in the recent survey so it is definitely cause for celebration that 96% of them have said that they enjoy their volunteering experience and regard it as time well spent!

And there are a lot more benefits of volunteering to celebrate about. The “Time Well Spent” report shares similar findings to the Scottish Volunteering Forum’s “Why Volunteering Matters” Report (2015) which captures the individual benefits of volunteering:   

  • Improved physical and mental wellbeing
  • Meeting new people and making new connections
  • Making a difference to society
  • Reducing social isolation and a sense of belonging

However, whilst we celebrate the positives, there is an opportunity for us to continue to work and ensure that 2019 is the year that even more people get involved and benefit from volunteering. Although the “Time Well Spent” report shines a light on the amazing contributions and motivations of volunteers across Britain, it unfortunately misses out the voices of those under the age of 18 years old.

In Scotland, young people’s contribution to volunteering is nearly double that of adults (Volunteer Scotland, 2016) and their experiences are equally, if not more, valuable to the future of volunteering in Scotland. Youth VIP, a group of twenty-five young people from across Scotland, supported by Project Scotland and Young Scot, have been developing recommendations on the future of volunteering for the Scottish Government and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from this in the coming months. Their recommendations will be essential in ensuring that we are continuing to encourage, support and celebrate the important role that young people play in making a difference through volunteering.

Scotland already has an amazing number of young people volunteering, 52% are currently involved in a volunteering capacity of some sort, whether that be in a formal volunteering capacity or more informally. Volunteering can present itself in many ways and is not limited to the more traditional roles we automatically think of: Mentoring; Campaigning; Fundraising; Formal Volunteering; Digital Participation and Youth Forums are all examples of how young people are making a difference in Scotland. Within Youth Work, we understand that all differences and contributions young people make deserve to be recognised and celebrated!

However, despite the incredible contributions of young people in Scotland, there is a significant gap between the participation rates in volunteering depending on socio-economic backgrounds. Both the NCVO “Time Well Spent” report and the Ipsos Mori “Youth Social Action Surveys 2015-2017” highlight that diversity continues to be an issue in volunteering:

“Those who participate in formal volunteering at least once a month are more likely to be older, well-educated and from higher socio-economic groups.”
(NCVO, 2019)

To ensure that all young people are getting the opportunity to take part, we need to continue to identify and break down the barriers that are making it difficult for those not currently involved. I believe that youth work, as a sector, is in the best position to do just that.

As Youth Workers, we offer young people a safe space to try new things and meet new people; we build relationships based on trust and respect; we provide opportunities to develop skills and confidence and we always start from where the young people are. The youth work process enables young people to develop the confidence and skills to access opportunities otherwise closed to them.   

At YouthLink Scotland, we are a key strategic partner of the #IWill Campaign, a UK wide campaign that aims to encourage and empower more young people into volunteering opportunities that make a difference in their communities or wider society. At the start of 2019, I feel privileged to have joined the YouthLink Scotland team to continue to work on driving the #IWill campaign forward in Scotland and look forward to continuing to promote and celebrate the incredible contributions that our young people make through social action and volunteering.

There are many ways for your Youth Work organisation to get involved in the #IWill campaign and support Scotland’s young people to get involved in volunteering. Do you have opportunities for young people to volunteer? Or a position on your board of trustees which a young person could hold? You might be able to promote the campaign on your social media channels? Or support young people’s voices in decision making through a youth forum or similar platform? Could you provide staff with volunteering time to support young people get involved? Are you doing one of the above already? If you answer yes to any of these you can pledge your support to the #IWill campaign, and help to support even more young people to make a difference to their community and Scotland by getting in touch.

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