Voluntary action drives positive change in communities across the UK. Our friends at Groundwork have been thinking about how to celebrate the amazing achievements of volunteers and how to put more power into their hands.
Like most charities, Groundwork relies on volunteers at all levels: from the trustees setting the strategic direction and holding leadership staff to account, to the local people getting involved in their local community garden. In 2018, Groundwork supported adults and young people to take part in a staggering 400,000 days of voluntary action, changing places and lives for the better.
Here’s what they learnt:
Supporting voluntary action
Because volunteers give up their time for free, it’s easy to dismiss volunteering as something that just happens organically, without the need for any outside intervention – but our experience tells us that this isn’t the case.
While there is a strong network of volunteer groups and a track record of community action in some parts of the country, other areas experience more of a challenge. When local people are working several jobs or moving in and out of a community regularly due to insecure housing, the capacity needed to start and sustain volunteer action can be harder to come by. The statistics back this up: we know that those from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to volunteer than those from higher socio-economic groups, and that those with a degree are more likely to have volunteered recently than those with no qualifications.
This matters because often these areas are precisely the ones that have most to gain from a thriving community of volunteers. These are often the areas most affected by environmental ills such as air pollution and flooding, the areas with the least accessible green space, and the areas where community services are most at risk. Local volunteers are best placed to ensure that the solutions to these problems work for local people. The passion and skills needed exist in these communities but support is needed to make change happen.
Groundwork is proud to champion the Community Wealth Fund campaign, calling for unclaimed financial assets to be channelled into a long-term investment in deprived communities, with local people in control of how the money is spent. Enabling every community to shape its own destiny has been core to our work ever since the very first project in Merseyside over 30 years ago and this proposal would help to ensure all communities have this opportunity for years to come.
Addressing the barriers to voluntary action in every community will require new ideas about the relationships between communities, businesses and public services.
Employers can play an important role in supporting a thriving network of volunteers in communities. Groundwork has been proud to work alongside organisations such as Avison Young and HS2, providing corporate volunteering opportunities for their workforce to get out into communities and use their skills to make a difference.
To coincide with Volunteers’ Week, NCVO has launched new research into employer-supported volunteering, which underlines the importance of aligning the motivations of volunteers, the value of volunteering to employers and the goals of the organisations and communities hosting volunteers. Balancing the needs of all these different groups is a major challenge but an unmissable opportunity to bring all sections of a community together.
Time to celebrate!
Of course, one of the main aims of Volunteers’ Week is the desire to celebrate the commitment and contribution of volunteers and this is also the driver behind Groundwork’s Community Awards, now in it’s third year.
Hundreds and thousands of people are giving up their time to improve their neighbourhoods or to provide vital services for others in their communities. They rarely shout about what they achieve but work tirelessly and selflessly to improve the quality of life of others.
The community groups nominated exemplify the difference volunteers can make to where they live. The story of 2018 Community Leader of the Year winner, David Chatten-Smith, shows how one person can turn a personal setback into a platform to help others. Last year’s Community Group of the year, Love Barrow Families, is an example of the power of working alongside a community to design a service led by their needs.
This year’s awards will no doubt uncover more stories of unsung heroes and extraordinary voluntary efforts. Meanwhile, Groundwork will continue working to ensure that all communities are able to benefit from thriving networks of volunteers and community groups.
Post by Fay Holland
Policy and Communications Executive at Groundwork