Posts Tagged '#VolunteersWeek'

Volunteers Week: The Future of Volunteering?

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Out now

This Volunteers Week, Rose Lindsey and John Mohan, co-authors of ‘Continuity and change in voluntary action’, part of the Third Sector Research Series and out now, look at the impact of political rhetoric and public attitudes on volunteering on levels of engagement.

Voluntary action has been a hotly-contested topic over the last 30 years. The International Labour Organisation sees it as an “essential renewable resource” for society. Margaret Thatcher, in her famous speech to the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, anticipated a demographic dividend from the retirement of active baby-boomers. Subsequent governments promoted voluntary action not only for its direct benefits (e.g. providing services) but latent impacts (e.g. on social capital, health and employability). The most recent manifestations of pro-voluntarist arguments have been the “big society” of David Cameron and the “shared society” of Theresa May. However, to what extent have several decades of such arguments and policies had impacts on levels of engagement?

There is certainly evidence that volunteering is a renewable resource if we look at statistics about the proportions who volunteer. These have remained steady for some 35 years, albeit with some fluctuations (a recession-induced decline and a short-term boost after the 2012 Olympics). Yet, despite Thatcher anticipating a significant increase in proportions of people volunteering, this hasn’t happened. Nor does it look as if the expansion of higher education – known to be a strong predictor of volunteering – has had much effect.

“…while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers.”

Our research demonstrates that while many people dip into and out of volunteering, voluntary action is dominated by a small core of long-term volunteers. In the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) –  the only significant longitudinal study asking questions about volunteering –  very small proportions of the population report volunteering in every survey wave. In a 12 year period (1996-2008) most people reported only intermittent volunteering. We can interpret this evidence in both a positive and negative light. For example, if we consider individuals’ contributions over their life courses, a much greater proportion of the population is involved in volunteering than is revealed by one-off cross-sectional surveys. The more challenging issue for voluntary organisations, however, concerns whether and how they can sustain that involvement over time.

When considering this question, it is useful to have insights derived from people’s own understandings of volunteering. We use extensive qualitative material from Mass Observation, tracking individuals’ accounts of the place of voluntary action and unpaid work in their lives. The material offers rich insights into writers’ individual trajectories into and out of volunteering, the social networks through which they became involved, their motivations, attitudes, and their views as to what voluntary action can and cannot do. Most strikingly, when asked about their involvement in unpaid work, or activities in their community, what they discuss first of all is unpaid care for relatives or neighbours. People prioritise what’s closest to home. This is hugely important in the context of great pressures on the social care system:  the prioritisation of unpaid care will limit the time and capacity that individuals have to engage in voluntary action in other parts of their communities.

“People prioritise what’s closest to home.”

Writers also exhibited a strong sense of scepticism about the conditions under which the public are asked to engage in voluntary action. Some writers articulated this very forcefully; for example one writer’s sole response,  to a question regarding whether she had heard of the “Big Society” was to write in uppercase letters:

“I HAVEN’T GOT A CLUE WHAT IT MEANS. NOBODY I’VE SPOKEN TO DON’T KNOW EITHER. IF IT’S ABOUT OUR PM SAYING WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, IT’S A LAUGH”.

Other respondents articulated a sense of exhaustion – “my days of volunteering for anything are over” – and concern that calls for more volunteering would widen disparities between communities. There were also concerns iterated in the 1990s and again in the 2010s, about funding cuts and volunteers substituting the work of paid-staff. In this context, writers repeatedly argued for clear demarcation between what is the responsibility of public authorities to provide, and what should be expected of communities.

There is long-run stability in engagement, which is positive news. But given these strong views, and the recognition that the greatest burden of voluntary effort is being shouldered by relatively small subsets of the population, our study points to clear limits as to how far we might expect to increase engagement in volunteering further.

Continuity and change in voluntary action RGB

Continuity and change in voluntary action by Rose Lindsey and John Mohan with Elizabeth Metcalfe and Sarah Bulloch is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £60.00 or see more from the Third Sector Research Series.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Unseen: What we do for our chosen charity #volunteersweek

Rebecca Tomlinson, Editorial Assistant

Rebecca Tomlinson, Editorial Assistant

In the spirit of #volunteersweek, we thought it would be a good idea to let people know about the great charity work that Policy Press get involved in. 

This year, we are supporting Unseen, whose main mission is ending slavery. By concentrating their efforts on three main areas – supporting, equipping and influencing – they are starting to tackle the issue in a way that really works.

If you haven’t before I’d definitely encourage you to take a look at their website, especially their case studies.

These have really brought it home to us at Policy Press the realities of human trafficking and the horrors that so many people are going through behind closed doors on our streets, vulnerable and enslaved.

Dorina’s story –  Continue reading ‘Unseen: What we do for our chosen charity #volunteersweek’

How is the activity of volunteering changing? #volunteersweek

In today’s guest blog post Sue Kenny shares findings from research about the changing nature and shape of voluntary action and active citizenship is taking with the next generation…

Sue Kenny2.1There are many forms that contemporary active citizenship can take. It can be an expression of civic and civil commitment as well as a form of activism.  

Similarly, volunteering can be an expression of active citizenship in each of these forms.  For example, membership of  local council committees is a form of civic commitment; helping out in a community centre is a form of civil commitment and organising a protest march involves the activist form of active citizenship. Volunteering plays an important role in generating social capital through these different ways of participating in society.

All these types of active citizenship are familiar aspects of participation in civil society. Yet as we discuss in Challenging the third sector: Global prospects for active citizenship, an alternative paradigm of active citizenship and volunteering is emerging, largely out of the gaze of public scrutiny. Continue reading ‘How is the activity of volunteering changing? #volunteersweek’

FREE EXTRACT: John Mohan on Third sector delivering public services

As part of our Volunteers Week celebrations we thought we’d give you a sneak preview of the forthcoming book Third sector delivering public services edited by James Rees and David Mullins by letting you read the foreword by John Mohan, editor of our new series Third Sector Research. 

John Mohan

John Mohan

For over three decades in the UK, governments have sought to restrain or roll back the frontiers of the state, and to expand the scope for third sector involvement in the provision of welfare services.

Incorporating a broad range of voluntary organisations, legal forms and individual actions, the third sector now occupies a central place in political debate and social policy discussions. Even if the fiscal constraints of the present era were not in place, frustrations with the limits of top-down state intervention on one hand, and the social costs of free markets on the other would have forced a critical appraisal of what can be achieved through voluntary initiative.

‘Loose and baggy monster’

Yet the contours of recent changes in the third sector remain relatively under-explored in the UK. Even delimiting the “loose and baggy monster”, as the sector has been characterised, poses considerable conceptual and measurement challenges: these days the monster is a hybrid, if not a Hydra. Continue reading ‘FREE EXTRACT: John Mohan on Third sector delivering public services’

What I learned from volunteering for Policy Press….

Jennifer Bell, English Literature MA student at the University of Bristol, has just spent the past eight months volunteering at Policy Press as part of the Editorial Commissioning team. Today is (sadly!) her last day with us. 

Jen’s learned that ‘it takes a village to raise a book’, there’s more to Friday’s than cake (really?!) and she tells us how the experience has influenced her future career plans. Read on for more insights….

Jennifer BellHow did you hear about volunteering at Policy Press?
I heard about the volunteer scheme run by Policy Press from my department at the University of Bristol. Continue reading ‘What I learned from volunteering for Policy Press….’

Volunteering and the Voluntary Sector Review #volunteersweek

It’s #volunteersweek 1st – 12th June and to celebrate we’re making our Voluntary Sector Review (VSR) journal completely FREE to view and read for the entire 12 days! Simply click here to access the journal – happy reading!

We’ve also asked one of the journal editors, Bernard Harris, to share his thoughts how the Voluntary Sector Review has offered a crucial space for analysis and review of the sector in the six years since it first published…

BernardHarris2

Bernard Harris, co-editor of Voluntary Sector Review

Volunteers’ Week highlights the role which volunteering plays in contemporary life. Volunteering is seen as an important activity in its own right and as a way in which individual citizens can contribute to the welfare of others.

The ‘voluntary sector’ is seen as a partner to statutory services and – in some quarters, at least – as an alternative to them, and the boundaries between the voluntary and private or commercials sectors have become increasingly porous.

The importance of the role played by volunteering and the complex nature of the voluntary sector reinforce the need for independent critical analysis of the many different activities which these terms cover.

A unique space

The Voluntary Sector Review provides a unique space for this analysis. It presents the results of the latest academic research alongside discussions of new policy initiatives and contributions from practitioners commenting on practical developments within their own organisations and the sector more generally. Continue reading ‘Volunteering and the Voluntary Sector Review #volunteersweek’


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