Scottish report believes volunteering must adapt to ensure it is fit for the future

Category: United Kingdom

A new study from Volunteer Scotland has found that the current structures for volunteering in Scotland need updated to face a changing society.

The Contribution of Volunteering to Scotland’s Health and Wellbeing report looks forward to 2040 and states how volunteering can help Scottish society face some of its biggest challenges: an ageing population, labour market skills shortages, mental and physical ill-health, social isolation and loneliness, and poor community engagement.

Author of the report, Matthew Linning of Volunteer Scotland, said: “These are long-term problems with no quick fixes, but the evidence shows that volunteering has an important role to play in helping to make Scotland a healthier and more inclusive society.

“We know that volunteering is a powerful remedy with the potential to boost the health and wellbeing of volunteers. Regular volunteering, more than once a month, is often just ‘what the doctor ordered’, making the volunteer and those they support feel better. However, to help address the complex social and economic trends facing Scotland over the next 20 years, we must challenge the status quo for volunteering and its contribution to society. Volunteering in 2040 will need to have a very different focus to 2020.”

The scale and demographic structure of volunteering in Scotland is also predicted to undergo a radical transformation. According to the study the number of volunteers aged 65+ is projected to increase by 102,000 over the next 20 years, but the number aged 16 – 64 is projected to decline by 41,000.

The study recommends that volunteering policy makers and practitioners focus on four key areas over the next two decades.

The report emphasises the vital importance of volunteering to Scotland’s health and wellbeing – a benefit that the researchers say we must capitalise on over the next 20 years.

Sport also has a major role to play in the future of Scottish volunteering. There are currently 280,000 volunteers across 13,000 clubs helping to improve the health and wellbeing of the 2.3 million adults involved in sport and physical activity in Scotland.

NHS and health charities are also an important growth area for volunteering, with over 200,000 people currently volunteering in the health and social care sector in Scotland. Volunteers help to listen, inform, educate, manage and support the population on a wide range of health and wellbeing conditions.

How society fosters associational life, neighbourliness and stronger communities is also central to the future role of volunteering. Research shows that social connectedness through volunteering aids personal health and wellbeing, as well as community wellbeing.

To share the main report’s findings, Volunteer Scotland and the Scottish Volunteering Forum have created two supporting documents designed to guide volunteering policy and practice.

The first is targeted at policy makers and stakeholders, where the over-riding message is that volunteering needs to be integrated into a wide range of policy areas: The contribution of volunteering to a healthier and happier Scotland: How organisations can help to influence policy and practice in Scotland.

The second is focused on good practice, to help volunteer managers and other practitioners optimise the health and wellbeing benefits from volunteering and help achieve a more inclusive society: Optimising Health and Wellbeing Benefits from Volunteering: Good Practice for Engaging and Supporting Volunteers.

The full research report can be accessed here.