Over 21 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year. They are a shining example of how we can all make a big difference to individuals and communities every day by improving the environment we live in, spending time with those who may otherwise be lonely and contributing to a range of other essential services and support. As part of Volunteer Week (1-12 June), Gary Blake of Voluntary Action Leeds and the Doing Good Leeds website tells us why volunteering is good for everyone.
Lots of research has been done around volunteering, particularly on what motivates people to volunteer. When working at the Volunteer Centre Leeds, the first question we ask potential volunteers is “why do you want to volunteer?” Typical answers we often hear are “I want to give something back to the community”, “I want to meet new people” or “I want to get experience of being in a work environment.”
However, there are other benefits to being a volunteer: – you are likely to live longer, are less likely to suffer from ill health and will be much happier.
In 2014 researchers at the London School of Economics published a (Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living), special health report published by Harvard Health Publications which examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults. They found the more people volunteered, the happier they were.
Compared to people who never volunteered the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteered monthly and 12% for people who volunteered every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of £50,000–£68,000 versus £13,000, say the researchers.
This evidence shows the more you volunteer the more happiness you will feel and is backed up in other research that shows the most happiest of volunteers are those that volunteer regularly and at least 100 hours per year. Those who volunteered for at least 100 hours per year were also two-thirds as likely as non-volunteers to report bad health, and also one-third as likely to die. (Luoh and Herzog, 2002).
There is no age limit to the benefits of being a volunteer. Other research has shown that the older you are when volunteering the bigger the health benefits are: “… in general, volunteers report greater life satisfaction and better physical health than non-volunteers, and their life satisfaction and physical health improves at a greater rate as a result of volunteering. At the same time, older volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health as a result of their volunteer activities than do younger volunteers.” (Van Willigen, 2000)
If you feel a busy lifestyle and work will stop you becoming a volunteer then take a look at Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV). The scheme provides employees with the opportunity to volunteer with support from their employer. This may be in the form of time off for individual volunteering, team challenge events or an ongoing arrangement with a community partner. ESV provides real benefits to the employer, the volunteers and community organisations they support. By helping tackle local issues, employers can benefit both themselves and the communities in which they operate.
Remember all these benefits can be gained by volunteering as little as 100 hours per year which is less than two hours per week.
If after reading this you are thinking about becoming a volunteer then contact your local Volunteering Centre. You can visit Volunteer Centre Leeds, 2 Great George Street, Leeds, LS2 8BA, telephone 0113 395 0405 or search on line for volunteering opportunities.
Thanks Gary, you’ve given us a lot to think about.