What do we mean by volunteer?

Emily Roach Osborne, Project Support Officer for Communities Prepared, considers the benefits of expanded definitions of volunteering this Volunteers’ Week

Volunteers’ Week 2023 falls within the landscape of the recent The Big Help Out during Coronation weekend on the 8th May and the release of the Time Well Spent survey from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations which indicate that volunteering is at all-time low in England due to global events such as COVID and the war in Ukraine, as well as national challenges such as political instability and the cost of living crisis. At Communities Prepared, we’re considering this context and how our own  encouragement of volunteering and offer of training is designed to meet the needs of communities.

Volunteers’ Week is designed to recognise and celebrate efforts of volunteers at the heart of UK communities. From those supporting the work of larger charities, to grassroots projects in local communities, the week of the 1st-7th June is reserved for celebrating their efforts in various ways.  Volunteering is often societally recognised as formal, free labour and is measured by the sacrifice of time and energy to campaign, fundraise, run an activity or support a charitable organisation. But a broader, more holistic definition of this involves a recognition of the sacrifice involved in the gift of time and energy, and an acknowledgment of the intersectional privileges and disadvantages that position us as able to volunteer or not.

A reflexive and holistic approach to volunteering is needed in order to effectively meet the specific needs of communities

Volunteering can mean an awareness of the wellbeing of those in our communities that exists beyond societal notions of working for free, held in acts of generosity and empathy within our neighbourhoods towards those whose suffering we witness in our day to day and who are restricted from advocating for themselves. The Know your Neighbour Fund recently announced by the Government shares this aim and will look to mitigate loneliness and unemployment in economically disadvantaged communities by providing opportunities to develop skills, get mentorship, socialise and connect.

At Communities Prepared, our definition of volunteer covers anyone looking to engage with our resources and learning and apply this knowledge in their homes and communities. This can mean more standardised examples of leading volunteer groups, developing emergency plans or spontaneously volunteering within an emergency, but can also be broadened to consider a more all-of-community approach to volunteering. Central to our program is the recognition that resilience is only developed through meeting the specific, fluctuating needs of a community, and this involves an acknowledgement of communities as a whole, an intention that must capture all of the people, and all of the environment, as well as what might limit a person’s ability to volunteer.

Pictured are events, workshops and meetings between Communities Prepared and local individuals, groups and communities since its beginning in 2016-present

When we invite people to register with us, we use the words ‘individual volunteer’. This inclusive term promotes that any individual looking to understand and contribute to community resilience should consider themselves as a volunteer. Considered within this broader definition of co-support and compassion, volunteering might present an avenue through which we might understand and mitigate broader social inequalities, their impact on those around us, and our own position of intersecting privileges and disadvantages when we think about how to improve societal resilience.

Register with us

Register with us to access our volunteering resources and more

If you are interested in learning more about our resources, we invite you to register with us via this page. It will give you access to our learning. We also have a members forum in which you are welcome to start discussions and ask questions with other engaged individual volunteers and volunteer groups across the country.

Registering is quick, free, and helps us gauge how many people our training and support is reaching as we evaluate the project. Your data will not be shared anywhere else, you will never be asked for your payment details, and you will only be signed up to our monthly newsletter as part of this process.

Learn More about Volunteering

If you have any questions about our work or about volunteering with us please contact us. If you are looking for other specific ways to volunteer time, energy or support to those around you, the NCVO have a stories page that gives examples of volunteering throughout the UK, and links to get involved and learn more about volunteering.

Related resources:

Read the NVCO’s Time Well Spent report via their website here.

Read more about the Know your Neighbourhood Fund.

Read more about Volunteers’ Week here and follow it through the hashtag #VolunteersWeek.

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