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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Is thanking our volunteers enough?

This opinion piece is about 9 years old

Is the sector in danger of taking volunteers and the work they do for granted, asks Oonagh Aitken of Volunteering Matters

The theme of this year’s Volunteers’ Week is Time to Say Thank You – and as a leading UK volunteering charity, Volunteering Matters (formerly CSV) wholeheartedly supports the sentiment, and indeed believes we should be doing this each and every day throughout the year.

Yet is saying thank you enough? Our society faces significant challenges; we have an ageing population, persistently high youth unemployment and increasing health inequalities, and all this in the context of a significant reduction in the capacity of public services.

These challenges notwithstanding, volunteering and social action have always been highly effective ways of helping to maintain individual and community health and well-being and promoting social inclusion.

Oonagh Aitken

Volunteers give willingly of their time to connect people with their communities and improve everyone’s health and well-being

Oonagh Aitken

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organisation and, increasingly, many others. Yet there is always a danger of taking them and their work for granted just as they become ever more important.

For instance, in health and social care settings, we see volunteers working alongside and complementary to paid professionals, often getting to the important tasks that they can’t because of pressures of time – just spending time with patients or providing them with reading material.

Volunteers are helping to design and deliver key public services and help people with disabilities lead full and active lives, now increasingly through the use of personal budgets.

At Volunteering Matters we focus on this high social impact volunteering; our volunteers transform people’s lives. Whether they support young people leaving the care system, families in vulnerable circumstances, older isolated people or young people not in employment, education or training, these volunteers give willingly of their time and their energy to better connect people with their communities and improve everyone’s health and well-being.

As well as saying thank you, we want to take the opportunity to reiterate some of the other ways volunteering needs to be supported in the UK – through policy and investment – as well as words.

Firstly, we need young people to make a greater contribution to their communities by making space in the curriculum for volunteering.

We want to help see the Social Value Act being applied effectively so that the volunteering sector is meaningfully engaged in design and the delivery of local services for people and communities.

Together the volunteering sector needs to identify and help remove the barriers to volunteering faced by many citizens, so that more find themselves being thanked.

Finally, we should be recognising the importance and benefits of volunteering for millions of people across the United Kingdom, by investing in the volunteering sector to promote and sustain health and well-being and bring communities together.

Oonagh Aitken is chief executive of Volunteering Matters