Volunteering, and a strong voluntary sector, lie at the heart of thriving communities – empowering and connecting individuals, and benefiting and strengthening both the individual volunteer and the wider community.
We already have a strong culture of volunteering in this country, and the pandemic has sparked renewed interest in the power of volunteering, which cannot be taken for granted.
We’re proud to be a partner in the new ‘Vision for Volunteering’, which is a bold vision setting out the ways we see volunteering developing over the next decade.
Councils have a key role to play in this, across the vision’s five key themes – awareness and appreciation; power; equity and inclusion; collaboration; and experimentation – and we have four key ‘takeaways’ for local government.
First, close, trusted relationships should be nurtured. The Vision for Volunteering envisages a shift away from ‘imposed’ partnership working towards community-led coalitions of interest.
Through the pandemic, councils worked collaboratively, in many formal and informal ways, with voluntary and community sector (VCS) groups and the local VCS infrastructure organisations that make up our membership.
This collaboration enhanced the role of individual volunteers and the communities with which they work. This approach should be developed and grown further.
Second, is that power is devolved to the most appropriate level. Our vision is for councils and organisations to support and champion communities to develop and drive their own collaborative activity, based on intelligence about what is needed in that community. This requires a clear understanding of the resources that communities already have, how those can best be used, and clarity on roles, responsibilities, and the outcome sought.
Ensuring that decisions about priorities and actions are made by those best placed to make them will create the conditions for effective volunteering.
Third, infrastructure bodies can support councils to best utilise volunteers. Developing more awareness and appreciation of the role of volunteers is central to the Vision for Volunteering.
We consistently see communities responding rapidly and creatively to challenges presented locally – something that was particularly evident during the pandemic.
We must collectively learn from effective partnership working in times of crisis and we stand ready to help councils unleash the potential of volunteering.
Finally, investment is essential. Relationship-building, empowering local communities and supporting volunteering – none of these come without investment.
We know that there is pressure on councils, which confronted an estimated £9.7 billion in cost pressures and income losses in 2020/21, on top of more than a decade of deep funding cuts.
At the same time, VCS organisations experienced increased demand for services combined with falling incomes.
Failing to invest in the local community and volunteering weakens communities, while investment enables the five priorities of our vision.
The Vision for Volunteering calls on us all to embrace a genuine learning culture, seeking out and listening to those with expertise (wherever this lies), building on what works well, and learning when things go wrong.
We look forward to working with local government as we further develop the vision. Reach out to your local VCS for a conversation about how you can work together to bring it to life where you are.