Charities urged to promote mental health benefits of volunteering

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University's Groups, Identities and Health Research Group looked at the role of community belonging and relationships in volunteering.

This found that volunteers identified strongly with their community, felt supported by local people and reported a personal sense of wellbeing.

The research has significant implications for charity leaders as they look to recruit and retain volunteers. This sense of community is particular important as charities look to attract volunteers amid Covid-19 recovery, suggests the research.

“The findings highlight the ways in which volunteering can provide psychological benefits both directly through the giving of help and support, and indirectly by providing a psychological sense of social support, safety, and collective resilience in the face of potential adversity,” according to researchers.

The research was carried out before the Covid-10 pandemic and included a survey of more than 500 volunteers and non-volunteers and in-depth interviews with 53 volunteers.

“Although we carried out this research before the pandemic, understanding the drivers behind why people volunteer, and what makes that volunteering long-lasting and rewarding, is now even more critical for the recovery of communities,” said Dr Mhairi Bowe, social psychology and mental health senior lecturer at the university and lead researcher.

“The UK experienced a huge surge in volunteers during the Covid-19 lock down but as we start to return to some sort of normality, circumstances will naturally change and it’s important not to lose this volunteering momentum to the detriment of communities.

“Our data suggest that community relationships and the deep sense of commitment that residents often feel towards their community act as powerful motivators for volunteering.

“Cohesive community relationships not only create the conditions that drive people to help, but they also sustain volunteering over time, making the experience rewarding for volunteers and beneficial for communities. These interconnected communities are vital in ensuring the decisive local responses needed for effective management of the pandemic.

“By appreciating the complex links between social identity and volunteering, we can begin to address crucial issues such as how to ensure that such behaviour remains sustained as communities deal with the long-term effects of the pandemic and look towards recovery.”

In January, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations found that people who give their time to charities are more satisfied than those who volunteer for public services, such as hospitals, libraries and schools.

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