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Chief Executive’s August 2019 Blog

What if Suffolk Became the UK’s Leading Light on Volunteering?

Whenever I’m travelling around the county, meeting with businesses, schools, community groups and families, I’m reminded just how much the perception of ‘volunteering’ varies.

For some, it immediately brings to mind the image of a person sifting through second-hand items in a charity shop, or helping weekly at a scout group, or shaking a collection bucket outside a football ground.

Nothing about these scenarios is wrong of course, but they’re just a miniscule insight into the kind of volunteering roles and opportunities available.

Through our work at Community Action Suffolk, and in administering Volunteer Suffolk, we get to see the hundreds of volunteering activities which the county is crying out to fill on a daily basis.

That might be befriending a new mum who is struggling to manage the transition into motherhood; becoming a voluntary driver in a particular part of the region; handing out refreshments at a mass participation event; acting as a mentor, or passing on life-saving fire safety advice.

Currently on Volunteer Suffolk you could apply to be a flight simulator instructor or a social media assistant (to name just a few vacancies).

In the next few weeks, you’ll hear us talking so much more about these opportunities, as we gear up to the first ever Suffolk Action Week, which seeks to focus on recruiting great people for great roles.

You might wonder why we feel the need to have such a focused week of campaign emphasis.

Let me highlight a few of the key reasons:

1          This year’s Time Well Spent survey, by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, highlighted the fact that 93% of recent volunteers say they enjoy their volunteering activities, and 89% say they meet new people through the undertaking.

SO….we can be pretty confident that volunteering is a GREAT thing for increasing enjoyment, socialisation, friendship and a sense of community.

2          Just 22% of adults formally volunteered in the last month, according to the latest 2018/19 Community Life Survey led by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

SO….we know there is huge potential to change a perception of what volunteering is and what it isn’t, and then encourage more of the adult population – particularly 25 -54yr olds – to give their time. It’s this age group we consider to be the ‘squeezed middle’, perhaps juggling careers, children, elder parents and other demands, but at the same time, often well placed, and keen, to play a role in their community.

3          Businesses often struggle to see how they can become part of the ‘story’ on volunteering, and how they can use specific schemes as a way of encouraging their employees to volunteer on issues which matter to them.

SO….we have an opportunity to educate employers more about Employer Supported Volunteering, which enhances personal development for the employee, enables staff to feel more valued and provides benefit to a cause they care about.

The Time Well Spent survey concluded there is a great deal of opportunity for ‘volunteer involving’ organisations to align with the values and purpose of causes in their community, and to create a strategy which allows employees to participate in things which truly resonate with them.

4          Life is tough, busy, and complicated. With everything that is happening to our public sector services, and in the midst of Brexit uncertainty, we know that people are feeling the strain from all angles, and that more voluntary organisations are having to provide services in the community which were once part of a statutory undertaking.

SO…we have to find ways of getting more volunteers to embed their energies, skills and efforts into such organisations, so that a county like Suffolk can thrive.

Of course, I could easily write you a list of 101 reasons why volunteering is so important, and why we’re delivering Suffolk Action Week in conjunction with Suffolk Libraries, East of England Co-op and dozens of other charities and causes.

However, the most important thing is that I am able to give you just a small sense of why I personally believe Suffolk Action Week’s objectives are key to the county you love.

It is clear to me that volunteering is one of those undertakings which gives in so many ways. It supports mental health and wellbeing, increases social outlets, delivers something a community needs, keeps people active, provides purpose, and even enhances learning.

It does all this, whilst benefiting the people and places you know and care about.

Having spent my entire career in community focused roles – from policing to the third sector – I have a real desire to be a county which others turn to as a shining example of one which makes volunteering truly work for its people, its businesses, and its sense of place.

I really hope you’ll join in with Suffolk Action Week between September 30th and 6th October, and I welcome hearing from any employer, individual or charity who wishes to state how they’ll play a part in this significant campaign.

Chris Abraham | Chief Executive

[email protected]