Louisa Pearson: ‘Does formal volunteering require wearing a tux or ballgown?’
Do you remember the Berlin Wall? I do. We went on a school trip to see it in the late 1980s, when it was still intact and policed by armed guards. Souvenir Checkpoint Charlie T-shirts were on sale there.
Why are we talking about the Berlin wall? Because I arrived at a similar dividing line, in the virtual sense, when I started doing some online research about Volunteer Week (www.volunteering.org.uk), which runs from 1 June. This annual campaign celebrates the achievements of volunteers and aims to inspire others to join in. But since it’s promoted by Volunteering England, I began to wonder whether that meant volunteers on Scottish soil can’t take part. I was perturbed, then I remembered that independence has not yet happened – in fact, the politicians can’t even decide how to phrase the question, and therefore the Carlisle Wall (working title) is yet to be built. It turns out that the reason for this is that the various UK national volunteering agencies got together and decided Volunteering England should do the promotions.
Moving on, let’s start with a figure from the Scottish Household Survey of 2011, which found that 30 per cent of adults in Scotland had participated in formal volunteering in the last year. Does that require wearing a tux or ballgown? No, it means it was an ‘organised’ activity. The figure for informal volunteering, which is defined as “undertaken as an individual to help others who are not relatives” was 42 per cent – I like the implication that if your auntie tells you to do something, it’s compulsory rather than voluntary.
The figure that really grabbed me, however, was that adults aged 35 to 44 (49 per cent) were most likely to do informal volunteering, with those aged 65 and over (30 per cent) least likely. Come on, pensioners of Scotland. You’ve been given free bus passes, so why not use them to go somewhere that needs volunteers?
Before I get lynched, let’s move on to environmental volunteering, where there are other options besides bashing rhododendrons if you want to do some good works. You could build a website, become a trustee or write a newsletter for an environmental organisation, without a packed lunch or waterproof jacket in sight.
Sadly, though, this would mean missing out on the health benefits and hands-on skills development that comes with conservation volunteering. There’s something satisfying about being able to say “I built that path”. The Conservation Volunteers, formerly BTCV (www.btcv.org.uk), is a great starting point, both with its own opportunities and to point you to other conservation groups around the country.
Every local authority has a volunteer centre that offers advice and opportunities, or you can find details online at www.volunteerscotland.org.uk. My search in the Edinburgh area turned up a long list, including a job as a nature assistant with an RSPB project at the Botanic Garden (providing live interpretation of the sparrowhawk nestcam) or a volunteer bicycle scrapper with Bike Station. Or you could get the rattling can out for Friends of the Earth Scotland.
Whether it’s formally, informally or somewhere in between, there's a project out there that needs you. n
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