Paul Wilson: Volunteers are crucial part of society

Six months on from the Olympics, has the high public profile of volunteering generated by the volunteer Games Makers resulted in a lasting legacy? Are more people volunteering in Edinburgh?

After all, it’s one thing to be inspired to act while watching happy, enthused volunteers enjoying the summer Olympics, but another to keep motivated as you head to your volunteering in Pilton on a cold, damp morning in February.

We have been helping organisations recruit volunteers since the early 1970s, so we are well placed to monitor the ebb and flow of people’s willingness to volunteer. Over the past ten years the number of people regularly volunteering has remained pretty constant, varying between one quarter and one third of Edinburgh adults. Currently it’s 29 per cent and their contribution is vital to the city not only economically (its worth about £93 million per year) but also because it impacts directly on each of us.

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Most of us don’t know that when we use an information service, go to an arts venue or museum or park, use a hospital or visit a relative in a care home that somewhere in the background is a volunteer.

People’s willingness to volunteer is vital to the health of the city. Recent research from Volunteer Development Scotland shows that 55 per cent of small voluntary organisations are entirely volunteer led with no paid staff. Of nearly 4000 charities and third sector organisations in Edinburgh, for every paid employee there are another eight unpaid volunteers.

If the number of volunteers remains static then the challenge is meeting the demand from organisations that need even more volunteers. Some 61 per cent of organisations surveyed by Volunteer Development Scotland aspire to engage more volunteers. As the wider impact of the recession is felt by ordinary people it leads to increased demand for the services of voluntary organisations, and then those organisations need even more volunteers.

So how can we encourage more people to grasp the mantle of the Games Makers and get involved? Looking after your volunteers is vital. While volunteers may give their time for free, involving them effectively and maximising their impact is dependent on good volunteer management, which isn’t free. It costs. And in an environment of public sector spending cuts and harder to find funding there is an increasing challenge in finding the cash to pay for good, effective volunteers management.

Understanding the reasons why people volunteer is important. Increased unemployment has meant more people coming to volunteering as a way of updating their skills and, crucially, filling in blanks in their CV. Organisations need to harness this willingness and where possible create opportunities for people to donate their skill and time.

Flexibility is increasingly important. Pressures of work and family life mean many of us fear long-term commitment to volunteering. Innovative ways of engaging people flexibly are needed but this can’t be done without sufficient resources.

Among the 600 opportunities currently advertised with Volunteer Centre Edinburgh we are looking for volunteers for lifeguard/hydrotherapy assistants, business development, reflexology, aromatherapy or massage therapists, yoga instructors, Zumba instructors and graphic designers.

• Paul Wilson is the director of operations of Volunteer Centre Edinburgh.

Many ways to make a difference

Art (reminiscing) volunteer

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Libertus, a day care centre for older people and people with dementia, is looking for volunteers with a knowledge of local history and interest in retro and old interiors.

Intranet and website developer

Citizens Advice Bureau Edinburgh Central wants a volunteer to help update the Citizens Advice Edinburgh intranet and website.

Memory skills buddy

Become part of the memory skills group at the Volunteer Centre Edinburgh and learn how to help older people implement practical, effective strategies to help with mild memory problems and improve the quality of their lives.

Merchandise photographer and ebay seller

Selling online is fast moving and varied work, involving photography, writing merchandise descriptions as well as using IT skills and the practical tasks of packaging and posting, to support the work of Lifeline Pregnancy Counselling & Care.


Edinburgh International Science Festival is looking for talented photographers who are looking to expand their portfolio and also gain some additional exposure, by photographing some our events at this year’s festival.


Do you want to help male victims of domestic abuse? AMIS is looking for individuals with a background in HR, finance, law, strategic planning, police and legal services and equalities development to act as

trustees of Abused Men in Scotland.

For more information about volunteering in Edinburgh visit or call 0131-225 0630.


VOLUNTEERS are being brought in to help feed patients.

Former ward receptionist Gladys Johnson pressed NHS Lothian to let her assist patients after seeing problems during visits to her late husband’s ward at the ERI in 2005.

The News told on Friday that 24 volunteers are now taking part in a trial project which could be rolled out across the Lothians.

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