Youth volunteering in deprived areas

1 March 2017

James Davies at the University of Strathclyde is nearing completion of his PhD thesis. We are pleased to be able to share some of his preliminary findings with you. 

Youth Volunteering DA Gateway Image

While we have statistical data about young people’s attitudes towards volunteering and rates of engagement, less is known about what volunteering means to them or how they participate in it. This is particularly so for young people in disadvantaged areas whose responses may not be picked up by survey methods.


From our Young People in Scotland 2016 research we know that the out-of-school volunteering participation rate plummets from 50% in those schools which have no pupils living in the lowest SIMD quintile, to 16% for those with 60-100% of their pupils in the lowest SIMD quintile.  This corroborates other evidence indicating lower levels of volunteering among disadvantaged young people. Given the benefits volunteering can give rise to, it is important to understand how young people who volunteer in such areas start doing so.

Youth volunteering initiatives are often promoted in a manner that highlights the extent to which volunteering can enhance CVs or applications. Yet researchers have argued the lives of young people in disadvantaged areas can be characterised by a lack of planning (MacDonald & Marsh, 2005) suggesting volunteering may not be approached in this manner. James’s research provides an invaluable insight into the value young people attach to volunteering.

Volunteer Scotland has worked with James and his supervisors to produce a Highlights Paper which focuses on the benefits to young people volunteering in some of the most deprived areas of Glasgow. Based on interviews with young people aged 12 – 18, the key findings include:

Making friends

most importantly, volunteering provided the young people with the opportunity to make new friends, outside their immediate peer group. This resulted in them making friends from other schools, other religious groups and other geographical areas.

Developing social skills

by making new friends and having to work in teams with other young people to deliver the volunteer service, the volunteers were able to develop their social skills. This is particularly important for those who lack confidence and are shy, which is a particular finding from the research.

"You just learn how to socialise with people..." (Niamh, 14, volunteer)

Helping others

and the benefits that brings for all. 

"...knowing that we’re going out there and helping someone...rather than just sitting there, like, you know there’s people out there that actually need help to do stuff...and now that you are actually helping them you feel like a lot better about yourself..." (Donna, 14, volunteer)

Enjoyment and fun

the opportunity for young volunteers to engage with other young people and younger children was often a source of amusement and enjoyment. 

"...they could just say something really funny that they just didnae know they said funny." (Matt, 15, volunteer)

Increased wellbeing

the relationships and emotional bonds which the volunteers developed with the young people they were supporting appears to enhance their wellbeing.

Amy (15, volunteer) fondly recalled the excitement with which the young people would greet her, shouting her name and giving her hugs. "...if you’re having a bad day….they can kinda cheer you up."

More structured lives

volunteering helps young people live a more structured life.

"I volunteer on a Saturday, now see if I didn’t have, I’d probably lie in my bed until three o’clock rather than get up and be out by twelve." (Emma, 14, volunteer)

It also seems to displace the time they could have spent on the street, with possible benefits. 

Greater confidence

the combination of the above factors helps to develop confident young people.

The evidence from two volunteer coordinators, Lauren and Tracey, is compelling. Quoting James’s report: "Lauren believed she had seen an 'insane' growth in the confidence and team working skills of the young people participating on the youth charity’s volunteer programme." 


Other PhD research outputs

James has provided access to two key outputs from his research:

  1. Young people’s views on the benefits of volunteering in areas of multiple deprivation (full report)
  2. Young people and volunteering: a literature review


To find out more about the research or to share any insights or feedback please contact: James Davies (PhD student) or Matthew Linning (Volunteer Scotland). 



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