Creating a more inclusive future for youth volunteering

5 November 2018

Matthew Linning, head of research at Volunteer Scotland, shares his thoughts from the recent conference on how to make youth volunteering in Scotland more inclusive.

Youth volunteering is probably the best news story in town in terms of Scotland’s volunteering. The participation rate of young people is almost double that of adults and there is very strong evidence on the wide-ranging benefits to the young people themselves.

Formal Vol Part RateInterestingly, wellbeing benefits such as ‘having fun’, ‘feeling appreciated’ and ‘feeling I’ve made a difference’ are cited more frequently than motivations based on self-interest such as skills, CVs and jobs: Young People in Scotland, 2016.

However, this only tells half the story. These benefits from volunteering are not spread evenly across society. For example, volunteering participation outside school is a healthy 50% for those pupils living in the least deprived areas; but this plummets to only 16% for those in the most deprived areas. These findings were the trigger for last months’ conference: "Creating a more inclusive future for youth volunteering".

The goal of the conference was to develop a series of actions to engage more young people in volunteering, especially those subject to some form of exclusion, be that due to poverty, disability, mental and physical health, unemployment, etc.

A range of areas were highlighted to address the barriers to volunteering, including:

  • Community level action– to improve engagement with young people in the immediate neighbourhoods where they live. We know from the work of Dr James Davies on youth volunteering in areas of multiple deprivation (2018), that local youth groups have a key role in engaging young people on the ‘participant-to-volunteer’ pathway; 
  • Engage the under 16s– the opportunities for volunteering are much fewer and more difficult to secure for the under 16s; yet the evidence suggests that early engagement, especially at primary school is more effective; 

  • School contribution – teachers are the second most important ‘influencer’ of young people to get involved in volunteering after their parents/guardians (YPiS, 2016). Delegates were convinced that the contribution of schools could be developed further to reach excluded young people; and

  • Improve our understanding– for example, to dispel the myth that youth volunteering is all about skills, CVs and jobs. And to improve everyone’s perception of youth volunteering, including young people themselves; for example, to eliminate the stigma of volunteering amongst young males.  

Youth PanelHowever, what made the biggest impact on me at the conference was the contribution of the young people themselves. As part of YOYP 2018, the conference was co-designed and co-delivered by young people. It was therefore no surprise that the evaluation highlighted the Youth Panel session with the Cabinet Secretary Ms Aileen Campbell as the highlight of the day: “…the youth panel were inspirational” and “Youth VIP team eloquent, and mind-changing Youth Panel.” 

You could see how engaged the audience was as the young people shared their personal experiences, the barriers they faced and how they had overcome them. As a newcomer to the co-design process it was a revelation. My only regret is that we had not filmed the session to share with others.

In terms of next steps, it is great that the conference outputs are being fed into the work of the Youth VIP Team, who will be reporting back to the Scottish Government with their recommendations on youth volunteering early in the new year. We can therefore look forward with confidence to a more inclusive future for youth volunteering. A future which is in safe hands – the young people themselves.

Volunteer Scotland would like to thank the youth volunteers for their excellent contribution to the conference, including the opening and closing addresses, co-facilitation of the workshops, the open space session and the youth panel:

  • BidpicMichael Gowan – Youth VIP Team
  • Davie McKinnon – Youth VIP Team
  • Kelly Mackay – Youth VIP Team
  • Bethany Spain – Youth VIP Team
  • Chloe Lawson – Youth Volunteer, PEEK
  • Keiran Airlie – Youth Volunteer, PEEK
  • Kerri-Anna McGuire, Youth Volunteer, Project Scotland
  • Leila Al-Haddad – Youth Volunteer, Project Scotland


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