Volunteering and the benefits for young people in disadvantaged areas
10 March 2017
"The young people I interviewed talked about increased confidence, having fun and feeling happy - for the majority of them, volunteering was not primarily about enhancing their job prospects"
James Davies, final year PhD student at the University of Strathclyde, shares some insights from his PhD research.
My interim report examines young people’s views on the benefits of volunteering in areas of multiple deprivation, as well as the gains volunteer coordinators perceived young people to have made.
The report is part of my PhD research which also looks at young people’s perceptions of volunteering, how they start and the barriers they face.
The central theme to emerge was the extent to which volunteering was valued for the social and relationship opportunities it provided.
A number of participants felt they had few opportunities for social interaction beyond the volunteer involving organisations they attended.
Volunteering therefore provided a space in which young people were able to develop friendships with other young people and staff at the organisations.
From these relationships, young people reported their confidence and social skills were enhanced and that they experienced a sense of pride in being able to help others through volunteering.
To a certain extent, the fieldwork reflects the recent Young People & Volunteering, 2016 research where ‘Having fun’, ‘Increased confidence’ and ‘Feeling happier’ were the benefits most widely experienced.
Challenge to employment focused promotional strategies
Although the benefits young people described may enhance their job prospects, they were more explicitly discussed in terms of social interaction and the development of personal and social skills.
These findings pose a challenge to the promotion of volunteering to young people as a way of enhancing their CVs or UCAS applications.
This may be particularly the case for those from deprived areas who can be put off by volunteering opportunities that emphasise employability outcomes (as noted by a volunteer coordinator in the report).
While the report paints a positive picture of volunteering from young people's perspectives, it is important to note that such benefits do not necessarily follow from volunteering and that there may be instances where young people have negative experiences.
Many of the young people I spoke to had experienced lengthy relationships with the organisations where they volunteered. They had also received support and encouragement from staff over the years.
It is therefore important for organisations to have the necessary resources to support young people to start volunteering in order for them to enjoy the benefits it can bring.
I was fortunate enough to meet and interview a number of young people who felt volunteering had made a positive impact on their lives. In light of the lower levels of volunteering in disadvantaged areas, it is important to ensure organisations are equipped to support young people to volunteer should they seek opportunities to do so.
Final year PhD student
University of Strathclyde
To find out more about the research or to share any insights or feedback please contact: James Davies firstname.lastname@example.org or Matthew Linning matthew.linning@VolunteerScotland.org.uk (Volunteer Scotland).