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13th November 2023

Faith in Older People - Volunteer Scotland Analysis

This research not only fills current research gaps in Scotland but also provides key insights into areas of societal change and challenges, for example the proportion of older people facing difficulties returning to volunteering post COVID-19. The use of case studies brings to life beautifully some of the many faith-led volunteering initiatives.

It is important to note that this research is not limited to religion. Both Faith in Older People (FIOP) – who initiated the research – and the TOR Christian Foundation – who funded the research – embed the importance of local community in their organisational aims, a golden thread of this research.

The ways in which this study extends our knowledge, include:

  • Faith groups’ support for local communities – Faith groups provide a vast range of support to local communities, from foodbanks to play schemes, counselling to debt advice, and addiction support to community cafes. While some employ paid staff almost all utilise volunteers. This study looks at the role of older volunteers in each of these main areas, considering not only if older volunteers are involved but also differentiating between existing and new areas of support (whilst describing the role of older people in each). 
  • Faith groups’ identifying ‘community need’ – The study finds four key ways in which community needs are identified: through local community based research to find the gaps; through existing informal contacts and relationships; through dialogue with a range of professional services (including health, education and social care); and through links with other faith groups and other local voluntary organisations. This shows the importance of relationship building and joint working between organisations to identify community needs. While this resonates with existing research, particularly during COVID-19, the depth of analysis in this area is impressive. 
  • Focusing on motivations for older people volunteering – By exploring the motivations of older volunteers, the range of ways in which older people engage in volunteers and the challenges they face this research brings evidence forward that can effect real change. 
  • Exploring the ‘language’ of volunteering – Faith-based volunteers often do not self identify as volunteers, they see volunteering as ‘service’ or duty to serve, others refer to themselves simply as ‘helpers’. The self identified language around volunteering for this group could be considered when we communicate. 
  • The challenge of aging congregations – Similar to the Scottish population, congregations are ageing, which presents challenges in how to make faith based volunteering sustainable for the future and how to encourage younger people to participate in faith based activities including volunteering. 
  • Older people returning to volunteering Post COVID-19 – This study highlights that it has become more difficult for older people to volunteer since the pandemic and explores current cost of living impacts – such as the cost of transport. The role of older volunteers in intergenerational approaches post COVID-19, where the lived experience of older volunteers can benefit both beneficiaries and younger volunteers, is an important insight. 
  • Technology – a real positive finding is around technology. this study shows how technology allows older people to stay in touch with others, without leaving their home. The importance of technology to faith groups in keeping in contact with their congregations is also a useful finding.

This is merely an overview of some, of the many, new insights and benefits this research brings to the volunteering evidence base in Scotland. Volunteer Scotland will utilise this evidence in both policy and practice. For research, the findings will be used in support of VAP actions, particularly around community and lifelong engagement. For policy a separate policy briefing will be produced with FIOP and circulated to all MSPs.

Thank you to all involved in this incredible project!

View ‘The Gift of Age – Older people, faith communities, and volunteering’ here.

Debbie Maltman

Research Officer