Charities and Volunteering in the UK
Charities and non-governmental organisations constitute an important sector in the United Kingdom. According to the Charity Commission, as of January 2014 there were more than 180,000 charities registered to operate in England and Wales. In addition, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator reports that there were nearly 24,000 charities registered in Scotland.
When these figures are taken into account, it becomes obvious that there is a strong tradition of volunteering in the United Kingdom. Likewise, it is evident that volunteers are the lifeblood of many communities throughout the country. If you are considering donating your time and skills, we invite you to take a closer look at the options available and at the wide range of benefits that you can derive from becoming one of the UK's thousands of volunteers.
A brief history of volunteering in the United Kingdom
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date in which the first charity was created in the UK, there have been dedicated commissions devoted to furthering the work of these organisations since the early 20th century. In 1919, the National Council of Social Services was founded with the objective of supporting the volunteer sector and of improving the links between charitable organisations and the communities that they served. During the following few decades, the scope of this organisation grew to include links with government departments and with international bodies. This contributed to strengthening the role of volunteering in the UK and the image of British volunteers at international level.
During the 1970s, this organisation played a crucial role in developing the concept of student volunteering. The efforts soon paid off, as the student volunteer movement is now firmly established in hundreds of educational institutions across the country. Since 1980, the National Council of Social Services has been known as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which has its headquarters in London and which encompasses more than 10,000 non-governmental organisations.
Who are the volunteers?
Anyone who has a genuine interest in helping their community can become a volunteer. Volunteers come from all walks of life and socio-economic groups, as they include teenagers, retired individuals, people with disabilities, full-time students, and working professionals.
According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, during 2014 nearly 44 per cent of all adults in the UK volunteered in some way at least once a year. The same data set shows that approximately 42 per cent of all UK volunteers are female, whereas 38 per cent are male. Nearly half of all volunteers fall into the 35 to 49-year old age group. All in all, the time and effort freely given by volunteers contributes to the British economy with more than £20 billion a year, so it can be affirmed that becoming a volunteer is a great way of being an active member of society.
The importance of volunteering
The benefits of volunteering are wide-ranging, volunteering plays a crucial role in the shaping of communities and of society at large. It can be said that volunteers strengthen the UK's social fabric by giving voice to social groups that would otherwise be voiceless. Volunteering also serves as a reminder of the values that really matter, such as altruism, generosity, social cohesion, and humanitarianism. Volunteers can truly make a difference in a world that is increasingly being dominated by an interest in economic gain and profit, showing that it is possible to contribute to society in a selfless and genuine way.
The ongoing effort carried out by volunteers has been important in medical research and health care, in areas affected by natural disasters, and in furthering the interests of those at disadvantage. But it doesn't end there, since there are also benefits to be drawn by volunteers themselves, who can gain valuable skills, improve their chances of employment, become a valued member of the community, and even make friends for life. In fact, volunteering can even play a role in maintaining good health, as studies have shown that happiness and personal satisfaction levels are higher in individuals who volunteer.
Volunteering in the UK: what are the options?
With so many reasons to volunteer, the most difficult part involves choosing a charity or a specific field. Choosing to support a non-governmental organisation is an important step that will require dedication, so it is crucial that prospective volunteers choose a cause with which they can easily identify. Perhaps your family has been affected by a rare or devastating illness. In this case, choosing to work for a charity that focuses on this condition can help you make a difference in the lives of others who have gone through the same experiences. You may be good at sports, in which case you could help young people or those with disabilities gain a new perspective on life. And how about volunteering with an educational or environmental charity in order to help leave a better world for future generations?
Whichever option you choose, one thing is for sure: volunteering will become one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences of your life.