Volunteer centres struggle with 'tidal wave' of demand

Volunteering England reports increases of up to 70 per cent

Volunteer centres have reported increases of up to 70 per cent in the number of applications for volunteering placements and are struggling to cope with what one centre chief executive described as a "tidal wave" of demand.

Eighty-seven per cent of the country's 350 volunteer centres have seen an increase in enquiries in the past six months, according to Volunteering England. At Northampton Volunteering Centre, for example, 553 face-to-face discussions took place to match volunteers with placements between October and December, compared with 279 over the same period in 2007.

Dominic McClean, chief executive of the centre, said demand for volunteering placements was outstripping supply. "A tidal wave of new volunteers hit us around Christmas and has built up since then," he said.

He called for more funding to allow volunteer centres to recruit staff and cash for organisations to create projects for volunteers.

McClean warned that the Department for Work and Pensions' £8m volunteer brokerage scheme, announced in the Government's third sector action plan in February, was unlikely to ease the burden on volunteer centres. He said job centres were sending job seekers to volunteer centres rather than placing them through the newly established brokers, which include conservation charity BTCV and government-backed volunteering organisation v.

Michele Stewart, manager of the Middlesbrough Volunteer Centre, said there had been 52 per cent more registrations between December and April than during the same period in 2007/08. She said it was bizarre that the volunteer centre was not involved in the brokerage scheme, which she warned would cause confusion and duplication.

Kevin Curley, chief executive of local umbrella body Navca, said: "The centres need to come up with imaginative ways of doing more with their budgets, such as using volunteers to run the matching service."

Justin Davis Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, said his organisation was working to secure more funding for the centres. "If local level infrastructure had been properly funded, we would be in a much stronger position now," he said.

Case study

Media experts work for free

Increasing numbers of media and communications experts are offering their services to charities free of charge, according to the Media Trust.

Felicity Lambert, who runs the organisation's Media Matching scheme, which pairs professionals with charities, said it had seen a 34 per cent increase in the number of registered volunteers since January, compared with the same period last year.

The charity said this was because media professionals wanted to broaden their experience and skills base in a turbulent job market.

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