The year in volunteering: 2014

From a slump in post-Olympics volunteering and rallying around during the floods to the value of student volunteering and the collapse of BeatBullying - that was the year that was

Volunteering: turbulent year
Volunteering: turbulent year

The post-Olympics upsurge in volunteering failed to hold up, according to the government’s Community Life Survey data. It showed that 41 per cent of people did formal volunteering at least once in 2013, compared with 44 per cent in 2012. Not surprisingly, the government made far less of the announcement than in 2013.

The year began with volunteers throughout the country quite literally coming to the rescue. The extreme winter weather led residents and charities to man the lifeboats and do lots of other benevolent acts to support those affected by flooding and poor weather.

There was also increasing evidence that volunteers were becoming the saviours of public libraries. Data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy showed that the number of people volunteering in libraries increased to 33,808 in the year to March 2013, compared with 23,397 the year before.

In 2014, we learned more about how much the different generations volunteer. A study from the National Union of Students showed that about 725,000 students volunteer each year, giving time worth about £175m. But the older generation was not to be outdone. In April, a study published by the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing found that volunteering by people over 65 was expected to be worth more than £15bn by 2020. A separate study later that summer, though, warned charities that older volunteers would in future be less willing to do menial tasks such as stuffing envelopes.

The government continued its rapid expansion of the National Citizen Service in 2014. But data released in August suggested the scheme, which brings together young people from different backgrounds and encourages them to volunteer, failed to fill more than 10,000 out of the 50,000 places on offer in 2013.

On a sombre note, John Ramsey, founder of the Association of Volunteer Managers and a volunteering development manager at the charity Age UK, died of cancer in September. Ramsey chaired the AVM between 2005 and 2009 and continued to be actively involved in the organisation until his death.

A study of volunteer managers from the research consultancy nfpSynergy, published in November, found that two-thirds of them believed they needed a more powerful representative body.

The volunteering charity CSV endured another turbulent year. In July, the charity announced that it was appointing a new management team after posting losses totalling £3m in the previous two financial years. Lucy de Groot, its chief executive, stepped down after three and a half years in charge and was replaced by Oonagh Aitken, the charity’s director of social action and volunteering.

Towards the end of the year, volunteers for the charity BeatBullying were left puzzled and angry after the charity’s sudden collapse. About 5,400 people volunteered for the charity, acting mainly as mentors for young people experiencing bullying and mental health problems. It was revealed during a creditors meeting that the charity’s websites were shut down without notice while some young people were online receiving support .  

December saw volunteering embroiled in allegations of historical sexual abuse. A BBC investigation found that the Scout Association had awarded at least £500,000 in compensation over the past two years to the victims of abuse carried out by its volunteers. The youth charity revealed that 36 civil actions had been started against it since October 2012.

The year ended with the volunteering platform Do-it relaunching its website to make it more mobile and social media-friendly. The new website will also make it easier for volunteer centres to upload their volunteering opportunities. A year earlier, some centres had complained of technical problems with using the volunteering platform’s software.

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