Volunteering needs a sector that shows ambition, unity and a willingness to change

Posted on December 7, 2018

ProjectScotland Chief Executive Paul Reddish shares his thoughts on the future of the volunteering sector and asks – do we need to start doing things differently?

“I was saddened to hear about the news that V-Inspired is to close in England.  It is a fantastic, well led charity that does brilliant things for young people and for communities.

It’s been a timely cause for reflection for me in my role at ProjectScotland. There are a number of stark similarities – both supporting young people through volunteering, and both created out of a government review into volunteering started with healthy funding.  Like V-Inspired, we found ourselves struggling to survive following the cut of that funding in 2008.

The feast and famine of government backed new startups in volunteering is surely not sustainable, so it does bode the question – what have we learned from it, and what is the alternative?

The answer for me lies within the brilliant and diverse voluntary sector we have today in Scotland.  We have reached a critical juncture in the social dialogue on volunteering in Scotland. Ever since Angela Constance MSP coined volunteering the golden thread through society, it has captured the imagination of many sector leaders and policy makers.

With the launch of the new outcomes framework for volunteering due in March 2019, the momentum and support for volunteering as a tool to enabling better lives for people and more connected communities is growing by the day.

But trying to be positive about the bigger picture and see these opportunities is not always that easy for us to do.  For many just trying to get to next year is a challenge.

Just last week I was asked what was different about ProjectScotland’s journey, and why we are still here.  The answer to that question is simple – we are here for now.  We are no different to any other Third Sector organisation in a constant cycle of renewal of contracts and funds, with services that deliver brilliant outcomes at risk on an annual basis.  As things stand at the moment, we have four projects that we are waiting to hear on that will shape our work next financial year – which is now less than 14 weeks away. This is life in the sector.  It can be bruising, demoralising and can sometimes lead to us just fighting to keep what we have rather than being willing to show ambition and take on new things, or willing to admit that the things we are doing could be better.

If we are to help volunteering find it’s place in Scottish society in the way we want, we have to work together and show more ambition.   We can’t let these pressures prevent us from doing the right thing by people, and in the promotion of volunteering and all it can do.

We need to challenge and support each other to do more, to show a vision for volunteering and a path to achieving the goals in the framework when it’s launched.   We know that ProjectScotland and V-Inspired were predicated on the idea that we needed to show more ambition for our young people.

What will the outcome framework show? Are there other areas where we need to show more ambition?   We have growing evidence that volunteering can benefit those who face poverty, inequality and struggle with issues such as their mental health or have a disability. And yet the numbers of those groups participating in volunteering continue to be significantly lower than the rest of society.

We need to ask ourselves collectively if we are really doing enough to reach out to these groups to support them. Do we need to start doing things differently?  Are we going to be the ones to show the ambition and leadership in this area?

Scottish Government should be commended for the work on the new outcomes framework – and it will undoubtedly lead to investments in projects and programmes that can help support these, but the opportunity government is giving us all by putting this framework together extends beyond what they may or may not commission in response to this.  The raised visibility is having an impact on other policy areas.  The recent New Scots (refugees) and Social Isolation and Loneliness strategies refer to the power of volunteering throughout to address many of the issues faced.

We only need look at other areas of the sector – such as sport – to see how organisations have used their own framework to promote sport as a tool to resolve other social problems. Whether it’s Street Soccer’s innovative approach to using football to tackle homelessness, Spartans CFA work to support young people in poverty or Inch Park Community Sports Club’s work to help tackle the attainment gap. There are numerous examples.

The key to all these – whilst they have government support, the changes have been a catalyst to other investments in big ideas.  They involve organisations working in partnership to tackle bigger social issues.

For those of us who see the value of volunteering, that has to be the model.  We have to forge new partnerships and support each other’s work, to champion volunteering as the power for good it can be for so many people.

If we continue to just say volunteering is a great thing and wait for others to come to us, we will miss this fantastic opportunity to capitalise on the growing wave of support for it. Perhaps that was one factor in why governments of the past have felt compelled to start their own initiatives to tackle these problems. This time it doesn’t need to be this way.

We must use the vast and diverse expertise that already exists in the sector and be willing to use that to change ourselves – to be the innovative providers of solutions for people in the sector.

If as a sector we can all do more of that, we have the opportunity to make lasting, meaningful change – backed not this time through a flagship government programme, but through investment from all quarters; government, local authorities, trusts, businesses and society as a whole.  With that, we all benefit and can celebrate in our success on a job well done.”