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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 September, 2004, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK
Volunteering 'good for community'
Helping the elderly
In helping others you help yourself and your community
Doing voluntary work not only makes the individual feel good but can raise the happiness levels of a whole community, according to new research.

A survey of 101 randomly selected district authorities found those with the best quality of life had high levels of informal community activity.

Areas where many citizens gave up their time for others enjoyed better health and suffered less crime.

Students from such communities also achieved higher GCSE grades.

'Feel-good' factor

The voluntary work ranged from helping an elderly neighbour to taking part in community projects.

It seems that when we focus on the needs of others, we may also reap benefits ourselves
Professor Paul Whiteley

The study by the Economic and Social Research Council found a strong link between voluntary activity and overall life satisfaction.

Professor Paul Whiteley, from University of Essex in Colchester, whose team produced the findings, said: "The research has revealed an interesting link between helping others and enjoying a good quality of life.

"It seems that when we focus on the needs of others, we may also reap benefits ourselves.

"It means that voluntary activity in the community is associated with better health, lower crime, improved educational performance and greater life satisfaction", he added.

Volunteering was seen to have a positive influence regardless of the social class or the wealth of the community, according to the study.

'Happy' towns

At the top of the happiness league were residents of provincial cities such as Aberdeen, Chester, Bristol and Cardiff, and those from communities such as South Cambridge and Rutland.

But at the pinnacle of the satisfaction stakes was Sevenoaks in Kent, which recorded the highest percentage of people who said they were "very satisfied with life".

These were also the areas which recorded high levels of voluntary activity.

It's very rewarding and I have had quite a few letters back from people to say you made a real difference
Sarah Hunter

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett said: "Volunteering is a growing activity.

"Government figures show that in 2003, 51% of people in England participated in their community - around 20.3m people.

"The equivalent contribution to the economy made by people volunteering formally and informally in their community was around 42.6bn in 2003", he added.

"Volunteering clearly has benefits for citizens, families and communities."

Mr Blunkett said he was particularly keen to see the positive impact volunteering could have on Britain's most deprived communities.

He added the government wanted to increase cooperation and strengthen links with the voluntary sector.

The BBC's Jon Kay
"Researchers concluded that volunteering is indeed the secret of happiness"

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