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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Public volunteers at record level
By William Brierley
BBC News website

Volunteering is worth 22.6 billion a year to the UK economy
Volunteers' Week was launched this week with the aim of increasing further the record levels of people participating in voluntary work in Britain.

With 26 million people engaged in voluntary work and a further 11 million describing themselves as waiting to be asked to volunteer, Britain's voluntary sector is experiencing unprecedented demand.

"Since the new millennium we've seen a definite shift in people's attitudes from the 90s profit motive to motivations beyond just maximising economic gain" says Justin Davis Smith, the deputy chief executive of Volunteering England.

Between 2001 and 2003, the Home Office Citizenship survey recorded a rise of more than 1.5 million volunteers.

Mr Davis Smith says that volunteers have realised the benefits that volunteering can have on building career skills, while organisations have benefited from supplementing their paid staff.

Incredibly rewarding

Sherylin Thompson has volunteered as a phone counsellor for Childline since April.

Before she was accepted to volunteer she had to undergo a vetting scheme with the Criminal Records Bureau.

The CRB checks are standard procedure for anyone volunteering to work with children or vulnerable adults as they flag up any criminal records or information held by the police against an applicant.
People have more of a social conscience and businesses are realising this
Sherylin Thompson, volunteer

After passing her CRB check and a further test from Childline to ascertain that she had the necessary skills and personality to work with children, Mrs Thompson underwent ten weeks training before answering her first call.

"The experience has been incredibly rewarding and the listening skills I have gained have helped with work and at home", she said.

She has decided to change careers from her role as a media relations officer to a psychologist as a result of her experiences as a volunteer.

Mrs Thompson believes "corporate social responsibility" departments drive businesses to encourage their staff to become volunteers.

"People have more of a social conscience and businesses are realising this", she says.

"Businesses have realised that in order to attract both customers and employees they need to appear ethically sound", she added.

Long term future

Martin Walford, spokesperson for 'Year of the Volunteer', says the challenge is now to organise new volunteers with key roles in less popular fields.
Volunteers contributed 1.9bn hours in 2003 (the equivalent of about a million full-time workers).
Volunteering is worth 22.6bn a year to the UK economy
72% of voluntary and community organisations employ no paid staff
Source: Home Office Citizenship Survey/VSNTO 2003

"While more popular voluntary schemes in the environment and children's education are oversubscribed, less in-demand areas like hospitals, prisons and GPs' surgeries could really benefit from volunteers to complement staff", he said.

Volunteer involvement at GP surgeries has been found to reduce patient prescriptions by 30% and hospital appointments by 35%.

And it is younger people aged 16-24 that are more likely to be involved in informal volunteering than any other age group.

The Russell Commission initiated by Chancellor Gordon Brown in May 2004 signalled the government's commitment to drawing young people into volunteering.

Alongside citizenship being taught on school syllabuses, schemes are being set up to get young and older people involved in mentoring.

Justin Davis Smith believes that this is key to ensuring the long term future of Britain's voluntary sector.

"Volunteering and community values need to be embedded in the new age of volunteers at school so that they will go on to use them throughout their lives."

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