Most of us make New Year resolutions, and get fitter and live heathier are always in the top ten. However, gyms that are bursting in January usually drop back to normal figures by February (sometimes earlier). New research by the Harvard School of Public Health, suggests that the answer to feeling better about your lifestyle might not lie in the gym, but in volunteering. Harvard’s research highlighted that people who volunteer spend 38% less time in hospital. The NHS website also recommends volunteering on its Live Well Pages and explains that spending time supporting local charities and communities helps improve your mental well-being.
So how do we understand this in terms of numbers? The Cabinet office releases the ‘Community Life Survey’, providing ‘Official Statistics on issues that are key to encouraging social action and empowering communities, including volunteering, giving and community engagement'. Their key findings included:
- In 2014-15, 69% of people had volunteered at least once in the last 12 months.
- Levels of participation in informal (individuals) volunteering was 34%, formal (groups, clubs and organisations) volunteering - 27% and overall volunteering - 47%, at least once a month have remained similar compared to 2013-14 and 2012-13.
- In 2014-15, 8% of people participated in employer volunteering*, no change from 2013-14, but a significant increase compared to 2012-13 (6%).
- Over three quarters (79%) of people chatted to their neighbours at least once a month, a significant increase compared to 2013-14 (75%).
- The proportion of people who were ‘very satisfied’ with their local area as a place to live (43%) was unchanged from 2013-14, but significantly higher compared to all years from 2008-09 to 2012-13.
- Just under a third (32%) of people had a very strong sense of belonging to their neighbourhood, significantly higher than in 2013-14 (28%), but significantly lower than in 2008-09 to 2012-13.
- There was a significant increase in the proportion of people taking part in civic participation at least once a month (5%) compared to 2013-14 (3%).
- The proportion of people who would like to be more involved in the decisions made by their local council was 43%.
This research demonstrates people are understanding their social responsibility for positive change and its impact on the community and are acting on it. It will be interesting to see what happens to the figures in the 2015-2016 report when it is released this summer and if this trend of growth continues.
Next time you feel at a loose end or are feeling down that you haven’t kept your New Year’s resolutions – consider volunteering, it’s good for you and your community. Why not have a look at some of the amazing organisations that live with us if you want some inspiration on volunteering?
Do you have a story you want to share about some volunteering you have done that has made a difference? The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network is launching a series, ‘The Day I Made a Difference’ to celebrate people giving back to the community. You can find the full article here.
* Employer supported volunteering - volunteering undertaken by employees that is enabled by employers / companies.