Is volunteering changing?


Girls’ Brigade CEO, Judith Davey-Cole, reflects on the changing landscape of volunteering.

Volunteering is deeply rooted in human history. It has played a pivotal role in shaping societies, addressing pressing issues, and bringing about significant positive transformation.

In the past four years the world has seen unprecedented change. The repercussions of the pandemic, war in Ukraine, the Israel-Gaza war and the cost-of-living crisis continue to impact us all along with the communities we live in.

Understandably volunteer participation has not yet fully recovered. In the latest Community Life Survey, the proportion of the UK population who volunteer had dropped from 23% in 2019/2020 to 16% the following year (2021/2022). However, we know the positive impact volunteering can have. Research has shown that volunteering offers significant health benefits both physical and mental and can provide a sense of purpose.

It is undeniable that charities like ours at Girls’ Brigade could not function or deliver programmes without volunteers. They carry out our services to girls and young women across the country, leading groups and connecting with communities. We have volunteers from ages 18-94. This year alone, 8 of our wonderful volunteers are marking 50 years of service!

Jo Thoy is 67 years old from Durham. She has been a part of Girls’ Brigade since 1965 first as a member and then a volunteer- the usual path our young women take. Jo said, “Girls’ Brigade has been my life. If you cut me in half like a stick of rock candy, you’d see Girls’ Brigade written all through me.” The welcoming community that she experienced as a young girl is what keeps her engaged as a volunteer leader and she’s determined to keep that encouraging and safe environment prevalent for all her members today.

Jo was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, but that didn’t stop her from investing in Girls’ Brigade – she was surrounded by love and care through the whole process. Jo believes this commitment goes two ways: “It doesn’t matter how long you volunteer for, but loyalty is vital.”

But it doesn’t take someone working directly with volunteers to recognise that the world has changed since Jo first got involved with Girls’ Brigade. With volunteering on a steady decline, long-term, committed volunteers like Jo may not be the norm anymore. Work commitments, caring responsibilities and falling living standards are all affecting the longevity that volunteers can commit for.

For younger volunteers, like 27-year-old Grace Claydon in Essex who also has two jobs, the reason she’s volunteering now is much more important than the question of how long she’ll volunteer for: “Girls’ Brigade gave me so much as a young woman growing up, and it’s so important to me to be able to give back and provide those opportunities I had to the next generation.”

Grace said, “I think it’s good to be part of something…you’re more likely to be loyal to something if you feel like you belong. Girls’ Brigade has always been a safe place for me, and a place of belonging. But all volunteering is important and valuable. We all go through seasons of life and sometimes things work for us and sometimes they don’t.”

Attitudes towards volunteering may be changing, but the need for volunteers isn’t shrinking. Volunteers are helping us create a movement. They’re on the ground seeing life transformation. I firmly believe if we celebrate the commitment of our volunteers, allowing them to express the impact it has had on their lives and dedicate our time to the next generation of leaders providing opportunities for people to serve in safe environments, we may just see a big change in 2024.

If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering with Girls’ Brigade, check out this page.

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