Communities: Charities and Volunteers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:16 pm on 13th February 2019.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 6:16 pm, 13th February 2019

I am delighted to speak in this debate, because volunteering is the life-blood that flows through our communities. It is what keeps the heart of our communities beating throughout my constituency, the whole of Scotland and the whole of the UK. My constituency is particularly blessed with many charitable and voluntary groups and organisations, such as the Beith Community Development Trust; Promoting Kilwinning; Largs Community Garden; Café Solace, in Kilbirnie and in Ardrossan, run by Recovery at Work; the Scottish Centre for Personal Safety, in Ardrossan; the Ayrshire Community Trust; North Ayrshire Cancer Care; the Arran Community and Voluntary Service; CLASP—the Community Led Action and Support Project—in Stevenston; the Opportunities in Retirement groups across North Ayrshire; the Ayrshire Hospice volunteers; the North Ayrshire food banks; the RNLIRoyal National Lifeboat Institution—Largs; and of course the committee that keeps the heart of Whitlees beating by running the Whitlees community centre in Ardrossen. I should also mention all of those who work in each of our towns to provide gala days such as the Saltcoats Sea Queen festival and so many other events. There are far, far too many people and groups to mention, but they all provide a range of services throughout the community, for our young people and not so young people.

We can be proud that 27% of adults in Scotland, more than 1.2 million people, have volunteered formally through an organisation or group in the past year, and this figure has remained relatively stable for the past nine years. Some 30% of adults living in North Ayrshire, an estimated 34,000 people, volunteer formally, which is above the national Scottish figure of 27%. In recent years, it is estimated that volunteers living in North Ayrshire contributed 4.5 million hours of help and £62 million to the local economy—the figure for the whole of Scotland is believed to be £2 billion contributed to our economy by volunteers. The future looks bright, as research on participation and attitudes among young people aged between 11 and 18 found that youth volunteering participation had grown to 52%, which is nearly double the adult figure of 27%. As we have heard, volunteering can lead to enhanced job prospects as well, as new skills are learned and confidence grows for the volunteer.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations tells us that the third sector is made up of a variety of organisations, such as registered charities, housing organisations, sports and art clubs, and so on—the list is very long. These organisations do fantastic and important work, such as delivering employability services, supporting people with health challenges, bringing people together through social activities, forming self-help and support groups, and, of course, improving our environment through conservation, heritage groups and regenerating our communities.

If Members speak to volunteers, they will always tell us about the satisfaction and fulfilment that they find in the work they do. Of course, not only does each volunteer often make more of a difference to their community than they may ever even know, but the whole army of volunteers that populates our communities has such a profound effect, and they are so woven into the fabric of our streets and towns that they are part of our daily lives.

Interestingly, the London School of Economics found a clear relationship between volunteering and happiness: the more people volunteered, the happier they were—and they were much happier than those who did not volunteer at all. Throughout my constituency I have met some wonderful people who selflessly give up their time to help others and to add value to their community in ways that cannot be measured in pounds and pence because their value is much more profound than that. Studies also show that volunteering is an effective tool against depression and anxiety and is an excellent confidence booster, on top of the fact that such volunteers enjoy a wider social circle.

It is the basic, human, fundamental desire to help others that drives our army of volunteers in towns across the UK, Scotland and North Ayrshire and Arran, and throughout our communities. They are the too-often unsung heroes who perform such valuable work in our communities, day in, day out, and upon whom our communities rely and could not well do without. It is right and fitting that today we celebrate and recognise these unsung heroes, which is why I am delighted to have spoken in this debate and why, in common with everybody in the Chamber, I am sure, I want to take this opportunity to say, to each and every one of them, thank you.