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Sport, Recreation and the Arts - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:46 pm on 19th December 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat 5:46 pm, 19th December 2018

I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, and confess to him that I was a bit worried that this might be one of those debates in which we all just agree with each other. But there has been such an interesting variety of perspectives that although we may all agree, the debate has had variety and depth. I shall focus exclusively on the role of volunteers in delivering the whole spectrum of recreational activities, from internationally renowned organisations such as the Globe Theatre to small community groups such as the football club in my home town of Needham Market. Whether people are donating millions for a new gallery, putting loose change in a bucket or volunteering their time for something they believe in and enjoy, these are the people who make all this happen. I should declare my interest as a member of the NCVO advisory council, and as a trustee of Community Action Suffolk.

One of the consequences of the reliance on philanthropy and public grant is that many of the organisations we are discussing today are in the business of having to demonstrate exactly how they impact on the well-being of society. That is a difficult area to navigate. The scepticism of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, reminded me of the theory that birthdays are clearly beneficial because people who have more of them live longer. However, despite the scepticism there is now a huge amount of evidence about the link between volunteering, recreation and well-being. That has come across strongly in a whole range of the briefings we have had, so we have moved beyond the formula cited by the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst—“It’s a good thing”.

I found some interesting research from the What Works Wellbeing centre, which was set up to provide high-quality analysis for government, civil society and business. It shows how involvement with volunteering promotes different feelings depending on the sector in which the volunteer is working and the age of the participant. For young people, involvement with volunteering is about promoting stronger social connections, while for older people it is more important in giving a sense of purpose and identity, particularly once the work situation has ended.

In a study of older adults, reduced mortality was seen in those who volunteered regularly. Crucially though, this really applied only to those who were motivated by external reasons. In other words, there is something in the act of serving others that has the power. When people were being forced into doing something the effects were less positive. If that is borne out, it has some interesting implications for public policy. It is interesting to reflect that the benefits of the recreational activities we have discussed are both created and amplified by the benefits of volunteering.

A project run by Inspiring Futures over three years, centred around 10 heritage attractions in Greater Manchester including the Imperial War Museum, had volunteers from three groups—18 to 25 year-olds, over-50s and veterans. Of the 231 participants, 75% reported improved well-being, 60% reported long-term improvements, and 30% gained employment. These are powerful statistics.

One of the things we know about young people is that they are often reluctant to seek help from medical sources when they are chronically stressed, anxious or depressed. Their sources of support tend to come from their peers or from trusted adults such as youth workers or sports coaches, many of whom are volunteers; that point was made powerfully by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. The charity City Year UK told me about one of their full-time social action volunteers, Sarah Smith, who set up a girls-only sport club in the school where she was working. Her club empowers girls to explore sporting activities such as kickboxing.

One of the key things to emerge from these studies is that such approaches can only happen when proper partnerships are working between community sports, community organisations, health and local authorities and the voluntary sector. That is one of those things that is easy to say but quite difficult to do, particularly because local authorities on the whole are pulling back from the sort of brokerage activity that they traditionally used to be involved in. That is why local infrastructure bodies such as Community Action Suffolk are so important: they provide the brokerage, the glue, that begins to pull these things together. They need investment: funding for volunteer offices and other infrastructure bodies is in decline and, as with most charities, there is a problem that while quite a lot of grant money is available, often there is no core funding to run the thing or, particularly, to meet the various regulatory requirements such as safeguarding, which we all support. This is an important area that we need to address.

On diversity, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is absolutely right; we see strong recreational and volunteering benefits in wealthy, middle-class communities. The trick is to know how to extend those benefits. I was particularly impressed by some work that the National Trust has been doing at Raynham Hall in Havering. It has been bringing members of the local community into arts and community gardening projects, along with schools and so on; where we get these partnerships, we can begin to break down barriers.

This is something for the whole sector—at statutory, local and national level, in organisations, businesses and communities; everyone needs to work together. The well-being benefits that we hear of are not about individuals alone, but about the well-being of society as a whole.