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Volunteering Matters: Briefing to Inform Party Manifestos

01 February 2016

The Concordat between the Voluntary & Community Sector and the Northern Ireland Government sets out a shared vision of ‘Government and the Voluntary & Community Sector working together as social partners to build a participative, peaceful, equitable and inclusive community in Northern Ireland.

In this partnership Government recognises the nature, diversity and value of the contribution which the voluntary & community sector makes to the social, economic, environmental, political and cultural life of Northern Ireland. It recognises and values highly the importance of volunteering and civic participation where individuals contribute actively to the development of their communities and to meeting the needs of others, in a way which is complementary and of equal importance to financial investment’.

Volunteering Strategy

A vital aspect of the added value of the voluntary & community sector is the voluntary contribution made by hundreds of thousands of volunteers. The Northern Ireland Executive in 2012 agreed and endorsed the first Northern Ireland Volunteering Strategy and Action Plan ‘Join In, Get Involved: Build a Better Future’.  This strategy emphasises that Government believes ‘supporting volunteering makes good sense as almost every aspect of everyday life benefits from volunteering – the communities we live in, our physical environment, our sport and leisure activities, where we work and worship, our schools and hospitals’.  In recognising the value and promoting the benefits of volunteering the strategy sets out that one of Government’s priorities is to ‘seek to protect volunteering from the unintended negative consequences of legislation and Government policy’.

Impact of Volunteering

Volunteers are people who give their time to make a difference to others and their community.  Their contribution and commitment touches all aspects of everyday life in Northern Ireland.  They are organising and running community activities and events; serving on committees and trustees of charities; working with young people; befriending the sick and those in need; giving time within a faith-based context; coaching sports; counselling; teaching; providing transport; raising money for causes that they care about; involved in giving information and advice; delivering life saving services such as mountain rescue and emergency medical care; supporting the delivery of large public events.

The DSD 2015 omnibus survey of volunteering in Northern Ireland indicates that some 30% of the population over the age of 16 volunteers, this equates to 436,750 people volunteering.  Many community activities and services would simply not happen without volunteers:

  • approximately 1,600 volunteers are involved in contributing to the work of the six health and social care trusts
  • the Northern Ireland Youth Service relies on 20,000+ volunteers
  • 30,000+ volunteers are involved in sport
  • 46,000 volunteer drivers provide transport, often for the most vulnerable
  • 25,000 school governors provide leadership within our schools
  • 35,000+ volunteers serve on voluntary management committees and as trustees of charities
  • in 2015 Volunteer Now recognised 1,738 young people aged 16-25 who each received their Millennium Volunteers Award for contributing 200 hours of volunteering within their community

Volunteer Now is a regional organisation providing leadership for volunteering.  Volunteer Now, along with six volunteer centres, is part of a volunteering infrastructure support service that delivers key functions to promote, increase, enhance and develop volunteer involvement across Northern Ireland.  Currently this infrastructure:

  • supports 3,860 organisations that involve volunteers
  • promotes 5,540 volunteering opportunities
  • recruits 7,565 volunteers (2014/15 figures)

Building Volunteering for the Future: Four Key Asks for Politicians in Northern Ireland

Given that volunteering is a powerful and a vital tool in building community engagement, development and cohesion, Volunteer Now has four asks for the political parties to consider in their party manifestos for the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections. 

  1. An endorsement of volunteering through recognising the valuable contribution volunteers make; encouraging and enabling all citizens to participate and create the kind of society in which they want to live.
  2. Recognise the important role that volunteering infrastructure organisations play in promoting, supporting and recruiting volunteers to enable the number of people in Northern Ireland volunteering to increase beyond the current figure of c. 30% of the population over the age of 16.
  3. Support the need for maintaining a volunteering strategy for Northern Ireland to coordinate activities across government, the voluntary and community sector and other stakeholders to promote a positive environment for volunteering and create the conditions where volunteering activity can develop and flourish.  
  4. Support for maintaining a Millennium Volunteers programme for Northern Ireland which provides recognition for young volunteers.  Supports organisations to provide opportunities and value the contribution that young people make as volunteers and encourages businesses to understand how volunteering can support youth employment.