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By Holly Grimes, GM Moving | 03 June 2024 | TAGS: Volunteering, Volunteers, workforce

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Volunteers’ Week, taking place from Monday 3rd to Sunday 9th June, which celebrates the amazing contributions volunteers make to communities across the UK. An annual occurrence, it’s an opportunity to recognise, celebrate and thank volunteers for the vital contributions they make to our communities. This year’s Volunteers’ Week culminates in The Big Help Out, from Friday 7th to Sunday 9th June, providing bitesize opportunities for people and communities to lend a hand and get involved in volunteering.

The contribution of volunteers, both formal and informal, to sport, physical activity and movement across Greater Manchester cannot be understated. Whilst it’s hugely important to acknowledge this and improve the volunteer experience all year around, Volunteers’ Week provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made in this ambition, and look forward to how we can continue to support, recognise and thank the people who give their time to make sport, physical activity and movement happen.

The latest Sport England Active Lives Survey data, published in April, tells us that around 21% of adults in Greater Manchester gave their time supporting others to move more in the 12 months between November 2022 and 2023, an increase of 2.53% from the previous year. This is hugely encouraging as we continue to recover from a general downward trend in volunteering, and it’s also positive that more people are volunteering regularly compared to three years ago on a national scale. We’ve also seen a small increase in volunteering at least a few times throughout the year for those aged 16-34 compared to a few years ago. Nonetheless, there remain some stubborn inequalities in terms of who is most likely to volunteer in sport and physical activity. For example, men are still more likely than women or those who identify in another way to regularly give their time, adults with a disability or long-term health condition remain less likely to volunteer compared to those without, and adults from Black and White Other ethnic minority groups are also under-represented. A significant inequality that persists is socio-economic status, with adults from lower socio-economic groups comprising just 10% of all weekly volunteers, yet comprising 30% of the population.

Within this context, we’ve been working with partners to tackle some of these inequalities and implement the eight recommendations from our Volunteering Research paper published last year. The research brought to light some embedded perceptions and stereotypes around volunteering in sport, physical activity and movement – that to volunteer you need to have sport-specific qualifications and knowledge, that volunteering is a lifelong commitment to specific roles, without flexibility or task-based opportunities, and perceptions around who is likely to volunteer and a lack of visible diverse role models. Throughout Volunteers Week, we’ll be sharing stories from a couple of fantastic groups and organisations who challenge these perceptions and stereotypes, providing inclusive volunteering opportunities that support a wide range of volunteers to experience the benefits of giving their time, and who in turn create opportunities for others to be active.

We’ve also been continuing to grow and develop our GM Moving Volunteering Community of Practice, guided by a steering group comprised of local, regional and national organisations. At our last meeting in March, we discussed how we can work collaboratively to amplify Volunteers Week and the Big Help Out and enhance our collective recruitment practices. On the back of the last CoP, we have also launched micro-grants to support members to test the research findings in their own context, and will be sharing their learnings at future CoPs to support the wider network of organisations.

We’ve also started an exciting piece of work with Youth Alliance Greater Manchester, working with their vast network of youth organisations across the city region to redefine the future of volunteering for young people and create meaningful opportunities for young people to develop their skills and awareness of career pathways through volunteering, leadership and employability. We’re looking forward to better understanding the role of the VCSE sector in supporting shared sport and physical activity outcomes for children and young people, including supporting more young people to volunteer in sport, physical activity and movement by understanding what’s needed to make it more meaningful, relevant and attractive.

This sits alongside lots of adjacent volunteering work, exploring how we can take a more collaborative, joined-up approach to volunteering in Greater Manchester, tackle underlying trends, inequalities and barriers to make it more accessible, meaningful and inclusive, and determine what training, support, resources and funding is needed across the system. Whilst we are making good progress, as the Active Lives data suggests, there’s still lots more work to be done to achieve our ambitions.

As a call-to-action this Volunteers Week to amplify this message, let’s thank and celebrate those who make sport and physical activity happen across our city region, highlight positive stories of volunteers from all walks of life, and share accessible and flexible opportunities to get involved in volunteering such as the Big Help Out. Working together, we can transform the face of sport, physical activity and movement-based volunteering, so that everyone can experience the benefits and create inclusive opportunities for others to move more.

Get involved and share your stories using #VolunteersWeek, and tag us @GMMoving!

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