The impact of volunteering – small is beautiful!

I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon last week discussing how to measure the impact of volunteering with staff, volunteers and supporters from The Conservation Volunteers (TCV).

tcv_logo_twitterTCV is a national organisation that helps people reclaim green space, both through their own environmental projects and through a network of 2000 community groups. They take on spaces that have been previously neglected or unloved, and create vibrant new community and wildlife areas – for example at The Penge Green Gym, where over 130 Green Gym volunteers have contributed over 4900 hours to planting an urban orchard, sowing wildflower meadows, developing food growing spaces, and creating a wealth of wildlife habitats. Our West London guardians Clare and Andrew are also keen TCV volunteers, and have been involved digging run-off trenches at Heathrow Airport.

A lot of the discussion focussed on people’s motivation for getting involved with volunteering in the first place, and what keeps them coming back.  While we all get involved for different reasons, a couple of interesting findings from their research were discussed.

Firstly, they have found that motivation for environmental volunteering tends to change the more people do it, from something initially quite abstract, such as an interest in the environment, to something much more relational – maybe about the enjoyment of being with new people, or new friends volunteers might have made.

Secondly, the more people volunteer, the more their attitudes and behaviours change too – towards their environment, lifestyle, and willingness to engage with the local community. It also has a positive impact on physical and mental health.

And finally, impacts seem even greater for volunteers that received training or get into positions of responsibility.

While all of the above might seem quite obvious, it got me thinking about the blog Danusia and Eddie recently wrote about their experiences of litter picking at Ocean Estate – their transformative journey from seeing litter picking as something rather unpleasant and arduous, to one of the genuine highlights of their week. It is striking that something as simple as picking up litter has allowed them to build a huge number of relationships with the people that live immediately around them, while of course improving the environment too!

Danusia and Eddie are not the only guardians who have been on this type of journey with Dot Dot Dot – see the excellent blog by Tim who makes a similar point about how his attitudes to volunteering have changed over time.

In short, it just goes to show how if you keep an open mind, roll your sleeves up, and get stuck in with even the most boring or mundane problems in your local community, all sorts of unexpected and positive changes can follow.

You can see the full report from TCV on Volunteering Impacts here