The value of volunteering
Every year we gather numbers to give us a flavour of what our CAG Devon groups get up to. The numbers tell us how many tonnes of food was diverted from waste, how many items were repaired by our fantastic repairs, how many trees were planted, how many tonnes of carbon emissions were avoided and so on. They also tell us how many people gave their time, and how much of it, to make these things happen.
But that’s only part of the story. There’s so much more happening when folk volunteer. There’s the why, the how, and how much, and for how long? And more. There’s lots of research around the motivations and value of volunteering. We wanted to find out a little more about why people volunteer for CAG Devon groups. So we did a bit of research. Read on to find out more.
This pilot project was a collaboration between Devon County Council, University of Exeter and CAG Devon. It involved the collection of stories from seven CAG Devon volunteers, who gave their time for a one-to-one, semi-structured interview meeting, drawing on their reflections of volunteering in CAG Devon and other groups. The meetings, in the summer of 2022, aimed to “discern their experiences and the significant changes which have occurred since their involvement in their groups”.
From a general invitation to our groups, seven volunteers came forward from groups which demonstrate the breadth of what CAG Devon groups do. You can read their stories here. There are truly some golden nuggets in these stories which beautifully illustrate the priceless value of volunteering together. You can find some below. We’d love to hear your thoughts on them.
Motivations for volunteering included faith, family values instilled as a child, channeling anger about Brexit, a concern about climate change, meeting new people in a new community, a passion for the planet and a collective desire to make a difference. CAG Devon will be reflecting on these findings, looking for ways to improve the project, in order to maximise the impact of its activities.
You can read the summary report here.
Some snippets on volunteering (taken from the seven stories)
“Volunteering has really helped me to become integrated into the community. I know so many people, and you do feel like you’re achieving something when you’re helping out, both personally and for the community.”
“My first motivation is usually community relationships… finding ways of connecting people who often wouldn’t normally meet. But part of that is also skill sharing, and right from the start, I thought that was important for me. That’s the gift that we are all bringing to the table – people giving something of themselves to it. That helped me to realise that actually, it’s not about the money; It’s about people, practically helping each other and giving some love… I just love that. I feel quite emotional because I love how community is encouraging sharing and showing people how they can make a difference in a meaningful way.”
“I have met some really inspirational people over the years. Being a trailblazer, doing something completely new and different, going out and convincing people that our work is important… I’m not really in that league. But through volunteering, I’ve met people like this, people who I can learn from. Some of my best friends I made through volunteering.”
“I get a sense of pride and satisfaction from the community spirit that is generated by our work and the positive response we get from people, families, and households that we support.”
“I also like trying to make people’s lives a bit more comfortable. The allotment, for example, is going to be providing food for people who need it, and the pollinator project has really supported people emotionally. Before and throughout the pandemic we have been planting in our pollinator plots. People really appreciate it and have told us that it has improved their mental wellbeing. You don’t always get feedback for projects, so this was great to hear.”
“The work that I do isn’t for me, it’s for the planet, for the soil. All my working life, I’ve only done things that I was passionate about. I’ve always taken on work that can push boundaries, that can do things differently. However, most of it was making a difference to people as opposed to the planet. Of course, people are integral to supporting the planet. If you’ve got people who are already fighting over toilet roll, what on Earth is going to happen when there’s no food? My whole aim is about building resilience through relationships, getting people supporting each other and moving away from the mindset of individualism. “
“I have come to see that I can choose to have a hopeful outlook. Other people across the world are making great strides towards making the world a better place, but you don’t always hear about this unless you go looking for it. The solidarity of being part of something that is making positive change is incredibly important and empowering.”