We believe that volunteering is potentially a very powerful way to address isolation and offer new opportunities. In 2009 we commissioned the Institute for Volunteering to test this – does volunteering make a difference to people’s lives. We asked them to look at the smallest groups in Islington, which have been funded through Islington Community Chest since 2006. The small grants programme involves over 1,500 volunteers who develop confidence, skills and networks through their involvement in grassroots organisations. Their contribution is worth over £1.7m a year.
We found that volunteers are not coming from outside Islington – they are found within communities, helping each other as neighbours. They can be unemployed, in ill health, retired, people new to the country who want to get to understand British culture, or local people who volunteer because family or friends need them to help. Volunteering has the biggest impact on people who are most vulnerable.
I have done no volunteering and didn’t know any neighbours at all and I’ve lived here for ten years before I joined and it’s quite incredible that I can’t leave the house now without bumping into people, which is lovely. And that’s what I got from it more than anything else, the kind of community feeling, it’s very nice.
Unlocking the potential interviewee
We used the findings of the report to shape and influence our grant programmes, and, through Islington Giving and the BIG Alliance, encourage businesses to increase the volunteering opportunities they offer.