Volunteering and youth work: partnership in action

Sarah Latto has been the Policy Officer at Volunteer Scotland since April 2022, and will be presenting at our upcoming Policy Convention: A Right to Youth Work: Exploring Current Policy Opportunities.

Head shot of Sarah Latto from Volunteer Scotland

I’m absolutely delighted to be contributing to YouthLink Scotland’s upcoming policy convention. For me, collaboration between Volunteer Scotland and YouthLink Scotland is a no-brainer. So many people of all ages volunteer to support youth work in Scotland, and youth work often provides a supportive space for young people to take their first steps into volunteering.  

About Volunteer Scotland 

Volunteer Scotland is Scotland’s national centre for volunteering. Our mission is to create a Scotland where everyone can volunteer, more often, and throughout their lives. We believe that volunteering should be an enjoyable, rewarding, and fulfilling experience for every volunteer. In my role as Policy Officer, I aim to ensure that the strategic contribution of volunteering to a wide range of policy areas, evidenced by our extensive research work, is adequately reflected when decisions are made. Easier said than done, but working in partnership with organisations like YouthLink Scotland definitely helps!  

A worrying picture 

Earlier this year, a perfect opportunity for Volunteer Scotland to partner with YouthLink Scotland arose when we published our research into young people’s experiences of volunteering. It found that whilst youth volunteering participation is still higher than the adult rate, it is declining pretty rapidly. Participation rates also vary significantly when you consider key demographics, with young people in Scotland’s most deprived communities significantly less likely to volunteer. The research also found that the number of young people reporting common benefits of volunteering are also in decline. A worrying picture all round.  

It is clear from the research that the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis have had a significant impact on the capacity and opportunity for young people to volunteer. The majority of young people are encouraged to start volunteering by an important adult in their life, be that a parent, carer, teacher, or youth worker. The closure of schools and other community facilities during the pandemic meant that the positive influence of teachers and youth workers in supporting young people’s participation in volunteering was severely curtailed.  

Now, with the cost of living crisis, many of the organisations providing opportunities for young people to volunteer, or supporting young people to access volunteering opportunities, have faced a perfect storm of rising demand, increasing costs and stagnating or declining income. In addition to these practical barriers, the impact of these two events on the mental health and wellbeing of young people may also have undermined their capacity to participate in, and benefit from, volunteering. 

Evidence into Action 

Given the general decline in youth volunteer participation in recent years, and the apparent inequality of access to volunteering, Volunteer Scotland and YouthLink Scotland wrote a joint briefing highlighting the policy implications of this research. In our briefing, we make some key joint recommendations to better promote access to volunteering and protect youth work. The timing of these recommendations is critical given the upcoming youth work strategy and plans for considerable reform in the education and skills landscape.

Given the success of our partnership work so far this year, and our shared interest in promoting both volunteering and youth work in policy, it is great to have the opportunity to share our joint findings and recommendations at YouthLink Scotland’s policy convention. I look forward to seeing you there!