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How has volunteering in Edinburgh changed since the Covid 19 pandemic


In this article, volunteer Connor Law looks at volunteering rates and how they changed during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Volunteering statistics before and during the Covid 19 pandemic.  

According to the Scottish Household Survey (SHS), in 2019, 26% of people who responded had volunteered for groups and or organisations in the last 12 months. The survey also revealed that 33% of people living in rural areas had volunteered in the last 12 months compared to 254% of people living in cities having volunteered in the last 12 months.  

According to the SHS 2020 results, the percentage of formal volunteers has remained unchanged at 26% of people having volunteered. However, the percentage of informal volunteers increased from 36% in 2018 to 56% in 2020.  

The 51% increase in ‘Keeping in touch with someone who is at risk of being lonely’, up from 18% in 2018 to 69% in 2020.  

The 39% increase in ‘Doing shopping, collecting pensions, collecting benefits or paying bills’, up from 12% in 2018 to 51% in 2020. 

The formal volunteering participation rate is 27%, which is not statistically different compared to the flatline rate of 26% during the previous three years: 2018 – 2020. 

Local community/neighbourhood volunteering continues its upward trend from 22% of volunteers in 2019, to 25% in 2020 and now 30% in 2021. This is likely to reflect the importance of community support during the height of COVID-19. 

Volunteering in ‘youth and children’s activities’ outside school was the second most popular type of volunteering at 17% of adult volunteers, but it remains lower than the pre-pandemic level of 23% in 2019. 


How do Volunteer Edinburgh staff feel about these statistics and do they feel they are accurate? 

Volunteer Edinburgh staff members Heather Yang and Bernadette Haran spoke about their experiences.   

When asked if the number of people volunteering in local and neighbourhood communities continued to rise since the end of the pandemic,  

 Heather Yang replied “I think people have changed their way to volunteering so people are able to volunteer for a short space of time since the end of the pandemic. Often people that are in employment that are working from home during the pandemic and started to volunteer have continued to volunteer in their local community, negotiating with their employers so that they can volunteer at lunch time. So I think that has been a positive. I don’t know if it has continued to rise because it’s a different demographic that’s probably volunteering now, but I think if we look at the overall number of people volunteering, the elderly group of people that were volunteering has probably dropped and not returned to volunteering. So it’s kind of a different shift in people volunteering. So it’s not a completely yes or no answer.” 

When asked if the number of people volunteering with youth and children’s activity groups continued to drop in the time since the end of the pandemic, Heather Yang commented “I think the number of people volunteering with youth groups has probably dropped and I think the reason for that is the lack of funding for youth projects. So there is not the people to support people volunteering with youth projects. So, actually getting funding for youth projects and youth and children’s activity groups has so dramatically fallen that they cannot then support volunteers. So it’s not the fact that people are not wanting to volunteer, but it’s the lack of financial support…” 

When asked if the number of people volunteering for groups which collect shopping, benefits and paying bills risen or fallen since the end of the pandemic, Heather Yang stated “I think that’s probably risen. I think people enjoyed doing that as part of the pandemic and thus have continued to do that. I think those people have continued to help. There has been a little bit of an issue in the fact that prior to the pandemic, in tenement stairs, probably people that were isolated knew their neighbours. But at the start of the pandemic a lot of people moved away or people that were from over seas left and so new tenancies and new neighbours have come in and possibly have not got to know the people in their stairs. So that’s been a bit of a shift and that kind of helping your neighbour. But overall, I think there’s probably been an increase in the number of people helping their neighbours.” 

When asked if she believes that the number of people who volunteer for groups which keep in touch with someone at risk of being lonely, risen or fallen since the end of the pandemic, Heather Yang commented “I think its risen. I think more people are doing it but I think the role has slightly changed. I think it’s probably less involved than it was prior to the pandemic but I think the number of people volunteering has probably actually increased.” 

When asked if the number of informal volunteers continued to rise since the end of the pandemic, Heather Yang stated “I don’t know, that’s a hard one to tell. We don’t really record that in any way here. I would have a sense that it has possibly risen. I think people have got more of a notion of volunteering since the pandemic. So I would like to think that the amount of informal volunteering has probably increased. I think that facebook groups that were established have probably continued in some way. So those have continued, local communities have built up a bit of a resource themselves. So probably if you think about it, yes it has probably increased.” 

When asked if they believe that there are a higher percentage of volunteers in rural areas compared to large cities? e.g 31% of adults in the Highlands compared to 29% of adults in Edinburgh, Heather Yang and Bernadette Harlan discussed the subject.  

Bernadette Haran said “I think it’s because rural areas probably had a dependency on neighbours prior to the pandemic anyway. I think the pandemic just added… people became really aware of making sure their neighbours were alright. That’s just continued in rural areas and I think that in bigger cities, people became aware of looking out for their neighbours. But it’s probably that once they returned to work and had to get back on with their lives and weren’t working from home. That’s probably why it dropped off a little bit.” 

Heather Yang added “I think that in rural areas transport is a bit of an issue. In rural areas people will volunteer to take people places because of transport, whereas, in the cities as much as people do want transport, we find it a lot harder to put something like that in place. Heather Yang went on to say that in rural areas, people are more inclined to say “I’m going to the doctors or the shops. Do you need anything? Or can I give you a lift?” 

When asked if they believed that the percentage of adults volunteering in Edinburgh is higher than the percentage of adults volunteering in Glasgow? e.g (29% in Edinburgh compared to 27% in Glasgow), Heather Yang and Bernadette Haran discussed the subject.  

Heather Yang commented “I think it’s because Edinburgh is kind of more of a smaller area”

Bernadette Haran replied “The different areas of Edinburgh can feel quite like a village, instead of being a big city which we are. But the areas are more community orientated and have a smaller village feel about them. And Glasgow is more sprawling.” 

Heather Yang added “I think that’s part of it. When I think of the community task force volunteers which is across the city. We also have quite a lot of international people that kind of help as well. They maybe have a different notion. I think that may be slightly different in Glasgow as well. So a different understanding of volunteering maybe. I think although they have a time bank in Glasgow in Castle Mill which is extremely successful in that area. Whereas in Edinburgh, the time bank is very successful in Portobello, which is a very different demographic. It’s actually hard to compare and if we think about it, it’s quite a small differential. I think it’s easier for people to volunteer in Edinburgh because it’s more close by as well.”