A new report from family support charity Home-Start has shown that volunteering gives people greater understanding of different cultures and ideas, as well as improving their work skills, self confidence, and health and well being.

The study looked at the progress of 108 volunteers, during their Home-Start training and in their first 12 months supporting a family. Over the period of study, volunteers reported a significant increase in their understanding of other cultures, told of improvements in their physical and mental well being, and also engaged in their community more.

The Impact of Volunteering on Volunteers report, published on 5th June 2015 was assessing a pilot version of Home-Start’s VIM system (volunteer impact management).

Based on the findings, Home-Start has made a series of policy recommendations:

  • A new method of calculating the true economic value of a volunteer’s skill and experience must be developed; simply using the minimum wage undervalues what volunteers bring to their work.
  • Voluntary organisations should be given the resources to allow them to fulfil a unique role in enabling volunteers to be work ready and supporting them to find employment in specific sectors, such as social support. This must also be recognised as different from the wider work ready programmes.
  • There must be a commitment to longer term volunteering which allows people to mix both paid and non-paid work; to help them manage their volunteering around their modern, more fluid work patterns.
  • The government must ensure its national policy recognising the benefits of volunteering while job hunting is being implemented locally so that local agencies do not punish or discourage those claiming benefits from volunteering.
  • Further research should be carried out into what is the most effective skill and motivational profile for volunteers who provide semi-formal family support; to help voluntary organisations to recruit the right volunteers for the right role.
  • The preparation and support given to volunteers develops their ability to engage families. These interpersonal and relational skills enable volunteers to build trust across diverse communities and should be recognised in the development and measurement of volunteer programmes.
  • Volunteer management should be recognised as having a key role in building new public services and developing local communities.
  • The improvements in mental health for volunteers should be recognised as a valuable contribution to wider preventative mental health programmes.

Home-Start UK chief executive, Rob Parkinson, said, “Volunteering for Home-Start is good for people and the communities in which they live. This report confirms much that is understood about volunteering, and also shows the crucial part that it can play in building cohesive communities based on shared experiences, values and social relationships.”

Home-Start Calderdale in West Yorkshire has introduced a special coordinator who has the responsibility of better understanding the cultural differences and issues faced by parents of other families.

Moahar Shaban, the black and minority ethnic coordinator at Home-Start coordinator explains the benefits of volunteers working with families of a different background, “When volunteers and families come from different backgrounds, they do get more insight. The volunteer is learning when they support a family, and the family is learning from the volunteer.

“But, when it comes down to it, they all have the same issues and problems and they’re no different regardless of background They might have mental health problems, or financial problems, or relationship problems, the culture doesn’t seem to matter as much because they have a bigger issue.”

Home-Start has almost 15,000 home-visiting volunteers, who give their time for 288 local Home-Starts right across the UK. They provide tailored, free, non-judgemental home-based support to 29,000 families and 63,000 children. Between them the 288 local Home-Starts also have 4,000 volunteer trustees.