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Warning On Rural Volunteering Numbers

1st June 2013

Photograph of Warning On Rural Volunteering Numbers

Caution needed over demands on rural volunteers, warns Scotlandís Rural College Study

SRUC (Scotlandís Rural College) News Release Number: 13R81
Date: 02.06.13

Policymakers expecting volunteers to play a bigger role in delivering local services may need to re-think their strategy for rural areas, according to research led by Scotlandís Rural College (SRUC).

In a study published during Volunteersí Week (1-7 June), SRUCís Rural Society Research Team and Stirling University found Scotlandís rural volunteers often undertake roles to fill gaps in service provision such as providing transport, acting a Ďfirst respondersí in medical emergencies and doing odd jobs. They are likely to volunteer across a larger number of roles but spend less time in each one. This differs from towns and cities, where volunteering is less service orientated and people divide their time across fewer roles.

Policymakers need to recognise the variation in volunteering activity across Scotland as they seek to increase the third sectorís role in delivering local services, say the researchers. They should be aware of areas where rural volunteers are already nearing capacity to avoid volunteer Ďburnoutí, and provide skills development and support where appropriate.

Dr Mike Woolvin, of SRUCís Rural Society Research Team said: ďOur research found that there are higher volunteering rates in rural compared to urban Scotland, and rural charities are less likely to report having seen a decrease in volunteers. Some might expect that higher levels of volunteering in rural areas reflect a population that is generally more community spirited than in our cities, but given that rural volunteers appear more likely to undertake service-orientated roles that often fill gaps in service provision, many may be volunteering out of necessity."

Dr Alasdair Rutherford, Lecturer in the School of Applied Social Science at Stirling University added: ďPolicymakers need to be aware of these geographical differences as they seek to deliver a public service reform agenda with a greater reliance on the third sector. It might not be possible in some areas for volunteers to take on any more responsibilities. Whilst there is on-going support from the Scottish Government to help charities in delivering services, many rural charities are small, operating without paid staff. The role of volunteers should not be neglected.Ē

The study ĎVolunteering and Public Service Reform in Rural Scotlandí explored the variation of volunteering rates across the whole of Scotland, with the highest rates in north west Scotland and the lowest numbers in the central belt. The focus of rural volunteersí activities is mainly on local community groups, children/young people and religion. There is further variation between Ďaccessibleí and Ďremoteí rural areas.

The map shows average volunteering levels across Scotland between 2007 and 2011, based on percentage of people who volunteered at least once per year.

The full study can be found at

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