Thursday, 4 July 2013

The missed opportunity of London 2012?

Over on my Third Sector online blog this month I’ve written an article about the lost opportunities of the post London 2012 volunteering legacy. This draws on recent research from Join In which showed that:

  • 29% of people would like to volunteer but haven’t done so
  • 51% have been unable to find out about local volunteering opportunities
  • 2% had done more volunteering as a result of the Games
  • 71% agreed that more volunteering by the general public in their local area was important to ensure the Games Makers’ legacy lives on

Beyond the issues I talk about in my Third Sector online blog there is also the interesting matter regarding the public’s apparent (in)ability to find out about volunteering.

First up, almost a third of people surveyed would like to volunteer but haven’t. Sorry but my skepticism kicks in here. When faced with a researcher asking questions like this surely some people don’t want to come across as uncaring so they say, “Sure, we’d love to volunteer, we just haven’t done it yet”. It’s like the classic question, “Why don’t you volunteer?” to which people say, “Well I don’t have time”. That’s not a reason not to volunteer, its an excuse, a simple way to deflect a question that makes them uncomfortable.

Let’s face it, if 71% of people think its important that people volunteer in their local community why aren’t they doing it? Either because they don’t know how to, or they think its someone else’s responsibility, or perhaps the idea of personally volunteering is so unattractive that they would never see it as something for them. 

Second, half of the population have been unable to find out about local volunteering opportunities. This isn’t surprising given the cuts experienced by local volunteering infrastructure in the last few years. Despite significant evidence of their importance, Volunteer Centres have seen substantial cuts in income and many have had to close their doors, like in Milton Keynes, where the VC announced its closure last week after 37 years.

Instead, government has invested financially and politically in new initiatives such as Join In. I did a quick search on their website for volunteering opportunities near where I live and discovered just eight opportunities, all taking place between the end of July and the middle of September and all oriented around netball. 

If that’s the public’s experience of trying to find opportunities, the only surprise is that its only 51% who struggle to find something locally.

By comparison, Do-It (who source the majority of their opportunities from VCs but seem to feature less and less in publicity around volunteering as initiatives like Join In steal the spotlight) has 152 diverse opportunities within five miles of where I live.

All of that is just considering local infrastructure’s role in online brokerage. We know VCs have a high success rate at working with those who might struggle most to engage in mainstream volunteering - people with disabilities, BME communities etc. - and all VCs are accredited on their wok in supporting organisations to develop volunteer opportunities, raise standards of good practice, campaign on behalf of volunteering locally and market & promote volunteering to the public.

Perhaps the best way to have capitalised on the volunteering legacy of London 2012 would have been to invest in and support the existing infrastructure rather than vanity projects of the kind that government were so quick to criticise when in opposition. If only someone had been telling LOCOG and government that - oh wait, that’s exactly what Volunteering England (and others) did since before the bid to host the 2012 games was won by the UK in Singapore.

One final word. The Join In research, like most studies done on volunteering, only talked to adults. So once again the millions of people under the age of eighteen get missed out of the picture despite the fact that we know many such young people volunteer.

What are your thoughts on the post-London 2012 legacy?

What lessons do you think we can all learn?

What would you have done differently and why?

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