Thrive has 255 people doing voluntary work at its three centres in Birmingham, London and Reading, and a sample of them were surveyed via face-to-face interviews and questionnaires.
The majority of respondents were female, ranging in age from early 30s to late 70s, with 38 per cent being retired.
Most respondents work directly with Thrive’s client gardeners and a third reported personal experience of disability, either themselves or via a close family member.
The average length of time that individuals had been volunteering for Thrive was about four years, with one working since the charity was founded in Reading.
Motivations for volunteers
The main motivation of Thrive volunteers was altruistic, helping and understanding clients. Looking after the garden came second highest and was particularly important for those with horticultural backgrounds, such as retired gardeners.
Many of the volunteers interviewed expressed their enjoyment of the natural environment and stated that being outdoors is an extremely important part of their motivation to work with Thrive.
Personal benefits came to the fore during interviews. For those looking to make a career, Thrive’s reputation as a training provider was signficant.
For those who were retired, establishing a routine and having a purpose were important.
Another key motivation for volunteering was the benefits to their own mental health that they thought they received. These ranged from a general sense of `feeling good’ as a result of helping others, to a much more complex sense of `self-therapy' for those who suffered from mental illness themselves.
The study, by Gail Sucharitakul of the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College, also uncovered some unexpected benefits.
Many volunteers found the social benefits were an important although unforeseen outcome.
These social benefits included not just opportunities for socialising but also in providing a sense of status and reputation from having `a socially meaningful role’ as a volunteer.
The research also made clear that volunteers experience the benefits of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture, including:
Overall, respondents expressed high levels of satisfaction about volunteering at Thrive.
As part of the ongoing commitment to improve the volunteering experience, Thrive is now seeking to continue to support the altruistic and biospheric motivations, and to maximise the social rewards by increasing the recognition and social value of the contribution of volunteers.