Volunteering website banner

Volunteering is a major contributor to the UK economy and to the charity sector. The NCVO estimated that some 14.2m people formally volunteered in 2021/22, down from 20m formally volunteering in 2019/20. About half (48%) of formal volunteers in England say they volunteer because they want to improve things/help people; this remains the top reason to start volunteering. About 1 in 5 recent formal volunteers (21%) have volunteered for local community or neighbourhood groups, making it the most popular cause to volunteer for; health/disability/social welfare and hobbies/recreations/arts/ social clubs follow, with 17% and 16% of recent volunteers giving their time to these organisations respectively.

The NCVO report (and also the ONS Community Life Survey data) does not look specifically at the nature-based activities sectors. However, a survey of 185 organisations offering gardening for health and wellbeing programmes in England and Wales (Green Care Coalition, 2018) found that these organisation were working with over 5,800 people per week and that they relied on some 4,043 volunteers, an average of 24 volunteers per organisation. The authors of this snapshot survey estimated that there were more than 730 such organisations so the volunteer population could be as high as 17,500; this is thought to be a very conservative estimate. In STH settings, these volunteers will be working alongside a smaller number of trained practitioners and are an essential part of the service delivery process.

Volunteers in nature-based projects will also derive many of the health and wellbeing benefits that the formal participants do, as a result of the same positive influences (time in nature, time in meaningful occupation, time in a social environment) being in place; however, accessing those benefits will require more personal motivation and activity will not be tailored to the specific goals of the volunteer. Research into the health and wellbeing benefits for volunteers derived from time spent supporting STH programme beneficiaries is lacking.