Volunteering: the invaluable act of kindness

Our Walking for Health Manager Frances Bain gives her perspective on the wave of people helping each other and their communities as coronavirus impacts lives

Frances Bain, Manager of Paths for All's Walking for Health programme joins volunteers and walkers at The Big Fit Walk in Aberdeen

It’s National Volunteers Week so it feels like a good time to stop and reflect on the nature of volunteering, especially as we navigate our way through the pandemic and its effects on all our lives.

There are many definitions of what volunteering is, offering something that is not an obligation, someone who offers to do something without being paid or doing something to help others without material reward.

At Paths for All we’re lucky enough to work alongside thousands of fantastic volunteers every week, from Volunteer Walk Leaders, to Community Path Volunteers and the many local groups promoting active and sustainable travel in their communities. We quite simply couldn’t achieve our aims without them and we work hard to offer them support and recognition in return. 

In one sense, everyone in Scotland is currently a volunteer, everyone is making sacrifices, taking action and offering their support to the efforts of suppressing and managing the virus. There’s a real sense of collective action, a common goal and a reaching out to others around us. These are all cornerstones of a volunteering culture. What if we could all take a little bit of that with us as we move forwards through this journey? What if that desire to help, support and make a difference to someone’s life, lingers? What if we could all commit to do one good thing, without payment or obligation, everyday?

In some ways the pandemic has been a great leveller, none of us have escaped its shockwaves, we’ve all had our lives impacted and restricted irrespective of income, location and celebrity status. But in other ways it’s had a hugely unequal effect on us across Scotland. Issues with job security for low paid workers, lack of access to gardens and greenspaces during lockdown, the physical impact of the virus for those with health conditions, the prevalence and effects of the virus in BAME communities. We’re seeing that the pandemic has the potential to seriously widen inequalities across Scotland, hitting those who are most vulnerable, the hardest. 

We need our volunteer army more than ever right now if we’re to recover as a stronger, fairer and healthier Scotland. Volunteers know their communities, they are part of them, they understand the issues, the reality and the hopes that they have. Yes, we need policies and programmes and national leadership, and it goes without saying, enough funding. But we also need that knowledge, commitment and passion that volunteers bring.

The good news is that we’re seeing a resurgence of volunteering. Over 35,000 people registered to volunteer in Scotland as part of the pandemic response. And while it’s fantastic news that we haven’t needed to call on all those people to take up formal volunteering roles, there’s never been a better time to think about how you can contribute to your community and make a difference.

Volunteering can take many forms, from a friendly hello and chat with an elderly neighbour or helping with shopping, to the people coordinating foodbanks and running support groups. 

Maybe we need to reframe what we think volunteering is? The many thousands of volunteers who give up countless hours, delivering formal roles, have quite literally saved lives over the last couple of months and as a country and society we are hugely indebted to them.  But we shouldn’t let the idea that this is the only option for volunteering stop us, if we’ve maybe less time, or not able to commit to something long term. 

Anything that we can do to reach out to others in our communities, to help in anyway, is volunteering. We all have the capacity to give something back no matter how small and if everyone in Scotland did that every day, that’s 5.5 million acts of kindness helping to make us all happier, healthier and stronger.

For more information about how you can get involved in formal volunteering visit Volunteer Scotland.

For some inspiration for your next random acts of kindness visit Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

We are thanking our volunteers for their incredible contribution. If you’d like to recognise someone who volunteers for one of our projects, our Volunteer Award Nominations are now open. 


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