Welcome to our new blog page! Find our most recent blog post below.

Click Here for our Previous Blog Entries

Painting by numbers

21 July 2021

Institute for Volunteering Research
Dr Jurgen Grotz (Director)


On 29th July 2021 the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport published the latest figures from its Community Life Survey 2020/2021. The report covers a number of measures on social cohesion, community engagement and social action over the period of April 2020 to March 2021, including individuals’ formal and informal volunteering once a month or once a year. These figures have been collected regularly since 2001.


When looking at the data over time, there appear to be two clear messages:


  • most likely caused by COVID 19 restrictions, there is a fall in formal and rise in informal volunteering in 2020; for the first time crossing the lines of informal monthly volunteering and formal volunteering once a year
  • however, irrespective of COVID 19, while volunteering levels overall remain high, they seem to be falling. The temporary change of 2020 has exacerbated the ongoing fall of formal volunteering and has only taken informal volunteering back to levels last seen around the time of the London Olympics


A Community Life Recontact Survey in 2020 sheds more light on the changes provides data on volunteering which was ‘organised through an independent local community group such as mutual aid groups, community forums or neighbourhood groups.’


As with all such surveys we need to consider plenty of limitations, such as changes in methodology over time, and the policy relevant stories hide behind the numbers. Over the coming months we will explore those stories by setting the data from Citizenship Survey (2001 – 2011) and Community Life Survey (2012 – 2021) in different contexts which will allow us to draw a range of different pictures. We will also look to other data for example from Time Well Spent, a national survey on the volunteering experience by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.


When painting pictures by numbers, by strictly filling in the shapes with the defined colours, using the data we have, a picture emerges. It might not be a particularly pretty picture and leaves no room for artistic interpretation. Also, unlike with the COVID restrictions, we don’t usually know exactly why the numbers are rising or falling. To understand that, to be able to draw pictures with depth, to capture complex and diffuse contexts we need to match the data to the findings from further research. For example, based on IVR’s work on Mutual Aid and on Grassroots Associations we expect the levels that changed due to COVID 19 restrictions to revert to pre-pandemic levels over the coming years.


Look out for more ‘Painting by numbers’ blogs over the coming months.


Let us know what you think by emailing info.ivr@uea.ac.uk

Previous blog entries

'Our house'

Grassroots Associations in East Anglia and beyond: enhancing the impact of hyper local groups with interdisciplinary research

Narratives of disadvantage and inequalities in volunteering

In this extended day event VSSN researchers and practitioners from the UK heard directly from volunteer-involving and volunteer support agencies around the globe, with presentations from the...

Volunteering in a global pandemic

In this extended day event VSSN researchers and practitioners from the UK heard directly from volunteer-involving and volunteer support agencies around the globe, with presentations from the...

The role of volunteering in participation and democracy

Participants offered many examples of ways volunteers are involved that contribute to democracy. That might be as campaigners, as people who support services and policy makers with their lived...

Understanding the barriers and motivators to employer supported volunteering (Network Rail project)

We approached the Institute of Volunteering Research to help us understand the motivators and barriers to volunteering. Utilising their extensive knowledge around employer supported volunteering we...

Volunteering, the choice you make

The vision of the Institute for Volunteering Research is of “a world in which the power and energy of volunteering is well understood, where no one gets ‘used’, so that individuals can be confident...

The mutual aid response during the pandemic: three very different things we learned

The Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) explored the role of mutual aid associations during the COVID-19 pandemic 2020/21 in Kensington and Chelsea. As part of the project ten mutual aid...

Five things to learn about volunteering in health and social care

For over two decades the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) has been exploring the role of volunteering in health and social care. In 2008, we published a practical guide to assessing the...