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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

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