Youth volunteering on the margins - Executive Summary
Charity Registration No. 221124
The Children’s Society is a leading children’s charity committed to making childhood better for
all children in the UK. We take action to prevent, rescue and support children facing violence,
neglect, poverty and discrimination in their daily lives. We give children the hope and confidence
they need to face the future with optimism. We never turn away.
The government established the Russell Commission in May 2004 to develop ‘a national
framework for youth action and engagement’. Following its establishment, the Commission
undertook extensive research and consultation and published a series of recommendations to
deliver a ‘step-change’ in youth volunteering in the UK (The Russell Commission, 2005). To
implement these recommendations, funding was made available to a number of organisations
across England to enable them to develop strategies to involve young volunteers and to share
existing good practice in engaging groups of young people who do not traditionally volunteer.
The Children’s Society was awarded funding in relation to the latter objective.
ABOUT THE STUDY
The study focused on three Children’s Society projects and one former Children’s Society
project that offer volunteering opportunities to disadvantaged and marginalised young people.
These included: the PACT project in York, the Young Tenants’ Support Project in Lambeth, the
Refugee and Homelessness Team in Newham and the Inline project in Newcastle. The study
aimed to explore:
Young people’s view on their experiences of volunteering and the impact they feel it has
had on their lives
Staff’s experiences and learning in terms of how best to offer volunteering opportunities
to disadvantaged young people and what can be achieved.
In-depth interviews with 16 young volunteers, including 5 young people with learning disabilities,
6 young people who are refugees and 5 young people with experiences of homelessness/and or
running away. In-depth interviews were undertaken with 6 individuals representing the 3
projects, and opportunities were provided to other staff members to feed in their views to the
THE VOLUNTEERING SCHEMES INVOLVED IN THE RESEARCH
The Future Links project (run by the PACT project) supports disabled young people,
aged 16 to 25, to learn about the ‘world of work’. One-to-one link workers support young
volunteers for one year, and help them to think about the skills they have to offer, what
they might want to do and to apply for courses, work placements or employment. Initial
group training and induction sessions are provided, and young people are supported
when they begin voluntary work within the project or external to it.
The Refugee and Homelessness Team volunteer scheme aimed to help unemployed
people to gain jobs in health and social care, and to provide practical and emotional
support to newly-arrived young refugees or those finding it difficult to settle. The scheme
did not aim to recruit young refugees specifically, but did recruit a small number over the
three-year period that it ran. All volunteer ‘project workers’ attend an induction
programme and are matched to particular roles (including providing home work support
to young people, proving one to one support/befriending; administration and office
The Youth Task Force (run by Young Tenants Support Project) operated a number of
groups to support young people in their personal and social development and in
accessing opportunities to further their development. Some of these included
volunteering opportunities, such as individual volunteer-work placements or participating
in policy forums.
The Inline Project, working with homeless 16 to 25 year olds, recruited and trained
community volunteers together with the North East Open College Network.
Accessing and recruiting marginalised young people to work as volunteers
Aspects that influenced or motivated young people to volunteer included desires: to ‘give
something back’ to the projects that they had received help from, to help other people, to
‘make a difference’ and to gain valuable work experience, learning and skills. It was felt
that some young people may be deterred from volunteering as they may be reluctant to
work for nothing and may not be aware of its possible rewards.
Young volunteers suggested that young people may be encouraged to volunteer if they
had access to information on: opportunities available, what would be involved in
volunteering, and the potential benefits of volunteering. They suggested that information
could be provided through ‘taster sessions’, which may attract those who are ‘hard to
reach’, and by young people who had experience of volunteering who could recount their
Staff felt that networking and building good contacts in the local community, and
recruiting service users were ways that helped to gain access to marginalised young
Supporting and facilitating their ongoing involvement in volunteering
Staff and volunteers highlighted the importance of good support and encouragement,
specifically in supporting young people in their volunteering roles and in supporting them
through difficult times in their own lives while ensuring that they did not become
dependent on the scheme/project. Supporting young people in their lives was also
highlighted as an important aspect of assisting a young person to become a volunteer;
staff also drew attention to the importance of young people having somewhere to live
before they could volunteer and help others.
Aspects that were highlighted as important for sustaining a young person’s ongoing
involvement included: having strong, established relationships between staff and
volunteers; having regular contact; providing real incentives for young people; ensuring
that the work was interesting, enjoyable and fun; and ensuring that there is a degree of
flexibility so that they can fit it around there lives and take ‘time out’ at points.
Staff emphasised that facilitating volunteering with marginalised young people is
work/time/resource intensive and that good team working was essential to the smooth
running of schemes.
The impacts and outcomes of volunteering for marginalised young people
Young people and staff suggested that volunteering had led to a number of positive
impacts on young people including: an increase in confidence; better self-esteem and
self-worth; the acquisition of valuable work experience, skills and knowledge; the
development of better social skills; and an increased involvement in the local community
and in contact with other young people.
Some young people commented that volunteering had sometimes affected them
negatively, as it had brought back painful past experiences when they were working with
young people who were in situations that were similar to those that they had
experienced or when they had recounted their own experiences to others. They
suggested that this was counteracted by the provision of support and encouragement.
Learning points for initiatives working with groups who are ‘hard to reach’
The volunteering schemes offered opportunities to groups of marginalised young people. The
schemes encountered similar issues in the recruitment and support of these young volunteers,
such as the need to ensure that the volunteering opportunities were interesting and relevant to
the young people, but they also highlighted issues that were particularly pertinent to the
circumstances of the young volunteers that they were working with. It was highlighted that it was
important for those working to assist:
Homeless young people to volunteer that they should provide tangible support and
incentives, such as food; offer accreditation for the voluntary-work that the young people
do in order to assist with future employment; ensure that the volunteering commitment is
flexible; ensure that it has appeal and interest for young people; ensure that it is
something that young people can feel an emotional engagement with; provide ongoing,
intensive support and encouragement if required.
Disabled young people to volunteer that they should ensure that induction materials
are accessible so that all young people can participate fully; reassure parents that young
people’s welfare benefits will not be affected; build in transport costs to the facilitation of
volunteering opportunities; provide one-to-one flexible support to meet each of the young
volunteers individual needs and requirements and at a pace they are happy with.
Refugee volunteers to volunteer that they should: offer opportunities to gain valuable
work experience, skills and knowledge; highlight the value of their contribution in relation
to helping other young refugees and in relation to their own experiences; establish
internal risk assessments within a scheme; provide ongoing and intensive emotional
support and encouragement where required.
Key points to consider when providing inclusive volunteering opportunities to
marginalised young people
The importance of highlighting the social and fun aspects of volunteering and to
demonstrate through social events that volunteering can be a means of makingfriends
and having social contact
To communicate the non-cash incentives to young people for volunteering such as
confidence building, improvements to self esteem, the chance to gain work experience,
and also more immediate benefits
To offer young people volunteering work that inspires their passion and is something
they are really interested in
To employ fun, creative and inventive means to attract, induct and sustain young
volunteers involvement in the schemes
To hold 'taster sessions' and fun events to engage the interest of young people by
showing that volunteering can be something they can identify with and which is relevant
to their lives. To invite other young people to such taster events to relate their own
positive experiences of volunteering to potential volunteers
To be prepared and resourced to provide ongoing and intensive support to the
volunteers when required
To ensure that the scheme has the flexibility to meet the extra support needs of each
volunteer and to allow young people to take ‘time out’ for practical or emotional purposes
To ensure that workers within the volunteering schemes have adequate knowledge,
skills and training to be able to meet the extra support needs of the young people they
are providing volunteering opportunities to
To ensure adequate resources are in place to meet all the above needs
The Russell Commission (2005) ‘A national framework for youth action and engagement’.
This report is published in full as Ros Medforth (2006) Youth volunteering on the margins.
London: The Children’s Society.