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May 4, 2023 | by Ingrid Abreu Scherer, Dr Allison Smith and Jeremy Hughes CBE

The Big Help Out – what we know about the wellbeing value of volunteering

Research demonstrates the positive impact of national cultural events such as Olympic games and royal weddings on individuals and communities including through legacy benefits of celebration, civic pride and volunteering.

As we head into the bank holiday weekend, there is a renewed focus on volunteering as part of the official Coronation Programme. Launching on 8 May 2023, The Big Help Out is raising awareness and providing opportunities throughout the UK for people to get involved. 

Here, we look at the wellbeing benefits of making a difference in your community.

The wellbeing evidence for volunteering

We know that volunteering is associated with enhanced wellbeing, particularly for those with low wellbeing, those who are older, unemployed or on low income, or have health conditions. It can contribute to feeling that what you do is worthwhile. Volunteering can also have a buffering role for those going through life transitions, such as retirement or bereavement.

Our comprehensive review of volunteering evidence, conducted in collaboration with Spirit of 2012 and The Institute for Volunteering Research, showed that benefits of volunteering include increased life satisfaction, social connection and a sense of purpose.

We also found that the benefits can taper off if people don’t continue to volunteer. They can also be negated if the experience is negative or over-burdens the participant.

The value of volunteering lies in its ability to pull together a number of wellbeing drivers: meaningful social connections, peer support and social behaviour, a sense of collective purpose, and achievement and recognition. As a recipe for the wellbeing of individuals and communities it contains some of the most powerful ingredients.

The data on volunteering

Around one in five adults in the UK volunteer at least once a month, although numbers dropped dramatically during the pandemic lockdowns and have not yet recovered. Still, most people volunteer at least once in their lives, and those who do usually dip in and out of volunteering.

The data is increasingly picking up previously hidden acts of informal help that people give each other in communities. Since 2020 we have seen the rise of new trends in volunteering including virtual and micro-volunteering, as well as more informal ways of helping out, such as shopping or caring for neighbours. 

At the same time, digital data collection methods mean we have more data on the effects of specific roles. Research by the LSE and Royal Voluntary Service, which analysed the NHS Volunteer Responders programme in 2020, found that even small acts of volunteering such as talking to people on the phone or running errands boosted volunteer wellbeing and increased their sense of belonging to the local community.

Volunteering data is still fragmented and not gathered and analysed with wellbeing outcomes in mind. If we want to better understand how volunteers benefit – and who is missing out – we need to push our measurement to be more consistent and reach further.

Creating lifelong habits

Volunteering fits into the wellbeing cycle of communities, both because volunteering can lead to improved wellbeing for volunteers and because when people feel well, they are more likely to get involved in their community.

So how can we continue to encourage those lifelong habits of volunteering which can be so good for people and communities?

The Big Help Out

Part of the Shaping the Future with Volunteering initiative, The Big Help Out promotes volunteering and its many benefits. It starts with a national day of volunteering during the long Coronation weekend on Monday 8 May. Just as people give generously to national fundraising events like Red Nose Day, the Big Help Out asks people to give their time.

The Big Help Out is also intended to make getting started with volunteering easier and more accessible, building in more flexibility around the type of volunteering activities people can take on for the long term. This can include more micro and virtual volunteering.

The Shaping the Future with Volunteering charities will be seeking to monitor how effective the Big Help Out is as an approach, and how charities can keep improving to ensure greater take up of volunteering across diverse communities.

So far the Big Help Out has involved over 50,000 charities, with 30,000 individual volunteering events people can sign up to, and a further 20,000 individual actions they can take part in on their own initiative. The Big Help Out Platform will stay live after Monday 8 May. Voluntary organisations will continue to promote volunteering opportunities and anyone can sign up in a quick and easy way to what may be their first volunteering experience.

In addition, the Royal Voluntary Service Coronation Champions Awards celebrate the work of a diverse group of extraordinary volunteers across the UK who have been contributing to their communities and a range of causes. Not only do these awards recognise and value their work, but aims to inspire and encourage others to volunteer.

Together, the Big Help Out and Coronation Champions encourage and celebrate volunteering and support people to give volunteering a try, and overcome that first barrier to getting involved. If they can keep people motivated and engaged we will see many more new volunteers see wellbeing benefits from their experience.

Volunteers are the bedrock of civil society. Giving time, skills and creativity to support neighbours, improve communities, and respond to crises is a core part of generating social value and capital. Ensuring that volunteers’ efforts also grow their own wellbeing is a duty of those who benefit from their work.

Sign up for The Big Help Out: download the app and find an opportunity near you, or connect someone who would benefit from a wellbeing boost!

Look ahead to Volunteers Week 1-7 June

Related blogs and resources


Oct 20, 2020 | By Dr Jurgen Grotz
Volunteering – wellbeing – volunteering: a virtuous cycle?
Guest Blog
Dec 2, 2021 | By Stewart Martin
The legacy benefits of celebration, events and volunteering
Centre Blog

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