‘Bringing them with personal interests’: Explaining who volunteers from a volunteering as leisure perspective

Naomi Harflett: University of Southampton

This paper seeks to connect two so far disconnected perspectives on formal volunteering. While it is well established that volunteering is a form of leisure (Henderson, 1984, Stebbins, 1996, Parker, 1997), this perspective has remained disconnected from the body of literature which seeks to explain who volunteers (Smith, 1994, Wilson and Musick, 1997). Based on a study of National Trust volunteers, I argue that recognising that volunteering for the National Trust is a form of leisure participation in heritage or the countryside, is key to explaining the predominantly white, middle class profile of regular property based National Trust volunteers. It is well recognised that participation in leisure varies by class and ethnicity (Bourdieu, 1984, Gayo-Cal, 2006, Bennett et al, 2009), and research shows that leisure participation in heritage and the natural environment is less common among those in lower socioeconomic and black and ethnic minority groups (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2013, Burt et al, 2013). Interviews with 40 National Trust volunteers reveal that for many, volunteering for the National Trust is experienced as a form of leisure. Volunteering provides individuals with a way to pursue an existing hobby or interest, and frequently follows many years of participation in heritage or the countryside as a visitor and member. Given that formal volunteering in England and Wales is most likely to occur in sports, exercise, hobbies, social club or recreation organisations (Communities and Local Government, 2011), I argue that recognising the link between volunteering as leisure, and who volunteers, can make an important contribution to understanding inequality of participation in formal volunteering.


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