Young People and Volunteering in Disadvantaged Communities: A Qualitative Exploration
Davies, James (2015)

Formal volunteering rates are lowest in the most deprived parts of Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014) suggesting the benefits of participation, such as enhanced self-esteem (Eley, 2003), are less readily available. Researchers, however, have contended the culture of informal volunteering is more dominant in deprived areas (Williams, 2003) – suggesting a particular type of volunteering, rather than volunteering per se, is less practiced. Indeed socially excluded individuals have reported feeling alienated by formal volunteering structures (Smith et al, 2004). Accurate understandings of voluntary behaviour are further problematized by suggestions that people identify their actions differently according to social class (Guild et al, 2014).

Despite youth volunteering rates being broadly in line with the rest of the population, it is notable that many volunteering policies are aimed at young people (Smith et al, 2005) and promoted in employability terms, risking instrumentalizing volunteer motivations (Dean, 2014). David Cameron recently proposed making unemployed young people conduct community work to claim benefits. Yet young people have outlined their resistance to being compelled to volunteer (Holdsworth & Brewis, 2013) and research has found a tenuous link between volunteering and employment (Ellis Paine et al, 2013).

Why then are young people encouraged to volunteer with employment in mind? What impact does enforced community work have on young people’s perceptions of volunteering? Are informal volunteering practices overlooked and undervalued? This paper presents preliminary findings from my PhD exploring the volunteering experiences of young people, aged 12-18, in disadvantaged areas, focusing on: perceptions, participation, benefits and barriers. The analysis presented is based on a literature and policy review and pilot study employing focus groups, a photographic-activity, and photo-elicitation interviews with young people and semi-structured interviews with adults working with young volunteers.


James Davies is a second year PhD student at the University of Strathclyde. His research, which is co-funded by Volunteer Scotland, focuses on the volunteering experiences of young people, aged 12-18, in disadvantaged areas.

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