Volunteering is at the forefront of how the UK can achieve its environmental and social goals, by improving the Net Zero movement and holding vast economic significance
The importance of volunteering is often, and rightly, noted for the contribution it makes to society via selfless volunteers.
However, their importance is rarely acknowledged in terms of the vital services they perform and the economic significance they hold for the UK’s future, including for the environment and the UK’s 2050 Net Zero goals.
Walking and cycling charity Sustrans is fortunate to have thousands of volunteers across the UK, providing their time, energy and experience to support the delivery of national and local projects, explains Katie Aartse-Tuyn, Head of Volunteering at Sustrans.
Since the pandemic, volunteer numbers went up across the UK. Not only was the general public volunteers, given the greater amount of time they found themselves with, but it could be argued that this may also have been inspired by realising that vital causes require champions.
Be that wellbeing counselling, NHS support, education assistance, food bank management, or other community initiatives, the value these volunteer roles hold to our society makes them an essential service.
What are the UK’s most urgent objectives?
Changing social and activity behaviours, and our expectations around how we travel, is crucial to the UK’s most urgent objectives; Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, protecting national ecology and countering the current cost of living crisis.
To achieve Net Zero by 2050, we are seeing government-led campaigns to identify how all carbon emissions can be reduced, and then measures introduced to do so.
Youth involvement is key to this, wherein volunteers play a crucial role. Volunteers campaigning and delivering education programmes to encourage the adoption of active travel for all people, especially the young, are among our best chances of achieving this.
Some Sustrans regional volunteer activity is in schools; teaching young people how to cycle or scoot, leading rides or walks, hosting information events, and more.
Volunteers and the rise of the Net Zero movement
Volunteers raise awareness of the health benefits of active travel and the related carbon reduction (such as through School Streets projects) and improved community consideration in urban planning are integral to any plan for Net Zero.
UK ecology is under threat, and passionate volunteers work tirelessly to counter the negative tide of ecological damage from urban development and loss of green space.
Wildlife volunteers help keep a record of nature on local routes, monitoring wildlife and plant and flower growth, creating spaces where people can come to learn about nature and conservation. This may seem simple, but the positive effect is broad and vital.
Amid the cost-of-living crisis, the work put in by volunteers, particularly in regard to active travel, has a beneficial impact on the local economy. As active travel infrastructure, such as the National Cycle Network, is developed, we see regional economic benefits through the activation of the supply chain.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which aim to provide greater stimulation for local businesses, as well as community cohesion and reduced carbon emissions, are supported by volunteers, directing traffic and stationing road-closed signs.
Volunteers account for 2% of unpaid work in the UK
The value of volunteers is equitable to a huge economic hit should volunteering decrease. 2014 figures showed that volunteers account for 2% of unpaid work, equating to £23 billion.
Active and sustainable transport impacts all the above, and the value of contributions of time, energy and passion by volunteers is not to be underestimated.
The promotion of healthy activity amongst all people, especially the young, is essential to improving the UK’s health issues and burden upon the NHS. Sustainable transport, with equal access for all, helps reduce damage wreaked by carbon emissions upon our health and ecology.
Without volunteers championing these causes, the UK would be further from reaching these goals and public awareness as to their urgency would be far tamer.
However, this is not only an established route for gaining personal experience, but it is vital for those with experience to volunteer that same experience to urgent causes.
Medical professionals provide free health advice in communities around the world, and pro-bono legal experts assist in law clinics to defend the socially and economically vulnerable.
The causes to which people volunteer their time are both historic and approaching. We must recognise the will and vigour of those who want to see the best for their communities and future generations.
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