I can remember my late father telling me: ‘never volunteer for anything’. Then his attitude was no doubt coloured by his experiences between 1940 and 1945.
Today, being a volunteer is not so unusual with the high street peppered by shops selling new and pre-owned items in support of one section of the community or another, at home and abroad, staffed largely by people giving their time for free. According to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in 2014 roughly two-fifths of the population aged 16 and over formally volunteered at least once per year, and one-in-four adults volunteered at least once a month. It was also calculated that on average, in 2013 they gave 12 hours of their free time as a volunteer.
Informal volunteering, defined as ‘giving unpaid help to individual people who are not relatives’, is even greater. Again according to the NCVO, in 2014 64 per cent of adults reported volunteering informally at least once a year and 35 per cent did so at least monthly, and these figures have remained more-or-less stable since 2001. To put it another way, it is estimated that 18.1 million people in the UK volunteer regularly and this figure goes up to 33.3 million if you include those who volunteered just once a year.
The Institute for Volunteering Research pulled together even more relevant information. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) put all this in monetary terms using data from the 2013 Community Life Survey and estimated that engagement in regular (at least once a month) formal volunteering in the UK was worth £23.9 billion per year, while Volunteering England had earlier estimated that the combined value of formal and informal volunteering amounted to £45.1bn annually. This is a significant portion of the national economic activity either in the number of people participating or the value of their efforts to their local communities.
So how does this translate into something for naturism? To be fair, none of the figures related above probably include the activity of the many unpaid hours completed by volunteers on behalf of naturism. Naturist Action Group relies heavily on people giving their “leisure” time to us, especially in London, where we have been trying to put forward the idea of giving naturists access to some of the larger green spaces (e.g. Hampstead Heath) on a basis similar to how open space naturism is conducted in Germany, the Englischer Garten in Munich perhaps being the best-known example. Not that we are the only organisation in naturism that is composed entirely, or virtually so, of volunteers. In a recent post to British Naturism members, chairperson Judith Stinchcombe said that they had a list of ‘around 80 members’ whose support was ‘valuable’ and without whom they’d ‘be lost’. Many of the sun clubs or societies in the UK are member-owned and rely entirely on their members to function, and there are small groups of naturists who meet up outside the formal BN network, run by people in their free time. It all mounts up.
So, why do organisations want volunteers? It allows them to extend their services way beyond the reach if they relied solely on paid staff because the cost would otherwise be prohibitive. According to research carried out by NCVO, in 2014 the type of organisations that people gave their time to included, among others: sports/exercising (53%), hobbies/recreation (38%), justice/human rights (6%) and politics (5%). The same research looked into the types of activity the volunteer undertook, which ranged from organising/helping to run an activity or event (48%), leading a group/member of a committee (26%) and secretarial, admin or clerical (15%), while campaigning attracted nine per cent of volunteers.
It is perhaps hard to place naturism and naturist organisations within a single category. Naturist clubs and resorts are essentially recreational, but as non-sexual social nudity is frequently considered outside social norms, there is also a need to advocate greater acceptance in society as a whole. Contrary to common belief, it does not need everyone to put their heads ‘above the parapet’, and as seen above, most people volunteer to help organise or run events. Not just committee-types who tell others what to do, but more importantly those who do the doing, away from the limelight. To illustrate my point further, a church bazaar might have a small committee of people to share the tasks of organising, yet they would be lost if they could get many more people to ‘man’ the stalls, and serve teas and coffees. So to misquote the old idiom, you need more Indians than chiefs.
So volunteers can be invaluable to an organisation and they will seek them out in order to achieve their aims. But volunteerism works both ways.
The research already mentioned by NCVO also looked into what motivated people to spend their free time ‘working’ for nothing. They found that most volunteers had multiple reasons for doing so, with the most frequent being ‘wanting to improve things’ (59% of respondents) followed by ‘the cause being really important to them’ (40%), and ‘had the spare time to do it’ (33%). Even following the example of family and friends drew a respectable 23 per cent. Yet there has to be something more to it than that. As with so much these days, organisations are looking at inputs (people, money, etc.) and outputs – the accumulated impact of all the inputs – and Home Start, a charity helping families with young children reported in 2015 that their volunteers:
- Improved their overall personal development, their health and well being, engagement with social networks and local communities.
- Significantly improved their work-ready skills and,
- Used the opportunities volunteering gave them as a route back into work.
DEBRA, a patient support group and charity helping those with a genetic skin condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), says on its website that volunteers have:
- Boosted their confidence and self-esteem
- Developed or showcased their skills.
- Gained meaningful experiences that enhanced their CV and career prospects.
- Made new friends, and forged stronger links with the local community.
- Enhanced their well being, with further studies (not by DEBRA) showing that volunteers tended to live longer, stayed healthier and felt happier than those who didn’t.
Some of those findings may sound like pie-in-the-sky stuff. Not so, as people can loose confidence and self-esteem in many different circumstances, and at any age. Young people especially have used volunteering to either show an ability to work as part of a team and/or their commitment to an industry, which in naturism could be: hospitality, administrator and building maintenance to name just three. The difficulty is the ‘embarrassment factor’ associated with naturism when mentioned in conversation or when admitting to being a naturist to people outside a tight circle, so adding examples of volunteering for a naturist club on their CV for a stranger to see could be equally difficult. It might be, however, possible for someone to gain enough of an insight into an industry to convince him or her that it is something they would like to explore further. Ideally, of course, we would like to see volunteering for a naturist organisation to be as unremarkable as volunteering for the local charity shop or sports club.
Volunteering doesn’t always work out to the advantage of the volunteer or the organisation, and the NCVO have discovered that the most frequent reason for stopping volunteering is due to a change of circumstances at home or work, leaving them with insufficient leisure time (48% of respondents), while other reasons cited (e.g. volunteer management (including a lack of appreciation), over bureaucratic, bad organisation of the group and not being offered something they wanted to do) gathered responses of three per cent or below. They are still important barriers to volunteering and should be eliminated if possible.
The Volunteer Centre for Bath and North-west Somerset has listed the means of removing barriers to volunteering on their website. These are:
- Paying for out of pocket expenses.
- Offer a variety of volunteering opportunities requiring different levels of skill and commitment.
- Make it clear that volunteering is open to all.
- Adopt a non-rejection policy for people who want to volunteer.
- Adapting roles to suit individual volunteers’ needs.
- Provide as much training and support as possible.
- Minimise form filling and bureaucracy for the volunteer.
This is the journey we are embarking on and NAG has launched its own volunteer policy and hope you will approve. Like so many smaller naturist organisations, we are dependent on the good nature of volunteers to work cooperatively. We recognise, however, that we must play our part to encourage volunteering to achieve our stated aims: the promotion, and advancement, of naturism within British society.