by Rory Mair, CBE, Chair of Citizens Advice Scotland.
This article was first published in the Herald on 30 May 2022.
Later this week (1-7 June) sees the beginning of Volunteers Week, an annual celebration of the millions of people across the UK who dedicate their time to voluntary causes.
The Citizens Advice network in Scotland knows better than most the capacity of people to give up their time and skills to help others. Volunteers are the heart and the heartbeat of our service.
Last year over 1,900 volunteers contributed more than 622,000 hours of their time. The value of this is a staggering £9.4million, but for people across the country who have been helped by a volunteer that work has been simply priceless.
It’s worth considering the scale of this commitment given that the two years of the pandemic made volunteering challenging. Remote work has brought many benefits, but also challenges such as training volunteers, who need time in a CAB environment to gain additional skills.
What they achieve once trained is life-changing, with over 171,000 people helped last year, £147 million unlocked in the process. Those who saw some sort of financial gain through our advice, through things like social security payments and employment advice, were on average over £4,400 better off.
One such volunteer is Nan Fotheringham at Coatbridge CAB, who has been nominated for an SCVO Scottish Charity award later this month. And no wonder. Nan, at 81 years old, has been giving up two days a week to help people in her local community for twenty years now. That’s an incredible achievement and one which countless people will have been directly and indirectly benefited by.
Advisers aren’t the only volunteers our network relies on. As Chair of Citizens Advice Scotland I’m a volunteer myself, and one of hundreds of trustees across the country who help with the governance of our network, with each CAB having its own board of trustees.
And then there are the people who volunteer with administrative or clerical duties, or for local campaigning or social policy work. Each and every one is making a contribution to a fairer country.
There’s an untold story about our volunteers as well – about the opportunities opened up by volunteering with the CAB network. Around a third of our volunteers go on to further education or employment, and this figure will be artificially low given the number of volunteers of retirement age who are simply given something back to their communities. But for many, volunteering with our network means meeting new people and building skills that could serve them well in other areas of life.
Our volunteers are what makes our service so special. It’s local people helping each other in organisations that are rooted in their communities. The kind of local intelligence and understanding you get from our approach can really go that extra mile for people who need help. It’s not something that can be replicated in a remote or centralised call centre.
So if you’re thinking about exploring the opportunity of volunteering with the CAB network, I’d wholeheartedly recommend you do. You’ll meet new people, build your skills and play your part in helping your local community at a time when we all need to be looking out for one another.
If you are a volunteer with the CAB network, thank you. This service would not exist with you.