Focus study on volunteering and wellbeing
Oyinlola Oyebode, Associate Professor in Public Health
Coventry City of Culture are looking for 5,000 volunteers throughout the year, to spend as much or as little time as they can, to showcase the city. City hosts will provide a friendly and welcoming face for visitors, guide visitors and event spectators, provide information about the city and events, and support areas of displays and artwork.
In return, volunteers will be rewarded with limited edition uniform, training, rewards from our partners and professional head-shots.
This project aims to understand how, and to what extent the City Host volunteering programme, supporting Coventry City of Culture, impacts on those who volunteer as City Hosts. We are particularly interested in how the City Hosts’ experiences in their role affect their own wellbeing, and pride in the city of Coventry. To do this we will use data that is collected as part of monitoring and evaluation by the City Host programme, as well as collecting our own data through interviews with up to 40 City Hosts.
A recent rapid evidence assessment examining the impact of volunteering on wellbeing found evidence that volunteering can improve an individual’s satisfaction with life, increase their happiness and reduce symptoms of depression. There are limitations to this research evidence though: it may be that the people who choose to volunteer already have higher wellbeing. It is also the case that volunteering won’t always lead to improved wellbeing, for example some volunteering activities may add to an individual’s stress and contribute to burn-out.
There is also a suggestion that volunteering may impact on different people in different ways. For example the evidence supports higher potential wellbeing gains for older adult compared with younger adult volunteers, and there are also larger benefits of formal volunteering for those from lower socio-economic groups, and people who are unemployed or living with chronic mental or physical health conditions. We will examine this further in our study.
Volunteering has given me experiences that have been hugely valuable to my life. One example includes my experience volunteering at the Royal Edinburgh Sick Kids during my PhD, preparing, and handing out fruit and vegetables to children on the wards. My PhD was in neuroscience and at the time I hadn’t even heard of public health, in which I now specialise. Actually, this experience in the hospital was a really good example of public health in practice and I learned a lot from it which is still useful to me professionally. Having said that, the real reason I did it at the time was for the chance to speak to and hang out with children. I was (perhaps strangely?) quite broody for someone in their early 20s!
In our study, through interviews with volunteers we will explore not just the impact on wellbeing, but also the mechanisms by which volunteering has had an effect. In the example from my own life, some of the mechanisms through which volunteering can impact on a volunteer’s own wellbeing are clearly illustrated.
1. Connecting with others (in my case, children)
2. Developing and using skills and experience
These are further mapped in a model arising from the rapid evidence assessment mentioned above which we will use as a basis for our work.
I will be working with Rebecca Johnson from Coventry University for this study. The collaboration between Coventry’s two Universities reflects the spirit of the City of Culture Trust’s ethos: to collaborate for the betterment of our community.