The problem with volunteer numbers in the UK

Data from the Charity Commission register shows that volunteer numbers are both huge and poorly recorded.

The commission are confident that the overall number of volunteers within the UK is astonishingly large, and is estimated at 3.46 million.

Volunteering in all its guises seems a hugely popular thing to do, whether its a traditional form of short or long term commitment, or volunteering through time-banking, time credits or through the increasingly popular concept of Micro- Volunteering, where people provide support or advice in bite – sized elements.

However, its also clear that this data isn’t the most consistent. Large national charities often provide volunteer figures to the nearest ten thousand, and these figures can vary markedly over a decade or more.

Most commentators feel that the figure of 3.46 million, massive though it is, is probably very much on the low side and then it depends on how you measure what a volunteer is and that can be difficult. As David Ainsworth states:

“The government, in its definition of social action, has at times said that something as personal as giving someone else’s kids a lift to football practice counts as volunteering. There’s a lot of stuff about formal and informal volunteering, and the fact that we should replace the idea of volunteering altogether with the even more numinous concept of social action. This leads me to a common bugbear of mine. We vastly undersell the value of charities because we account for them according to their cash economy. We routinely say there are less than half as many charities in the UK as there actually are. We compound this issue by valuing charities by turnover, which leads us to see them as small compared to commercial companies with their vast incomes.”

But most importantly, charities don’t really put a value on volunteering, because it’s hard to count.

Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England and a man who knows a thing or two, reckons that volunteering is worth more than £50 billion to the UK economy. And even that may sell it short.

The essential problem is that charities are not really required to capture this data, and many do not. It is hard to put a book value on, and so it is not captured well in accounts. But perhaps it is time to try and address this more formally.

Source: Civil Society

Results of Cambridgeshire ACRE’S community facilities survey

During October and November of 2016, Cambridgeshire ACRE carried out a comprehensive survey of community facilities across the County. A link to the survey was sent by email to 200 known community buildings, and the survey was heavily promoted via social media and direct mail.

The survey results provide Cambridgeshire ACRE, and its Support Cambridgeshire partners (Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations and Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service), with a unique picture of community facilities across the County and where we can, collectively, better support volunteer management committees going forward. The results demonstrate the vibrancy of community facilities across Cambridgeshire, and show them to be a vital asset for the delivery of community services and as key ‘hubs’ for bringing communities together.

15 key findings included:

  • The majority of village halls and community buildings in Cambridgeshire are charitable organisations (87%).
  • Some confusion exists among halls around incorporation and the benefits or not of being an incorporated body.
  • There is some lack of clarity around the ownership of land on which halls sit; some 21% aren’t sure who owns the land where their hall is located.
  •  A self-assessment by halls of their committees’ knowledge, skills and effectiveness reveals that three-quarters believe their committees are well-informed, have good skill levels and are effective building managers.
  • The main issues reported as affecting every day running are finding funding to support the facilities; finding volunteers to run activities; and finding trustees to run the hall.
  • The topics management committees would most like to see training provided on are Health and Safety, governance and applying for funding.
  • The preferred times for holding training sessions would be weekdays and during the day or evening.
  • Nearly three quarters (73%) of halls or buildings are considered to be ‘generally in good repair’.
  • Over three quarters of halls have improvements or renovations planned for the coming year, acknowledging that running a village hall or community building involves a constant programme of repair and maintenance.
  • Just over half of halls (54%) make a surplus each year through hiring fees alone. Most have to undertake additional fundraising to stay solvent.
  • Most halls believe they are financially viable in the short to medium term (the next 5 years).
  • Nearly two thirds of village halls and community buildings (58%) have their main space in use for more than 21 hours per week.
  • Cambridgeshire village halls and community buildings are used to deliver a wide range of rural services including Parish Council meetings, polling stations, local information points,
    and community events. There are also some indications that halls are being used to deliver health and social care services.
  • Three quarters of village hall and community building committees are aware of the advice service provided by Cambridgeshire ACRE and are members. Only a very small proportion (13%) are not aware of Cambridgeshire ACRE’s work to support village halls.
  • 80% of respondents believe Cambridgeshire ACRE understands the needs of village hall committees.

You can download the full report here.

New Horizons provides support in accessing the job market

New Horizons is a partnership of nine organisations across the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership. Funded by the Big Lottery and European Social Funding as part of the Building Better Opportunities programme. The partnership consists of; Axiom Housing Association, Broadland Housing, Centre 33, CHS Group, Citizens Advice Rural Cambridgeshire, Cross Keys Homes, Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau, Papworth Trust and the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research who are providing action research.

New Horizons want to help people move closer to the job market by helping them feel more confident and in control of their money, by helping them get on-line and by giving them the tools to be able to look for work. We aim to work with over 350 people across the area to help them improve their work readiness, move into job search if they are economically inactive and access training.

The core hubs are based in Kings Lynn, Wisbech, Cambridge and Peterborough with mobile outreach for disadvantaged groups. We will aim to offer home visits where needed. Participants must have the right to live and work in the UK, and not be working including permitted work and zero hour contracts. We will target our services on people who are furthest from the labour market and are at most risk of social exclusion. New Horizons Coaches working across the partnership can provide:

  • up to 20 hours one to one coaching support on money, getting on-line and finding work
  • debt remedy services to participants on the project
  • the loan of an internet device and free Wi-Fi access for a limited amount of time to eligible participants.

New Horizons will build on the successes of the Making Money Count project in Fenland and develop an expanded website at which will include user friendly information on money, work and digital inclusion. The website will also host an interactive ‘map’ outlining other services available in each geographical area around money, work and getting on-line. This will go live in March 2017.

For more information contact the New Horizons Project Manager Lynne McAulay on or phone 07590 861337.

Town and Parish Councillor and Clerk Surveys 2017

Cambridgeshire ACRE, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Association of Local Councils and the Cambridgeshire branch of the Society of Local Council Clerks are working together to undertake major clerk surveys of town and parish councillors and clerks across the County.

The purpose of the surveys is to gain views on things such as working arrangements, training, support, communications and the Local Council Award Scheme. The information collected will allow the survey organisers to understand how Town and Parish Councils want them to provide services in future. The results will inform an Action Plan for future work with Town and Parish Councils.

All clerks and councillors should have received an email inviting them to take part but, in case of any problems, the surveys can also be accessed directly here:

Clerk Survey:

Councillor Survey:

Surveys should be completed by 17 March 2017. Results reports will be prepared once the surveys close and these will be shared with all parish councils in due course.

Any queries concerning the surveys should be directed to Diane Bayliss, Town and Parish Council Development Officer on 01353 865040 or by email to

Huntingdon District Council awards funding to the voluntary sector

Following the decision in July 2016 to award further funding to support the voluntary sector, Huntingdonshire District Council is pleased to announce that, after a successful tendering process, it has awarded £534,000 in voluntary sector funding for the next three years, in the form of two contracts.

The two contracts will run from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2020 and will see the council work with the voluntary and community sector to support the provision of a range of information, advice and guidance to residents of Huntingdonshire. The contracts also seek to support and build capacity in the vibrant voluntary and community sector that exists within the district.

The contract for the provision of information, advice and guidance has been awarded to Rural Cambs Citizens Advice. The contract will see them continuing to provide high quality professional advice to residents through their online activities, telephone contact, face-to-face offices and the availability of home visits.

The second contract for supporting and building capacity in the voluntary and community sector will see a consortium of Hunts Forum, as the lead organisation, work with Allia, Cambridgeshire ACRE and Living Sport. This contract will see a range of support being provided to voluntary and community groups looking to develop volunteer opportunities and engage with volunteers, to develop governance arrangements for new or existing community organisations, develop community resilience, and provide a voice for the sector.

Cllr Ryan Fuller, Executive Councillor with responsibility for voluntary sector and community grants, said:

“In making this grant award, the District Council continues to foster its relations with, and support for, the voluntary and community services that exist within Huntingdonshire. We recognise the valuable services that organisations such as Citizens Advice and Hunts Forum provide in supporting our residents, communities and businesses; often adding value to traditional council services, or in some cases providing services directly to the council. With this funding I am confident that we will see a continued strength in the voluntary sector for the benefit of everyone in Huntingdonshire.”

Cambridgeshire parish councils are stronger together

The parish conference held at The Burgess Hall in St Ives on 18 November 2016 was well attended, with 159 attendees including 111 individuals from 61 parish and town councils from across the County.

There were a number of showcase events resulting in the wall of ideas which were particularly well received. Work is currently being undertaken by the working group to identify ‘emerging themes’ from the list of things parish councils would like to do and who is best placed to support councils in exploring these ideas further.

As part of the Support Cambridgeshire Project Cambridgeshire ACRE, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Association of Local Councils and the Cambridgeshire branch of the Society of Local Council Clerks are working together to undertake a survey of parish councillors and clerks across the County.

The idea is to gain clerks and councillors views on such things as training, support, the varied roles of clerk and councillor, communications and the Local Council Award Scheme. The idea being that the work undertaken by the Town & Parish Council Development Officer will provide maximum benefit to both clerks and councillors.

A link to the surveys will be sent out to all parish clerks, who will be asked to complete their survey, and pass on the councillors survey to their members. A link to the surveys will be included in the February Support Cambridgeshire Newsletter.

Shaping the future together

In working closely together with representatives from the County Council, Support Cambridgeshire will focus work within the County Council’s Stronger Together and Supporting New Communities strategies in an effort to create vibrant and resilient communities. Areas with the highest levels of need will be targeted for specific initiatives, and additional work will be directed to reducing the issues that these communities are facing.

Julie Farrow, CEO of Hunts Forum of Voluntary Organisations
“Cambridgeshire has a vibrant and responsive voluntary and community sector, they understand the needs of our communities and the vital work they do. But to enable our communities to survive and thrive we need to understand the challenges and opportunities that public bodies, voluntary organisations and communities are facing and work together to unleash the potential of individuals and communities.”

Brad Stombock, CEO of Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service
“In today’s environment of declining funding and increasing levels of need throughout our communities, it is vital that local voluntary and community organisations, village halls and parish councils look toward the future while still being able to deliver current services. Support Cambridgeshire represents a wonderful opportunity for these groups to develop and gain valuable skills to help them make themselves more sustainable in the most efficient and effective manner.”

Kirsten Bennett, Chief Executive, Cambridgeshire ACRE.
“This partnership comes together at an important time and will strengthen the provision of advice and support given to community building committees and Town and Parish Councils.  Over the next three years our plans include a joint programme of training and events held across the County giving opportunities for communities to come together to learn from each other’s achievements and enabling volunteers to feel more equipped to manage community-owned facilities. The vital advice service to Village Halls will continue, as well as an increase in provision of online resources and support with Neighbourhood Planning”


Working with local business

Support Cambridgeshire is keen to work with the local business sector. Business has a major part to play in the development of local communities, and can provide skills and experience which community organisations and community representatives do not possess. A thriving business sector helps local communities to strengthen and grow.

Over the next 12 months, the Support Cambridgeshire project will seek to compile an approved list of local businesses who want to give back to their communities through support, advice, donations or gifts in kind. Support Cambridgeshire will seek to match the skills required by communities with the skills and experience offered by the local business sector, and broker engagement between both sectors.

Business support can take many forms:

  • Face to face advice: Through networking or 1-1 sessions.
  • Telephone advice: By talking through problems or issues which require support and resolving them through a telephone session.
  • Online support : Checking through and advising on forms, leases or contracts.

Support Cambridgeshire is keen to hear from any Cambridgeshire based businesses who want to help and assist. Please contact to learn more about the project.


Communicating across the sectors

Support Cambridgeshire partners are committed to keeping their members and others updated on the key milestones of the project, together with advice on training, possible funding sources and matters of interest to the community and business sectors.

Support Cambridgeshire partners will issue a monthly newsletter under the Support Cambridgeshire project banner.

In addition, funding alerts will be sent monthly, identifying possible sources of new funding available within the sector.

Cambridge CVS, Hunts Forum and Cambridgeshire Acre will also keep their own members updated with a series of newsletters and bulletins.

Any group, organisation or business interested in signing up to the Support Cambridgeshire newsletter or funding alert should contact

Training will take place throughout the year as a way of supporting and building knowledge amongst community organisations. Visit our events page to see more.

Network events will also take place throughout 2017 on a range of different subjects, from funding specific fairs through to general updates on best practice. Visit our events page to see more.

Support Cambridgeshire partners will report to our commissioners on a quarterly basis, and will produce an annual report each October.

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