We’ve heard a lot about the valuable role of volunteering in supporting communities through the pandemic. But when we looked at the evidence base on how volunteering has supported wellbeing during the crisis, we found it mostly focuses on volunteers’ wellbeing, with much less on those being helped or on community wellbeing. And yet we know that charities, funders, and public services have been collecting huge amounts of data in the form of practice-based case studies that provide just this kind of evidence. Here in Wales, bodies like the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) have collected hundreds of case studies during the pandemic alone.
So, inspired by the innovative case study synthesis approach developed by colleagues at Leeds Beckett University for What Works Wellbeing, we looked to this untapped resource of case studies to understand the relationship between volunteering and wellbeing during the pandemic. We applied the method to 50 practice-based case studies in Wales covering a range of volunteering activities, from befriending services to delivering food and prescriptions, written by charities, councils, and community groups. We took an inclusive view of volunteering (both formal and informal or reciprocal help) and used the definition of individual wellbeing from the What Works Wellbeing review of volunteering and wellbeing and the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 concept of community wellbeing.
Ultimately, our work highlights the value of a systematic analysis of practice-based case studies, and feedback tells us it provides useful, timely insight useful for policy makers and practitioners. We’re currently exploring other ways we can use the method in our work at Wales Centre for Public Policy, and in our session at Gofod3 we share our learning with funders and practitioners in the third sector.