OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on volunteering in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in the July 2019 edition of The Pigeon)

We recently (June) celebrated Volunteers’ Week so I wanted to take this opportunity to recognise all the brilliant work that volunteers do in Bristol South.

I’m fortunate enough, in my role as MP, to meet with lots of volunteers who develop, run and work with organisations helping people across the constituency.

Bristol City Council’s Quality of Life Index 2018-19 found that, on average 68% of Bristolians volunteer or help out in their community at least three times a year. You don’t have to look far in Bristol South to find a volunteer. From Scout and Guide leaders to volunteers helping maintain the local parks and green-fingered folk creating berry mazes to British Legion poppy sellers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of community centres and help out at my Money Entitlement Events too.

A lot of these charities and community groups are developed and delivered by women who have been directly affected by the area they’re now making a difference in. Take the women who volunteer with Mothers for Mothers, supporting new mums through postnatal depression following their own challenging journeys.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing too. It’s a great way to meet new people or learn new skills and can lead on to employment.

Without volunteers, a lot of these organisations and projects would not exist and it’s important that we recognise those efforts. But we must strike the right balance. We should not be relying on the voluntary sector to deliver key services which should be provided by national and local government.

Charities and community projects cannot run on the goodwill of volunteers alone. It’s not sustainable when volunteers have other commitments – the need for paid work and caring duties. When I speak with those working in the voluntary sector, it’s clear that they – like local government, health providers and schools – have been hit by funding cuts and more competition for the money available as new initiatives emerge. It means that, as well as relying on support from volunteers to deliver services, they also rely on support from the community to donate money to cover running costs.

That said, I was very pleased to see Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group (HHEAG) secure funding to be able to carry on the good work it has been doing locally for over 25 years. They offer healthy eating advice and workshops, help people with stress reduction and run drop in coffee mornings among a whole host of other things.

I’d like to say a big thank everyone who volunteers to make Bristol South a better place. If you’re thinking of volunteering, the Vocsur website is a great starting point: www.voscur.org