Voluntary activity in the UK is worth a whopping £23.9 billion – almost doubling what it was 10 years ago, new figures have revealed
The Great British public freely gave an astonishing 2.12 billion hours of their time last year, which if they were being paid, would have equated to 1.5 per cent of the GDP.
The astounding figures focused on those who volunteered at least once a month between 2012 and 2013, measuring all walks of life and ages.
Those aged between 50 and 69 gave up, on average, the most hours of free time weekly, 283 together, to help out at projects, assist neighbours, or just generally be an aid.
Those over 70 were not far behind, and gave up a huge 226 hours while people aged 30 to 49 gave up 213.
In total British volunteering is worth £10 billion more than the 2001 figure of £13.2 billion, showing how the selfless act has steadily risen since records began.
The role of volunteers has recently been praised by Justin Davis Smith, volunteering director for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, where he said the benefits for volunteers were innumerable.
“Volunteering clearly is hugely important for the economy which these statistics show.
“We should be cautious about just seeing it as an economic good however because it is so much more than that.
“It is really good for the physical and mental well-being, particularly people of an older age as it helps to keep them active, young and in good health.
“There is also evidence to show that it is a great way to meet people and make friends.
“Older people tend to lose their networks they built up through work or through their children and volunteering can be a great way of preventing loneliness.”
The study, compiled by the Office of National Statistics, revealed that ‘personal and protective volunteering’, or help given to those in need for example the lonely, formed the largest part of the time given.
This volunteering has been recognised by many charities, with hundreds of avid workers willing to spend time visiting those in need of company, whether it be to share a cup of tea, or to have a meal.
The valuable time spent with people in need means that isolated pensioners are able to engage in conversation, meet friends and begin to enjoy life once more.
But, as well being beneficial for those in isolation volunteering also helps those who are willing to give up their free time.
Many feel they are doing good by giving back to the community and are using their valuable life skills to help others regain a more positive view on the world.
Monica Gubbay, 74, volunteers to help the elderly in her community in North London, and echoed Justin Davis Smith. .
She said: “We run a weekly friendship club to provide entertainment and tea and a meeting place for people to come and meet up with other elderly folk.
“They get to know each other and make friendships there, for a lot of them it is their only chance to meet people and sit down and have a chat with them.
“It is as good for volunteers as well as the people who they are helping.
“It is a very worthwhile thing to do it gives you an enormous sense of satisfaction when you see how happy the people are when they come.
“I have an amazing team of volunteers who chauffer a lot of the elderly into the club and take them home. We derive an enormous amount of satisfaction from it.”
Loneliness is a huge part of British society, with 3.5 million people aged 65 or older living on their own – one in seven of all households in the UK.
Shiela Breen-Rickerby, 72, is just one of those millions of isolated pensioners who do not know what to do.
“Loneliness has a different meaning to different people,” she said.
“For me it’s too much time reviewing memories, what happened, what should have happened, what I could have done differently, the good times.
“When you’re depressed there doesn’t seem to have been many good times in memories, the lonelier you are the more depressed you get and the future looks even more bleak.
“To be quite honest there have been times when death has looked very inviting.
“I read a lot, sit on the settee and goggle at the TV and it really is an effort to get up and walk out of the door so you don’t.
“I don’t bother having a wash, or getting dressed, I make a cup of tea and that’s it. There are times I don’t eat, I can’t be bothered, I don’t like cooking.”
Luckily, Sheila is supplied with a ‘befriender’ who talks to her regularly.
Volunteers are a vital part of society and allow charities and other organisations to carry out their life-saving work at minimal expense.
Justin Davis Smith added however that it was important to remember that volunteering does come at some cost.
“In order to realise this value we have to recognise volunteering is not cost free and we do need to invest this value,” he said.
“A recent study we undertook shows that for every £1 put into a charity the economy reaps £7 or £8 back.
“The emphasis is on how important it is.”