The well-being boost from volunteering

Research by Sport England confirms that taking part in sports and volunteering to support them has the power to improve lives 

observational shot of volunteers preparing for an event at a club in the sun

The Sport England Active Lives adult survey reveals wide-ranging benefits for volunteers giving their time to support the participation of others, including:

Mental wellbeing: contributing to happiness and improved self-esteem, and reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Personal development: including soft/social skills, increasing persistence and perseverance, and a positive impact on employment opportunities.

Social and community development: bringing people together, building trust and reducing isolation. Volunteers supporting activity are less likely to feel lonely than those who don’t volunteer.

The data highlights positive associations between frequency of volunteering and wellbeing. It was found that regular volunteers scored better than those who volunteered as a one-off or not at all.

Volunteering benefits both the volunteer and the person receiving the support. Among those recognised for their dedication in the RYA Volunteer Awards 2022 were Fiona Spence and Jonathan Hughes, who share their experiences here:

An image of people preparing their boat for the water.

Work-life balance

Fiona Spence, of Ripon Sailing Club, runs a busy tools business for a living and volunteers her free time as a race coach. She supports activities for adults and children, organising the North East & Yorkshire Youth Traveller Series.

“Volunteering helps to provide a balance between my professional and home life,” says Fiona. “It also gives added interest and another facet to my hobby and the sport I love.

“I get immense personal satisfaction from seeing people progress and enjoy the sport, and get a real buzz from helping people of all ages to find opportunities through sailing which put a smile on their face and give them a sense of achievement.

“It’s just so rewarding and satisfying to help open those doors because it enables young people in particular to not only do well in sailing but in life as well as they develop confidence, social and life skills.

“I find that volunteering gives me perspective. It helps you to switch off from work to do something completely different, with different people and a different set of goals. You don’t have time to think about anything else when you are volunteering and that’s really helpful to compartmentalise your professional and home life: it’s always a complete mental break from work when I’m volunteering and vice versa, so it helps you to prioritise and be organised.”

People socialising on the shore of a lake

Happy place

Jonathan Hughes, of Draycote Water Sailing Club in the Midlands, has volunteered in various roles and led the youth and junior section.

He says: “My daughter was participating in our Saturday Club and so pitching in to help seemed the right thing to do. Although she has grown up and gone to university, I am still doing it, running Friday and Saturday sessions and organising other events too.

“Working mostly at grassroots level, I get immense personal satisfaction from seeing our young sailors develop their skills: to see them achieve so much and remember them from a few years ago as they set out on their sailing journey fills me with pride.

“A change in personal circumstances a few years ago found me living alone most of the time. The sense of purpose that came from running these activities and the many friends I have made through the club really helped me through some rough times. The club is my ‘happy place’ and running our Y&J activities gives me reason to get up and to be there.

“There have also been great opportunities to grow my own skills alongside those of our young sailors. Using our RIBs for coaching gives me the chance to improve my powerboat skills, for example, and although it may look like just standing around in a power boat, it does feel like I get a decent bit of exercise from doing it twice a week.

“It has been inspiring to see that we are growing not only some great sailors, but some great volunteers too. Without them, our sport will die. We recently held a Topper open meeting and the race officers were aged 16 and 18: I was in a RIB and our PRO was confidently telling me where he wanted the race marks. What a difference a few years makes!”

Find out more about volunteering opportunities in boating and about how to get involved with your local club.