Study: ‘Voluntary effort enhances the lives of rural dwellers’

The contribution of voluntary effort is one aspect of rural communities that remains steadfast – irrespective of the decline or growth of areas, a new study from NUI Galway has found.

The study on ‘Rural volunteerism: impacting development and sustainability’ was led by Dr. Maura Farrell of NUI Galway, in partnership with Volunteer Ireland, Pat Kennedy of eTownz, Volunteer Galway and the NUI Galway Knowledge Initiative.

It found that tangible benefits are experienced by rural dwellers as a result of voluntary activity in rural towns, villages and peripheral areas throughout the country.

The report acknowledged that rural Ireland faces “unique challenges” in terms of accessibility, connectivity and social isolation.

However, it also found that rural residents continue to give of their time in projects ranging from GAA participation, to meals on wheels.

Over 62% of respondents volunteer their time weekly, it was discovered. Slightly more females responded and more than 59% of respondents were in the 25 to 64 age group.

One Co. Cork respondent said the biggest volunteer drive in their local community is the annual tractor run for the Kilbrittain autism unit.

Every year a set of volunteers set up a tractor run to support the needs of the autism unit and to provide essential facilities to keep the unit going. Every year they raise thousands to provide life-changing resources to families of those with autism.

Key results of the research highlight the essential contribution volunteers make to rural infrastructure, the rural economy, inhabitants, the social links in rural communities and locals’ sense of belonging and culture.

The need for financial support for rural voluntary activities was pinpointed.

The requirement for training and education for volunteers and the importance of involving organisations to ensure volunteerism continues to a high standard, was also highlighted.

Informal activity is more prevalent, the study found.

Voluntary activity is particularly high in sport and caring services – with tidy towns and arts and culture also strongly represented, it emerged.

Solid structures

The impact of voluntary activity was overwhelmingly positive on locals’ lives, activities and social capital, the report stated.

However, issues of concern were raised – such as, lack of volunteers in some spheres and inadequate support from local and national government.

Dr. Farrell said: “Volunteer activity is key to the sustainability and development of rural Ireland.

Rural people give freely of their time and energy in numerous activities including: sport; care activities; and rural development.

“However, it is imperative that solid structures of finance, and support, are made available for the continuation of rural volunteerism and the strengthening of rural communities,” she concluded.