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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Why volunteers could change the world

Last Saturday, with the sun splitting the sky, I spent most of the day with my sleeves rolled up doing dishes.  I was part of the catering team for our local Scouts group camp, and apart from one hairy moment when we thought we were going to run out of burgers, it was a phenomenal day.  With lots of time for reflection while chopping industrial quantities of veg, it occurred to me what an amazing endeavour I was witnessing/part of, and I concluded that we should probably put Scout leaders in charge of most things in society!  In a country well known for our implementation failure, we could all learn a lot from this group of volunteers about how to have a plan and implement it effectively (and have fun in the process). 

With the Scout motto ‘be prepared’ I shouldn’t have been surprised that the volunteers were well organised, but the level of planning and logistics that go into feeding 170 people seven times over a weekend is not for the faint hearted.  If I’m honest I was slightly intimidated by the level of detail and efficiency I witnessed on the group WhatsApp in the week before the camp. Allergies and dietary requirements were noted and catered for, and (apart from an ordering error that meant we had so many crisps they were stored in one of those huge sacks from the builders merchants) there was a very careful balance between making sure nobody would be hungry but not much food went to waste.  Many of the people involved had been doing this for years, so not only was the plan based on their experience, it had been refined and improved over time. 

With all the planning I had witnessed in advanced, I was fully expecting to be told what to do for most of the day; instead, I witnessed the most incredible teamwork and use of initiative I’ve probably ever seen.  We were all clear (because of the plan, but also just using our common sense) what needed to be done, and folk just got on with it.  If the floor needed to be swept someone did it, and someone else would appear with the shovel to help – people talked to each other about what they were doing or needed help with, and given that many of us were new to the group, the ability to gel and work as a team blew my mind. 

I’ve spoken to a few people about this since the weekend, and they all say this echoes their own volunteer experiences – people working hard to become so much more than the sum of their parts.  They’ve also all reflected, as I did too, what a joy that is to be part of, and how much they’ve got out of their experiences. 

None of this is rocket science.  People put in the time to develop and refine a plan that they knew would work; other people worked hard/together to do what needed to be done; and we achieved what we set out to do – while also building relationships and having fun.  I’ve been trying to figure out what the magic ingredient is that makes that so easy in this context but not when it comes to national policy – let me know what you reckon, because if we can crack that we really could change the world! 

Published on 1 June 2023