Volunteering and Public Services


Our research on Living Well has been used as a case study in the RSA’s (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) report on ‘Volunteering and Public Services – Where co-production meets localism’ (2015). The case study emphasises how the success of Living Well is underpinned by strong relationships between groups of healthcare practitioners, GPs, older people, volunteers, community groups, and Living Well Coordinators.

Social networks and Living Well – A Case Study Review

social networks and living well coverThis paper examines the current methods of community engagement within Cornwall through a series of case studies and makes recommendations on how to improve these services. This paper also assesses community involvement in other areas in the UK in order to take lessons from other experiences and apply them to Cornwall.



  1. Engagement in community groups is not suitable for all elderly people.
  2. Services need to have a thorough knowledge of both the service user and the community groups in order to make accurate referrals.
  3. The tailoring of services is essential in order to alleviate isolation and loneliness for each individual.

Living Well and Do-it.org Volunteer Recruitment

 do-it.org coverA significant challenge to sustainability of Living Well is the recruitment of volunteers to the programme. Having sufficient volunteers and managing their turnover is important because of their central role in programme delivery. This paper presents an overview to the current routes to becoming a volunteer, the recruitment processes and makes recommendations about how recruitment can be improved.

Care and Volunteering Future Directions

Creating a prosperous Cornwall through research and innovation

To build on the success of the Volunteers in Communities (VIC) project we gathered key partners to discuss current challenges and future directions for Cornwall’s care practitioners, the voluntary sector and researchers.

This workshop took place on the 11th of March at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall campus and included 18 attendees from: Age UK Cornwall, Volunteer Cornwall, NHS Kernow CCG, Cornwall Council, R.J Working, Pentreath, CRCC, I.Geolise and University of Exeter researchers.

The workshop aims were:

  • Identify collaborative research opportunities with practitioners in the health care sector, voluntary sector and beyond.
  • Deepen existing links with social scientists in the University.
  • Map areas of need and develop a plan for accessing funding streams.

To instigate thought and discussion we invited three inspiring speakers. Dr Michael Leyshon, as the lead researcher on the VIC project, opened the day with a call to socially innovate and work beyond organisational silos. Michael emphasised the existing wealth of skills and knowledge in Cornwall; and how if we can just work collaboratively this can be fully capitalised on. Ian Jones, Director of Volunteer Cornwall, then drew our attention to the importance of social networks. In particular the current and potential role of voluntary sector organisations in enabling connected and prosperous communities. Charlie Davies, from the mapping company I.Geolise, brought all these issues together by demonstrating the potential in mapping technologies to better connect communities and more effectively utilise the huge volunteering base in Cornwall.

After a cake and coffee break the arising issues and ideas were discussed through a mapping exercise. Participants were sat in front on an A0 map and asked to answer three questions:

1. Where, and in what sectors, could the Living Well approach be applied for success?
2. What could volunteers achieve in these sectors?
3. What needs to change to make this happen?

The participant’s comments made on, and around, these maps were drawn together by the Volunteers in Communities team. What follows are the key themes around each of the questions.


1- Where and inand in what sectors, could the Living Well approach be applied for success?

The consensus was that all public and charity sector services could benefit from the Living Well approach. The specific sectors cited were: children and family services, criminal justice sector, community safety, restorative justice, emergency services, environmental engagement, caring, transport, and accessibility.

2 – What could volunteers achieve in these sectors?

Workshop participants agreed that the potential of what volunteers could achieve in public sectors was not well understood. This is primarily because the opportunities and, in particular, the limits of the Living Well approach has not been trialled and tested to its fullest extent. Nevertheless, participants identified a number of known and possible benefits of volunteers in communities:

  • Generating the conditions for care – enabling care for self through caring for other
  • Challenging loneliness – through regular contact, conversations and social interaction
  • Initiating social connections – by providing confidence to join community groups
  • Supporting delivery of services in the:

1.Criminal justice sector – victims and offenders are both people who live in the community. Volunteers have potential to be part of the repair, recovery and rehabilitation process which leads to community resilience.

2. Mental health sector – volunteers have the potential to be more than just befrienders and be part of a co-produced evidence based practice for psychological interventions.

3. Community resilience – enabling a self-mobilised and self-organised community; as in the case of Fowey following establishment of the Living Well approach

3 – What needs to change to make this happen?

Amongst the workshop participants responses to the question ‘what needs to change to make this happen?’ there were three sub themes: 1) understanding volunteering cultures; 2) role of the state; 3) volunteer management.

1: Understanding of volunteering cultures

The concept of volunteering cultures refers to the notion that each community has a different service need and volunteering capacity. A culture of volunteers might be defined as ‘the sum total of knowledge, skills and social networks which influence volunteering behaviours in that community’. Workshop participants identified a number barriers associated with volunteering cultures in Cornwall:

  • Success of Living Well in different areas is dependent on local volunteering cultures; to fully realise the potential of Living Well we need to:
    • Understand, map and then work with local volunteering cultures.
    • Develop and deliver place based approaches which are sensitive to local volunteering cultures.
  • A specific barrier to embedding volunteers within the healthcare sector centres on the geography, or catchments, of volunteers around hospitals. This is because the capacity of volunteers to co-produce care is, in part at least, dependent on their location in relation to service hubs. For example, Treliske Hospital Truro, North Devon Hospital Barnstaple and Derriford Hospital Plymouth. Workshop participants identified two areas which, because of their geography, are particularly difficult to deliver series and volunteers in:
    • Coastal area between Wadebridge and Bude
    • Inland area between Tintagle and Liskeard
    • Inland are between Barnstaple and Plymouth
    • Key to note is that while these areas might have a Cornish identity they are linked to Devon services because of travel times!

2: Role of the State
One concern raised by participants was that Living Well, and volunteering more generally, will become a tool of the state and statutory  bodies to deliver public services. The consensus was that any devolution needs to be accompanied by local capacity building and resources. For example, in Penzance a voluntary group mange the gardens a planting on roundabouts. To assist this group the Council have given the volunteers a car park; the profits from which fund their gardening activities.

4: Volunteer Management
Workshop participants identified a number of ways in which volunteer management should be changed or could be improved:

  • Stop being care-ful and start being care-ing
  • Improved valuing if the volunteers and their roles
  • Incentivise volunteering, enlist volunteers and then empower them
  • Enable genuine co-production
  • Support volunteering within controlling volunteers
  • Remove barriers around risk and responsibilities