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Volunteering and the Welsh

Voluntary Sector and Volunteering
Research Conference 2014

Cynog Prys, Bangor University
Rhian Hodges, Bangor University
Robin Mann, Bangor University
Bryan Collis, Wales Council for Voluntary Action
Roberta Roberts, Wales Council for Voluntary Action

Significance of the Welsh language in the
third sector
Language planning in Wales has traditionally focused on public services provided by
public bodies (e.g. healthcare and education). However, with the current emphasis
placed on public service provision delivered by public bodies and third sector
organisations working in partnership, the use of Welsh in the third sector is an
increasingly important field for language planners in Wales.
Results from the 2011 Census state that over half a million Welsh speakers live in
Wales, making up 19% of the population of Wales. This represents a sizable part of
the Welsh population as a whole. As a result, the Welsh language in Wales continues
to be a viable community language in many parts of Wales, with 65.4% of the
population in the local authority of Gwynedd, 57.2% in the local authority of the Isle
of Anglesey and 47.3% in the local authority of Ceredigion able to speak Welsh.
The Welsh Assembly Government passed legislation to further enable the Welsh
speaking public to use their preferred languages in public life in Wales. The 2011
Welsh Language Measure noted that the Welsh language has official status in Wales
(2011: 12) and that it should be treated no less favourably than the English language
in Wales (2011:13). The Welsh Language Measure also outlined the principal that
places duties on bodies to enable Welsh speakers to use the Welsh language while
dealing with these bodies (ibid). The new role of Language Commissioner has also
been created to enforce compliance with this new legislation and promote the use of
Welsh. While the Measure predominantly deals with public sector services, sections of
the third or voluntary sector in Wales now come under the influence of the current
language legislation.
The Welsh Government sees the voluntary sector as being a key player in the health
and maintenance of the Welsh language. The current language strategy, A living
language: a language for living (2012) notes that is critical to its strategy.
The organisations forming the sector touch the lives of a great many people in
Wales by, for instance, providing care and support, working with communities,
and getting people involved in a wide range of events and activities. It is
important, therefore, to ensure that the use of Welsh by third sector
organisations is promoted and facilitated as much as possible.
(Welsh Government, 2012:
The use of Welsh in the third sector appropriates further importance due to the
current trend of offering public services through contract with third parties. As a
result, many third sector organisations receive public funding and provide key services
to the Welsh population.
Research into the use of the Welsh language in the third sector is limited. Prys (2010)
established that first language Welsh speakers in the counties of Gwynedd and
Carmarthenshire preferred to receive their services from third sector organisations
through the medium of Welsh. This finding mirrors research findings into the
preferred language of Welsh speakers in public healthcare (Misell 2000, Morgan and
Crowder 2003, Roberts et al, 2004, Bellin 2009) and social work (Pugh and Jones
1999, and Harrison 2009) in Wales, suggesting that Welsh speakers find it easier to
communicate in their first language, especially when these service users are
considered vulnerable (e.g. due to ill health or their age). As a result, the Welsh
Government emphasises offering services to Welsh speakers in their first language
(WG 2012, WLC 2014).
Strengthening Welsh-language services in health and social care is regarded
as a priority since, for many, language in this context is more than just a matter
of choice it is a matter of need.
(Welsh Government, 2012:
While many third sector organisations were successful in providing language sensitive
services to the public, Prys (2010) found that other third sector organisations lacked
the linguistic capacity to provide bilingual services to the public in some instances. As a
result, Prys (2010) states that the language skills of paid staff and volunteers are
central to the success or failure of language sensitive services in the third sector in
Wales. Furthermore, these organisations noted that they found it difficult to recruit
Welsh speaking volunteers. This current study includes a detailed analysis of
volunteering patterns in Wales in order to inform policy makers in Wales regarding
the best way to ensure language sensitive services to the Welsh speaking public.
The third sector in Wales
According to the recent WCVA Almanac (2013) there are 33,000 voluntary
organisations in Wales, 978,460 volunteers in organisations in Wales, and 50,960
employees in the third sector. Furthermore, the estimated total income of the sector
in Wales is 1.6bn and it is estimated that the total value of the sector in Wales is
3.8bn. To further highlight the complex nature of the sector, 432m (27%) of its
income comes from public giving and the Welsh Government contributes 334m
(21%) to this sector in particular.
Despite contextual statistics relating to a number of important aspects within the third
sector; the information available regarding the use of the Welsh language is often
inconsistent, and at best, limited. In spite of the limitations, it is possible to glean
patterns regarding Welsh-speaking volunteers and to map certain differences
between Welsh and non-Welsh speakers.
Survey and Monitoring Data
Living in Wales Surveys (2004-2006)
The first is an analysis of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Living in Wales (LiW) survey which
was published in a WCVA report (Collis 2008). This includes some patterns
concerning volunteers and people who participate in voluntary activity, who speak
Welsh. Note that the survey makes distinctions between participation/membership;
volunteering and those who take a leading role.
The analysis in this report indicates that Welsh speakers are significantly more likely to
participate in or be members of an organisation than non-Welsh speakers. When
participation in non-religious organisations is examined, however, there is no
significant difference between fluent Welsh speakers and people who do not speak
Welsh. This reflects the fact that religious organisations are an important part of
Welsh language culture, and fluent Welsh speakers are far more likely to participate or
be a member of a religious organisation (47 per cent of fluent welsh speakers
compared with 27 per cent of non-Welsh speakers participated in a religious
organisation). However, there is still a significant increase in the likelihood of people
with a fair amount of Welsh participating in or being a member of an organisation.
This suggests that these people are the kind of people who get involved in
organisations, perhaps because they bridge different communities. However, they
make up only 3 per cent of households.
The 18 per cent of adult respondents in the survey who speak Welsh are significantly
more likely to volunteer than those who do not (36 per cent compared to 28 per
cent). Assuming that the respondents are representative of all adults, 21 per cent of
volunteers speak Welsh, compared to 16 per cent of the adult population.
The 2005 and 2006 LiW surveys differentiated between an individuals use of Welsh
and the use of Welsh in the household. Whilst 18 per cent of respondents indicated
that they spoke Welsh, 27 per cent of households were reported to be Welsh
speaking or bilingual. Respondents from these households are significantly more likely
to volunteer than those from households with no Welsh spoken (36 percent
compared with 26 per cent). Assuming that the respondents are representative of
the whole adult population, 35 percent of volunteers live in households where some
Welsh is spoken.
These proportions are similar to those for respondents who speak Welsh. As most
households are not Welsh speaking, this may be related to other factors shared by
households with Welsh spoken in them.
Beaufort Research Wales Omnibus Survey (2014)
Much more recently, Beaufort Research Wales carried out a survey in March 2014
into unpaid and community work for WCVA (Beaufort Research 2014). This survey
also finds that Welsh speaking individuals are more likely to volunteer than those who
do not 47% compared to 34%. However, it should be noted that 27% of the
respondents said they spoke Welsh, which is far higher than the percentage of Welsh
speakers in the 2011 census. Nevertheless this is similar to the earlier Living in Wales
WCVA All-Wales database and monitoring
Thirdly, further descriptive information about voluntary organisations engagement
with the Welsh Language is available from the WCVA all-Wales database (figures
correct on September 18
, 2013). This is the internal database of WCVA, which
includes over 32,000 organisations. Note that this does not include every voluntary
organisation in Wales since not every organisation registers itself with the WCVA.
Nevertheless this includes information concerning the bilingual nature and language
preferences of the organisations.
Language Choice and Voluntary Organisations
For example, with regards to organisations with a national scope (total 1,595), 18.4%
of them had bilingual names, whilst 1% of names were Welsh only. Out of the local
organisations (28,237) only 4.9% were bilingual, but 7.2% were Welsh only. For
national organisations 1.9% (30) stated they would prefer to communicate with
WCVA in Welsh only, whilst 2.7% (771) of local organisations preferred to
communicate in Welsh only. This shows a contrast between national and local
organisations in terms of their bilingual front and their preferences for
communicating through the medium of Welsh. There is also local variation of
language preference with 10.2% of organisations in Gwynedd or 9.6% in Anglesey
stating a preference to communicate through the medium of Welsh, compared to
0% in Monmouthshire or Torfaen.
We therefore see that there are a minority of organisations that operate internally
through the medium of Welsh.
Language Choice and Volunteers
WCVA also holds some information about the Language preferences of volunteers
involved in volunteering opportunities and grant schemes. For instance, GwirVol is a
national prrogramme that promotes youth volunteering. Out of the 1,809f volunteers
placed through GwirVol in 2012-13, 16.6% (301) individuals stated that Welsh was
their language of choice when volunteering. This figure was 12.6% for the GwrVol
National Grant Scheme (2,262 new placements). Similarly, of the 2,048 volunteers in
the BIG Wales Volunteering Project
, only 10.5% stated Welsh as their language of
choice (WCVA 2014).
WCVA Volunteering Website
The WCVA Volunteering Website is also a source of statistical data on volunteering
opportunities through the medium of Welsh. The website includes volunteering
opportunities across Wales, and acts as a platform for advertising voluntary
opportunities to the public. The website has been redesigned recently in order for
volunteering opportunities to be uploaded in Welsh, English or both. Of the 5,747
live volunteering opportunities on the website (June 2013), 514 have been uploaded
in Welsh.
Qualitative data
The sample is key in terms of the reliability and validity of primary research. Indeed, in
order to fulfil the specific aims and objectives of this research on volunteering and the
Welsh language, 3 key groups were recognised as providing a crucial national
overview. The first group is made up of organisations that promote volunteering in
Wales. This group includes a wide range of organisations operating at a county,
national or specific interest-based level; therefore providing a broad understanding of
the field. Specifically, this group comprises of county level volunteering centres,
organisations that promote volunteering within sports and organisations that
promote volunteering on a national level. These advocates provide an un-rivalled
understanding of the positive opportunities available to volunteer through the
medium of Welsh, whilst also providing key experiences regarding the barriers and
challenges to volunteer in Wales through the medium of Welsh.
The BIG Wales Volunteering project provided additional capacity in volunteer centres to engage volunteers with
additional support needs.

The second group contains staff members from national and local voluntary
organisations in different locations across Wales. In order to create a sample
framework for possible organisations to include in the study, the WCVA All Wales
Database was used. Interviews were held with individuals from the management team
of each organisation, or an individual responsible for recruiting or managing
volunteers. These organisations differ from the advocates as they provide wide
ranging volunteering opportunities directly for members of the public in Wales. These
opportunities could range from social care and support to leisure, heritage and local
interest groups.
Arguably, the third group could be viewed as the most important research group as
this group includes the volunteers themselves. Indeed, this is viewed as a vital element
of the research project in order to provide a voice for volunteers. In-depth interviews
were conducted with Welsh speaking volunteers in various locations across Wales.
This provides crucial insight into the experiences and views of Welsh speaking
volunteers from selected organisations across Wales. Welsh speaking volunteers were
chosen based on gender, age and location criteria in order to represent Welsh
speaking volunteers across Wales. Furthermore, these volunteers included a variety of
individuals from different backgrounds who are volunteering with a range of
voluntary organisations. This research was commissioned by the Welsh Language
Commissioners Office who were interested in the importance of the relationship
between young Welsh speakers, sporting activities and their volunteer patterns and
therefore the research had a specific focus on these elements.
Research Methods
This project adhered to a qualitative research strategy in order to glean rich and thorough social
data mirroring the complex and multi-layered nature of the field. It was felt that this research
strategy above others was the preferred method to fully highlight the complexities of
volunteering and its relationship with the Welsh language; as well as further intricacies relating
to the third sector in general.
In order to gain a national perspective within time constraints, 30 in-depth phone interviews
were conducted in the language of choice of the interviewee with the 3 target groups;
organisations promoting volunteering in Wales, staff members of voluntary organisations
across Wales and Welsh-speaking volunteers across Wales, ensuring an equal representation of
10 interviews in each group.
Each in-depth phone interview lasted between 30 minutes and 1 hour, allowing ample
opportunity for participants to elaborate and expand upon their views and first hand
experiences. The interviews were conducted by an experienced researcher who formed an
appropriate rapport with the participants and created an environment of trust. A purposeful
aide memoire was used for the 3 specific target groups, ensuring the focus and reliability of the
information collected. Permission was sought to record the phone interviews before hand and
data storing principles were explained prior to research. This research conforms to the
principles of the Bangor University Ethics Committee which ensures the sensitive and
confidential treatment of individuals within the target groups as well as the primary data
produced from this project. The recorded interviews were then transcribed verbatim and
analysed and interpreted by the research team at the School of Social Sciences, Bangor
University. The transcription, analysis and interpretation were carried out in Welsh.
Nature of the sector
The informal nature of the third sector was a prominent theme according to volunteers, voluntary
organisations and volunteering advocates alike. Whilst there are some organisations more formal in
nature, the vast majority operate on a fairly informal basis. A prominent research theme amongst
voluntary organisations was a tendency not to collect any demographic data about their
users/members. One respondent stated that the main focus of their organisation was quality, not
quantity (Voluntary Organisation 3). A further complication in terms of data interpretation was the
independent nature of local branches of larger organisations which reinforces the challenge to ensure
that services are planned for user needs (this including language needs). However, volunteering
advocacy organisations tended to operate more formally and would collect data about their
volunteers. Despite this, only one voluntary advocacy organisation collected data about linguistic skills
of their volunteers. This lack of planning could be seen as problematic as valuable language skills
possessed by volunteers may be overlooked.
Pathways to volunteering
From the qualitative data it appears that the majority of the Welsh speaking
volunteers interviewed came into contact with their organisations through an
informal process, through personal networks or by chance (rather than through
volunteer centres). One volunteer for example reported that she started volunteering
because a friend was already doing so with the organisation, while two volunteers said
that members of their family were already volunteering with the organisation. A
common pattern for many organisations involved was that volunteering followed a
clear family pattern.
It is interesting to note that only 1 of the 10 volunteers used a volunteer centre to find
a volunteering opportunity. This suggests that the sample of Welsh speaking
volunteers is more likely to use their social networks to find volunteering
opportunities than volunteer centres. One advocate stated as much, saying that
Welsh speakers do not use their services since they tend to volunteer via more
informal routes such as through the chapel, or social networks.
Yet there was also evidence from the young sample of a link between them and
volunteering advocacy bodies (but not volunteer centres). For example, three of the
young volunteers came into contact with their voluntary organisations through the
education system (e.g. Welsh Baccalaureate, Duke of Edinburgh Award and Sports
Leadership courses). As a result, the links between young peoples volunteering
organisations and Welsh medium schools appear particularly effective in targeting
young Welsh speaking volunteers, and could provide a fruitful source of Welsh
speaking volunteers across Wales.
Differences between organisations
A theme of note was that of operating structures. British voluntary organisations had
branches in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Specific Welsh
organisations were a part of the research sample, whether they were traditionally
Welsh or had been fully devolved in responsibilities. Branches were independent from
each other and referred to as local branch, business unit, sister charity. The study
found that organisations emphasised local delivery reminiscent of the third sector at
Furthermore, an established pattern within this research was the relationship between
the public and third sector as several organisations had service level agreements with
the public sector and were subsequently aware of specific funding requirements. It is
possible to interpret that contract requirements can influence language practices.
However, language requirements were, more often than not, ambiguous. It was not
clear to what extent these clauses were being supervised. As a result the complex
operating structure of many organisations raised the need for further planning of
Welsh language provision in Wales.
Staffing and funding issues were largely interlinked within this project. For the most
part, organisations received funding from a variety of sources and largely operated on
restricted funding. This was closely linked to low staffing numbers and the reliance on
volunteers to provide important support and services. On the other hand, the
volunteering advocacy organisations included paid staff as the focal point of their
workforce. Of the sample of volunteering advocacy organisations, these numbers
varied from 9 to 50 members of staff, with at least one member of staff speaking
Another key theme was the Welsh-medium volunteers perceptions of voluntary
organisations. They commented that many organisations had a British connection or
ethos. As a result, some of the British voluntary organisations thought that Welsh
speaking volunteers stayed away from the organisation because they didnt feel like
they belonged there.
Individuals perceptions of voluntary organisations within this study were very
powerful. Several organisations said that volunteers had negative perceptions of their
organisation and that this had had an impact on their contribution to the organisation:
I think perhaps were seen as quite a traditional organisation that would
maybe be seen as something for older people so I think were conscious of that
and were working to try and change some of those perceptions...we need to
reach out to younger volunteers in a different way. (Voluntary Organisation 8)
Its fair to say therefore that the public image of organisations is a factor with regards
to attracting Welsh speaking volunteers. Similarly the bilingual image of an
organisation is also a factor to be considered. An example of this was seen in one of
the volunteers interviewed, as she said that she was more likely to consider
organisations with a bilingual image as being relevant to her as a Welsh speaker.
Well for me if I see somewhere which doesnt advertise in both languages I
dont feel that its right for me anyway... (Volunteer 2)
Specific targeting of Welsh speaking volunteers
There were some examples of voluntary organisations targeting the recruitment of
Welsh speaking volunteers specifically. A clear example was advertising in Welsh
language local newspapers (papurau bro). Some organisations said that they target
Welsh speaking volunteers by advertising that Welsh language skills are desirable or
essential for specific roles.
...some roles, not all roles ask for the moment we are recruiting for
a Welsh speaker to look at digital content and comms where Welsh is essential
so there are some roles there. (Voluntary Organisation 8)
However, for some organisations creating bilingual materials is not easy and it is likely
that many third sector organisations in Wales may need support in producing them.
The confidence of their volunteers in their Welsh language skills was also a factor.
What is interesting is that this perception was strongest amongst the volunteering
advocates rather than the volunteers themselves, although some volunteers said they
were less confident in their written Welsh.
Volunteers in the educational system
Links between volunteer centres and Welsh medium schools appear particularly
effective in targeting young Welsh speaking volunteers. This is partly due to the fact
that volunteering is a mandatory activity for young people studying for their Welsh
Baccalaureate. This provides a fruitful source of young bilingual volunteers for Welsh
voluntary organisations in Wales.
While volunteering is an integrated activity within the Welsh Baccalaureate, young
volunteers were also eager to develop skills and employment opportunities through
volunteering. Of the 5 young volunteers interviewed, 4 had received paid jobs and
academic scholarships through volunteering.
In relation to organisations involved in promoting volunteering in sports, there was a
belief that the majority of volunteers are parents or former players who want to give
something back to the community. The volunteering advocates and the volunteers
themselves mentioned that volunteering is a pathway to coaching as a career.
Its interesting to observe that this incentive wasnt as obvious among the older
volunteers but it was mentioned constantly by the young volunteers. This is evidence
of different incentives for young people and older people to volunteer. This may
suggest that the older volunteers were usually retired or nearing the end of their
careers and therefore the same incentives didnt exist. For the older volunteers, they
volunteered in order to help others and make effective use of their time.
Research conducted by Prys (2010) noted that many third sector organisations
interviewed had a shortage of Welsh speaking volunteers. However, current survey
data suggest that Welsh speakers are more likely to volunteer than non-Welsh
speakers. It is possible to infer that this perception of a lack of Welsh speakers stems
from the fact that the Welsh language is a minority language in Wales, and only
spoken by 19% of the Welsh population. As a result the market for Welsh speaking
volunteers is competitive and may come even more so as linguistic requirements are
formalised for some organisations under the new Welsh language Measure (2011).
Nonetheless, the educational system in Wales (and the Welsh Baccalaureate in
particular) may be key in providing young bilingual volunteers to meet this demand.
There was a perception held by volunteering promoters and the organisations
themselves that Welsh speakers were more likely to volunteer via informal networks.
Some organisations noted that they struggled to attract bilingual volunteers while
others stated that they hadnt attempted to do so. However, the current research
suggests that the image and the public perception of an organisation plays an
important part in attracting volunteers. As a result, an organisation wishing to attract
more Welsh speaking volunteers may need to create a bilingual image to welcome
bilingual volunteers. This may assist some organisations as they attempt to access and
appeal to Welsh language social networks.
The informal nature of the sector, and the tendency not to keep detailed records of
volunteer language skills may also lead to many organisations not being aware of the
language skills of their volunteers. As a result, some organisations may not be making
the most of the linguistic capacity of their volunteers. For these organisations an audit
of skills may be needed to find these hidden Welsh speakers.
These findings have relevance to multilingual communities beyond Wales.
Organisations that wish to engage with diverse communities may need to consider
creating an inclusive image to welcome volunteers from different backgrounds. This
may also be an effective way of gaining support from a wider cross-section of society.
Nonetheless, voluntary organisations may already include individuals with valuable
(yet unknown) language skills that may be a valuable asset to the organisation. As a
result, an audit of language skills may be of use beyond a Welsh/English bilingual
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you
talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart" (Nelson Mandela)
Further Research
The findings have shown that the nature of the social networks of identifiable
communities has an impact on volunteer recruitment and the use of minority
languages by volunteers. This leads to a number of challenges: for more formal
organisations, developing a bilingual culture and for less formal organisations,
recording and using the Welsh language skills of their volunteers. Ways of enabling
these changes would be a useful next step in this research.
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