A study of 2,000 adults has found that nearly two thirds (61%) in Northern Ireland would like to volunteer in 2023, the highest amount of all the UK regions, and one in five (21%) are desperate to give back to local causes in the near future.

Working in charity shops, youth centres and outdoor spaces such as community allotments and litter picking were just some of the most popular ways to volunteer in Northern Ireland, with 66% having volunteered in their community before.

But it’s what people get back from volunteering that also makes a difference in Northern Ireland, with 71% of those surveyed feeling an improvement to their wellbeing – the most to say so in the UK.

On average, volunteers in Northern Ireland spend 6.5 hours giving back each month and 25% said they had started to help others more this year.

When asked what local causes people in Northern Ireland would like to give up their time for the top ten included:

  1. Animal shelters
  2. Loneliness charities
  3. Outdoor community spaces e.g. allotments, parks or litter picking
  4. Charity shops
  5. Homes for elderly
  6. Homeless shelters
  7. Soup kitchens and food banks
  8. Children and youth centres
  9. Hospitals
  10. Driving related (e.g. giving lifts)

The research was commissioned by SPAR, which is providing grants to local voluntary or community organisations and charities in Northern Ireland who need it most through its 2023 Community Cashback scheme, which returned as a national scheme for a second year in February.

The reasons for giving back vary for people, with 47% doing so to help others, and 39% wanting to give back to their community. 32% also said they were interested to meet new people.

Chelsea Robinson, who works as a Team Leader at EUROSPAR Greencastle Street has completed over 200 hours of volunteering in the past year for several local causes and says it brings her a sense of accomplishment and joy to help others.

Chelsea commented; “I am passionate about helping others but I also just find doing different challenges really fun, so if I can help others in the process then I will also fundraise and give my time to volunteering where I can.

“I also volunteer for the Southern Area Hospice helping them with street collections.”

Chelsea completed a daily cold water challenge last month, raising over £1,160 for Cancer Fund for Children.

Of those surveyed, 64% who had volunteered also added it feels good to contribute to society and 46% agreed it gives them a sense of belonging in the community.

Bronagh Luke, Head of Corporate Marketing at Henderson Group which owns SPAR in Northern Ireland added; “We are committed to nurturing our neighbourhoods at SPAR NI, and it is lovely yet not surprising to hear our region has the highest percentage of people who want to get out and volunteer in their local communities.

“Our stores are nestled right in the heart of those communities and we have some of the most active volunteers in our stores who want to help and make a difference. One way we’re delighted to be able to help is through our Community Cashback programme, which we will be revealing the 2023 recipients of in the coming weeks. These organisations range from lifesavers to grassroots initiatives, each one deserving of this additional financial support.

“We launched the first ever Community Cashback Grant Scheme in Northern Ireland during the height of lockdown in 2020, reaching out to 20 local organisations to give them much needed support at a time when funding and donations all but disappeared for them.

“We were thrilled that SPAR rolled the initiative out across the UK in 2022, and now over £200,000 has been donated across various organisations, groups and charities.”

Chelsea finished; “If you have the time and know of an organisation in your local area that could use your help, please don’t hesitate to volunteer. It is such a worthwhile use of your time, and it has given me back more than I could imagine.”

Find out more at https://www.spar-ni.co.uk/community-cashback/.