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The Welsh Language and Volunteering

Research by Bangor University’s School of Social Sciences and Wales Council for Voluntary Action has underlined how important it is to have a healthy voluntary sector that can meet the needs of a bilingual Wales. The research, conducted on behalf of the Welsh Language Commissioner, draws attention to the importance of attracting bilingual volunteers to offer activities and provide services to the public in Wales. The work has also highlighted potential areas of improvement on current provision and opportunities.

The report, The Welsh Language and Volunteering, draws attention to the demand within the voluntary sector for volunteers who can speak Welsh. The research shows that the ability to speak with the public in their chosen language is a valuable asset for third sector organisations, as they seek to meet the needs of their users. Added to this, the research suggests that volunteers themselves use volunteering as a means of developing their personal skills and specifically, language skills.

The researchers spoke to volunteers, volunteer managers and organisations that promote volunteering about their experiences of speaking Welsh when volunteering. They found that Welsh speaking volunteer opportunities and volunteers exist in every part of Wales.

According to Dr Cynog Prys, a Lecturer in Sociology at Bangor University, and one of the research authors:

"One interesting finding was that more Welsh speaking volunteers found their way to volunteering through informal, traditional routes, through family links, the chapel or other societies, rather than by using organisations promoting volunteering or via large British charities. There is an opportunity here to encourage volunteer-involving organisations to be more proactive in the way they design and promote volunteering opportunities to ensure that they identify those opportunities where there is  both a need and an opportunity to volunteer using the Welsh language, and that everyday Welsh is sufficient to use while volunteering.”

"We have also suggested that volunteer-involving organisations should consider the Welsh language as a specific volunteer skill. We found that organizations tend not to gather information about the linguistic abilities of current volunteers, although the need for these skills exist within sector. On the other hand, some consider volunteering a great opportunity to practice new language skills. We suggest that volunteer-involving organizations audit existing volunteer and users’ language needs and consider these when matching volunteers with opportunities."

Bryan Collis, Research Officer at Wales Council for Voluntary Action said: “The research showed that volunteers use Welsh in many circumstances, but that there is scope for greater use of Welsh and also for volunteer managers to be more aware of the way their behaviour influences the way Welsh or English is used. It has been a useful piece of work that has already had a practical impact on how volunteering opportunities are promoted.”    

Meri Huws, Welsh Language Commissioner commented:

“This research has given us evidence to use in meetings with Welsh Government and volunteering facilitators in meetings to discuss changes to their volunteering policies and guidelines.

We have also included the recommendations in our training courses for third sector organizations.”

Publication date: 23 July 2014