Self-growth, wellbeing and volunteering - Implications for social prescribing: A qualitative study

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Volunteering - the giving of time and support, without expectation of payment, for the good of others, a community or organization – may bring about benefits to health and wellbeing. Formal volunteering may be considered as part of a social prescription to which link workers may refer patients. This paper explores the role that volunteering may play as part of social prescribing by considering the impact it can have on health and wellbeing and highlighting factors that link workers may need to consider when connecting patients to volunteering opportunities. We conducted interviews with 22 museum volunteers to explore how volunteering affected their physical and emotional wellbeing, and consider the potential consequences of these experiences for social prescribing. We analysed the interviews using thematic analysis to develop a descriptive model of how volunteering may influence health and wellbeing through encouraging self-growth. Our analysis highlights that volunteering can provide “enabling environments” and opportunities for “stretch” and can contribute to people's health and wellbeing by improving their “sense of self”, “connection to others”, and “sense of community”. Our findings have implications for the use of volunteering as part of social prescribing and for volunteering organizations accepting social prescribing referrals to volunteering. These include the need to recognise the diverse needs of people receiving social prescribing and the need to tailor volunteering offers to these needs, as well as the need for link workers to be aware of the environments and support available to individuals at the volunteering organizations they are being referred to.