Can promoting school governance in communities help fight loneliness?
Posted on 15th January 2019
Our CEO Louise Cooper argues that volunteering as a school governor can be good for mental health, giving people the chance to connect with their community and combat loneliness.
Loneliness is an epidemic affecting people of all ages across the UK. The 2016 Co-op and British Red Cross study found that over 9 million people in the UK are either always or often lonely.
Partly that’s because communities, and the way we live as a collective, have changed. My grandparents were great friends with their neighbours, and while I’m sure many people today are friendly with theirs, many aren’t even on first name terms. We rely less on other people for things we once needed. The rise of the internet and mobile phones has made us more connected in some ways, but they’ve reduced the amount of direct human contact we receive. Yet we still crave the interaction and the sense of belonging being part of a community can bring.
Volunteering as a school governor is one way to connect with your community. In the time that I’ve been a governor, I’ve seen the school change and develop, and hundreds of children learn and achieve so much. I’m more aware of what goes on in my community and how our actions all play a role in determining the success of the next generation.
We recently conducted a YouGov survey to find out what people know about school governance. We found that almost a fifth (19%) of adults in England don’t know what governors do, while a third think they organise fundraising events for the school (which may happen, but is not a core responsibility). People who aren’t aware what governors actually do are unlikely to be interested in the role.
The same survey exposed other misconceptions: nearly 3 in 10 (29%) adults thought that being a parent at the school was a requirement to be a governor, while nearly a fifth (19%) think you need experience of working in education. Lack of awareness and knowledge about the role means that eligible and capable people are facing a barrier to entry.
Governors come from a variety of backgrounds and are drawn to the role for different reasons. We know from our own volunteer survey that 9 out of 10 would recommend being a governor to a friend, and 86% enjoy or love the role.
Two of our governors spoke to us about the benefits of the role – not just in terms of the benefit to the community, but also to their own personal wellbeing.
Shelly, an operations manager and governor in north London, said that “Being a governor is good for your resilience, well-being, and your existence. I feel like I’ve got a greater stake in my community. It’s humbling to go into schools and see the children, parents, and staff all embrace you.”
Isobel, who volunteers in a number of roles, became a governor after retiring from running her own business and said “It’s not the end of life when you give up your day job. For my generation, it’s easy to feel like you’re not worth much if your self-worth has been tied to your job. But you can have an immensely full and very rewarding time volunteering as a school governor. You’re interacting with some very interesting and dynamic and intelligent people on your governing board – and it doesn’t matter what age you are, because you all work together for a common goal.”
Volunteering as a school governor can be brilliant for your mental health – and we’re keen to share this message. As well as connecting with your community, the satisfaction of seeing children benefit from decisions you’ve made is rewarding and empowering. Many of our volunteers identify that it’s the connections they build within their community, and the sense that they are making a real difference to children’s lives, that makes the role one they love. Greater awareness of the governor role could bring people closer to their community, providing them with a sense of belonging.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,932 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th – 19th November 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).