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Cessation of Volunteering

The Cessation of Volunteering project will explore how older volunteers (aged 65+) and volunteer managers negotiate transitions out of a volunteering role and the impact that this can have in the lives of both volunteers and volunteer managers.

Project Background

Volunteers play an important role in delivering health, social and cultural services across the UK.  In particular, cultural heritage organisations are often reliant on volunteer contributions to achieve their goals. This study will explore how older volunteers (aged 65+) and volunteer managers negotiate moves out of a particular volunteering role and the impact that this can have for both groups.

People engage in different forms of civic participation (including volunteering) across the course of their lives, often in response to other lifecourse transitions which affect the time and resources available to them. Over-65s are proportionally the largest age-group of volunteers in Great Britain (across all volunteer-involving sectors) and civic participation is seen as an important aspect of successful ageing. However, many people in their mid-70s cease volunteering for a variety of age-related reasons though they may be moving onto other forms of civic participation.

Volunteering contributes to people’s wellbeing and often provides a valued source of meaning and identity in later life. A small-scale study in the UK, led by Bruce Davenport, suggested that leaving volunteering can be experienced as a form of loss which has the potential to undermine the benefits accrued from volunteering. This is particularly the case when people feel that personal or contextual factors are obliging them to stop even though they do not wish to.

Furthermore, the study found that managing the cessation of volunteers created personal and professional challenges for volunteer managers which existing policies did not adequately address but the ways in which volunteers and volunteer managers handle this move out of volunteering can alter the impact of the move for both groups. Thus there is a need for evidence-based professional guidelines in this area.

Project Methods

The Cessation of Volunteering project will focus on older volunteers in cultural heritage organisations. Initially, we will work with 8 case study organisations that capture the breadth of volunteer-involving heritage organisations in the UK. The project will explore volunteers experience of moving out of volunteering and will develop a rich understanding of their experience and how it relates to the wider context of their lives. We will work with volunteers and ex-volunteers to understand how moving out of volunteering impacted on their wellbeing in the longer term. The project will also work with volunteer managers to explore the organisational context and practices which shape this move.

We will then carry out a national survey of volunteer managers across multiple sectors in the UK. This will enable us to test the findings from the case studies against the wider population of volunteer managers and establish the transferability of the findings to sectors beyond cultural heritage.


In the final part of the project, we will use the findings of our work as the starting point for reflective conversation with our project partners with the aim of co-creating a toolkit of containing a repertoire of agreed good practice responses to commonly identified situations. We will share this will volunteer-involving organisations and agencies that work with older people.

We hope that insights from this study will be relevant to other groups of people who are moving between different forms of civic participation. The learning from this study will also inform new volunteer management practices to improve volunteers’ and volunteer managers’ experiences across multiple volunteer-involving sectors in the UK and internationally.

PI: Dr Bruce Davenport (PI) - Schools of Arts and Cultures (

Duration: 1st January 2024 - 31st December 2025

Funder: ESRC New Investigator Grant (ES/X013847/1)

Partnership: Case study venues; Heritage Volunteering Group; Make Your Mark in Volunteering; Volunteering Matters