IT’S a no-brainer that volunteering has a monetary value. After all, an unpaid volunteer saves the cost of a salary.

This is certainly the case for community sports, which rely on volunteers – they rack up a total £52 billion, according to new research by Join In, the charity helping to connect local sports clubs and volunteers.

In GDP terms, that’s on par with the Energy Sector, and four times greater than agriculture. Think it sounds too good to be true?

That’s what Join In thought when they first saw the figures. But top economists, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ research team and the Institute for Volunteering Research, which all scrutinised the findings, agree that the sums stand up – and at the core of the equation is health and wellbeing.

The new research looks at the immediate and knock-on improvements to volunteers’ health and wellbeing – as well as that of those able to participate in activities, thanks to the volunteers – and calculates an overall financial worth for this, which adds up to £2,974 each.

“This isn’t fluffy stuff,” says Lord Gus O’Donnell, chairman of Frontier Economics and former cabinet secretary. “This is very important, solid economics.”

He references US presidential candidate Robert Kennedy’s 1968 speech, in which he said “gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play... the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials... it measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning... it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth while.”

It is well established that people who volunteer report higher levels of happiness than those who don’t. Research has found that 10 per cent of volunteers have higher self-esteem, 15 per cent worry less, and 8 per cent agree that life has more meaning.

He believes it’s important that a successful society is not only defined by the health of its GDP, but by the health and wellbeing of its people.

Join In hopes that giving the value of volunteering more economic weight will help encourage more people to get involved, and more private-sector companies and organisations to get behind it, making it easier for people to volunteer, whether through more training or being allowed time off work.

At Frontier Economics, staff are already given days off for this purpose. “We positively encourage it,” says Lord O’Donnell. “Not only because we think it’s going to be good for their community – which we think it is – but because we recognised that it’s going to help develop our staff.”

The research considers not only the benefits to the volunteer, but the positive impact it has on participants. Mark Brunt, an accountant by day, volunteered for a football club in the Midlands for five years before moving to Shipley this summer. He is liaising with local sports clubs about opportunities to get involved as a volunteer and run community programmes for children.

“Volunteering has many benefits; you’re doing something worth while to help others, and you’re also building on new and existing skills,” he says. “With having a full-time job, I volunteered at weekends. It’s about putting in the hours that you can, and working around that. Even if someone can only spare an hour a week to help out at a club, it makes a difference.”

The youngsters Mark worked with included children who had been bullied and others with behavioural issues.

“It’s so rewarding seeing an improvement in young people like this,” he says. “Not only were they learning to play football, and getting pretty good at it in some cases, they were spending time outdoors, being healthy in the open air, and learning about team spirit and the responsibility that comes with being part of a team.

“A couple of boys were really shy and awkward to start with, they had been picked on at school and had no confidence. Football brought out the best in them, and they went on to do well in sport at school because of our Saturday-morning sessions on the pitch. They felt like part of a team, for the first time.”

Mark’s passion for volunteering inspired his wife, Amanda, to take it up too. “I work part-time and when the children started school I had more time on my hands, so I started volunteering for a charity that helps carers,” she says. “I got a lot out of it and it helped me develop office skills I didn’t have before.

“Volunteering can boost employment skills, and it makes you feel good about yourself. I have a friend who was depressed after her divorce, I suggested she came along with me to the carers group to help out and she loved it. She found it really rewarding to help other people going through a hard time. “Volunteers not only save organisations and businesses money, they boost wellbeing. That has to be important to the overall state of the nation.”