We hear a lot of people talking about what we now call the Big Society and the contribution that people can make to their local communities but what does this mean in real terms? Is it a cheap way of getting things done by volunteers or is it a beneficial way to get people involved in achieving things through collective effort that means something to them?
If we look at the spread of involvement volunteering starts with youngsters taking part in school or club organised fundraising for local charities and worthy causes. We hear a lot about people retiring from paid work and making a contribution by giving their time to support people and organisations in need.
Some interesting volunteering statistics show that in 2008/09 42% of women formally volunteered compared with 38% of men with younger volunteers being more likely to volunteer informally (2008/09 DCLG Citizenship Survey). Interestingly, 87% of employers think that volunteering can have a generally positive effect on career progression for people aged 16 to 25. What these statistics do not show us is that volunteering can create opportunities to learn and develop new skills for all ages, which is particularly pertinent to those who are unemployed. Skills that are learned through out of work activities enhance the whole person building their competence and confidence and in fact there is some evidence that supports this as creative corporates use this approach as a way of growing and developing a workforce. In the recent case that came to light over the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in June where around 200 young people were to work as stewards at the River Pageant. It was reported that young unemployed people had been brought into London by bus from the West Country during the night but had arrived two hours earlier than scheduled and so were not required to start their duties until later in the morning. You may remember that much was made of this politically with claims that these young people were being exploited and had received poor treatment at the hands of the organisers. Interestingly nearly all of the young stewards believed that they had been given a great opportunity to learn new skills, they also received positive feedback about their work and had a great time. This was reinforced by the fact that some stewards were looking forward to being part of the Olympic experience starting in July.
What strikes me from this case and from all volunteering experiences whether it be supporting local good works, national charities or helping a neighbour along the road, we all benefit. This is especially so for those who have a more open mind to the chances that life and volunteering, in particular, can offer.
So in summary my advice is that volunteering can help people by making new friends and create opportunities to try new things and we never know maybe find a new path in life!