Do you volunteer? Whilst more people than ever before are volunteering, unfortunately for far too many the answer to this question will be no. And, whilst we do have more people giving their time, the total amount of hours given across the country has dropped since the millennium, as our lives seem to get ever busier. But for many, you may already be volunteering – you just hadn’t realised.
When you think about the people who help run what we value in our lives – community groups, sports clubs, charities, choirs, social groups, religious communities, the list goes on - you realise that we are all reliant on dozens of people around us freely giving their time, and that they are reliant on us too. We are so fortunate to have so many fantastic voluntary organisations and people who generously give their time, often for little or no return. Just imagine what our city and country would be without them.
This week is Volunteers’ Week, and I think it is vital for us to stop and reflect on what voluntary work does for our communities, and how to improve opportunities for voluntary groups and charities in the future. I would also encourage everyone who answered no to take this opportunity to put aside a few hours to give your time to a good cause or local group.
I regularly get to meet and visit fantastic volunteers across our communities in Stoke-on-Trent South, and it is impossible not to be both impressed by their achievements and humbled by their dedication. It is natural to want to help. Often, this leads to calls for taxpayer funding, or support from Government departments and agencies. I understand these calls and whilst they can help, they can never provide for the huge additional value gained from volunteers, nor can it be a permanent long-term solution.
Take the local campaigns to make our Stoke-on-Trent South more beautiful; from Blurton in Bloom to and Bloomin’ Longton. The local people who have spearheaded these efforts care about one thing - making their area beautiful and something of which to be proud. This can only be done by volunteers. Could you imagine the alternative? A committee of state-funded bureaucrats making the decisions? We just wouldn’t have beautiful town centres. We would have a 500-page report on what colour the flowers should be before even a single one was planted.
There are ways we can support volunteers to do what they do best, however. There are a wide range of funds available for voluntary organisation to bid for. The National Lottery was created to do just this, and now we have our own ‘Potto Lotto’, where 60% of the ticket price goes directly to fund local good causes. The City Council is also continuing the brilliant Community Investment Fund, led by Cllr Abi Brown. From £500 all the way to £50,000, this provides our voluntary organisations with the funds they need to do what they do best.
I hope that, reflecting on Volunteers’ Week and the wonderful contributions being made by so many in our communities, that your heart is warmed a little. If you are inspired further, to wonder not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community, there are hundreds of possibilities.
The Douglas Macmillan Hospice is holding an open day for Volunteers’ Week on Friday, from 11am. Do you have a hobby to share with others? The Grocott Centre would be delighted to hear from you. Do you run a business, and could you take on an enthusiastic, determined employee who has had to overcome challenges to get to where they are? Strathmore College would love to have a conversation with you.
I was incredibly impressed by the open day organised by Strathmore College recently to encourage more local companies to get involved. They do incredible work supporting young people who have a disability or learning difficulty to achieve their full potential and access employment. Transforming the life chances of countless young people. We need more of our local employers to come forward to offer more placements. Many of the employers already working with Strathmore students have been incredibly impressed, benefiting both young people and businesses.
Our civic society is one of the things that makes Britain great, and that continues to provide the richness of the communities in which we live. I think we should all take just a little time to reflect on that this Volunteers’ Week and if not already, all think of what we can give back.
If you would like to learn a little more about the history of part of our civic society, I am taking a coach from Longton down to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament this Thursday. If you would like to come along for a tour of Parliament, there are still a few seats available; please telephone my office on 01782 922525 if you are interested.
This article appeared originally in The Sentinel, 3rd June 2019.