Volunteering: power and change in the local community

Lydia Allen is the Programme Delivery Coordinator at National Youth Agency and oversees the Our Bright Future Youth Forum. She is celebrating Volunteers’ Week 1-7 June 2019.
Volunteers’ Week recognises everyone who gives their time and energy to good causes whether that’s joining in with the local litter pick team or supporting a national wildlife organisation at your local reserve. If you’re a Twitter addict like myself, you might have seen the hashtags ‘#VolunteerWeek2019’, ‘#VolunteerWeek’ and ‘#PowerofYouth’ on your timeline this week, demonstrating the influential action young people are taking through volunteering. It’s inspiring to see so many young people giving to their communities and creating change both locally and globally.
In 2016/17, 11.9 million people formally volunteered once a month. The amount of time and resource this contributes is mindboggling and quite frankly very much needed. With the cuts to public services across all sectors, volunteers are crucial to the survival of what we take for granted.
A clear example can be seen in the support given to the UK’s larger environmental organisations. The National Trust with 61,000 volunteers and the Wildlife Trust with 43,000 volunteers, heavily rely on them to support their reserves and sites spread across the country and there is no doubt that they could not be run without them. The National Trust calculates that their volunteers give more than 4.6 million hours to support their work; an incredible amount of resource. As more young people go through national schemes like the National Citizen Service (NCS) and Our Bright Future, the numbers of those volunteering are likely to increase.
From the age of about 13, I have volunteered across a variety of spaces; coaching sport, helping in the local library, assisting pilgrims, guiding in historic houses, restoring natural spaces, litter picking on streets and inspiring young people through youth work. I find volunteering rewarding simply because it helps someone or something. It’s a break from the everyday and a time to meet new people who have a similar mind-set to yourself. I have learnt so much about myself and picked up multiple skills along the way.
For young people, volunteering isn’t just about giving back, it’s also about learning essential skills and training as they develop career and personal skills to take them forward in their life. The best volunteer programmes are formed around best practice participation; allowing young people the power to control, make decisions, create and grow through training. This might be why the larger national organisations who can afford to run these programmes do so well in retaining their volunteers and proving their value.
However, local community work is increasing with young people. ‘Think globally, act locally’, is a phrase that has been used across business, education, town planning, community work and the environmental movement. I think we’re seeing a resurge of this in local communities. Young people today are the most socially and environmentally aware generation, who want to take action, as seen from the multiple Youth Climate Strikes happening across the UK. Their need to do something which doesn’t involve travel or transport means that they’re looking closer to home for something to take part in. The youth today know that they can help their friends from across the globe by starting at home, addressing their own community’s awareness, attitudes and behaviour towards the climate crisis.
I am very aware of young people’s needs today and the challenges they face from my role at the National Youth Agency (NYA) which is why I’m even more motivated to volunteer to support young people. Since last September, I have been volunteering every Thursday at the local Youth Club and today I’m delivering a short session on litter and litter picking, armed with a box of litter pickers! I enjoy inspiring the next generation to get enthusiastic about creating change and I am keen for them to act local and make their own decisions for their future.
However, I always have an internal battle with myself that surely these services should be covered by government funding to create jobs and pay people to support our communities and green spaces. Why should people have to volunteer to ensure these crucial spaces and services are functioning? Unfortunately, I still haven’t found the answer, or the money tree (hidden in the dark forest of tax evasion and the non-existence of means testing). For now, we’ll keep going, volunteering for our communities with the power of youth social action, until our collective values shine a light on what’s needed, what’s wanted and what will create a sustainable future for all.

 

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