Future of youth volunteering

Jamie Thomas, CEO of Red Foundation, has started a debate reacting to the recent announcement by the Prime Minister about the new community work scheme.

So let me get this straight. The government has decided to spend £146m of taxpayers money to launch a new community service programme for 16-19 year olds. This is on top of the £100m plus that has already been spent on the same age group to do practically the same thing, with another £100m already committed to extend this same activity over the next three years, for a demographic that has been proven time and time again to be more likely to volunteer or get involved in the community than any other. Am I the only person that thinks this is nuts?

‘But this is community service not volunteering!’ I hear you cry. Well yes technically that’s true, but the actual work of identifying and creating meaningful opportunities that can demonstrate community impact whilst at the same time hold enough interest for teenagers to stick with them for 50 hours, is pretty similar in my opinion, and the chances are it will be the same organisations, that currently offer volunteering opportunities, that will be most likely to deliver the scheme. And I don’t suppose for a moment that the majority of young ‘community servers’ will be able to distinguish the difference.

Jamie Thomas’ blog post ‘vDaft’ asks the question about how effective the Government has been in promoting volunteering amongst young people.

One of the biggest problems with the announcement is how it is another step by the Government towards making volunteering compulsory. This language in the official press release itself doesn’t seem clear about whether it’s volunteering or community service.

What’s clear is that volunteering has to be voluntary. At least if David Blunkett is to lead a taskforce looking at youth volunteering this should be clear. Remember this memorable quote by Blunkett in The Guardian in November, 2008?:

When asked whether the scheme should become a form of compulsory national service Mr Blunkett replied: “It’s been reinforced to me in the last year that you can’t have volunteering unless it’s voluntary.”

It would be great to get your views.

2 thoughts on “Future of youth volunteering

  1. One of my biggest issues is how funding for volunteering has always been compartmentalised – whether that be on age, ethnicity, disability etc. When I worked in student volunteering I spoke to a university volunteering co-ordinator who was funded by MV. She faced the problem that in theory she could not work with some student volunteers simply because she was not funded to work with over 24s (of course, she ignored that as far she could). And what happened to the students who passsed the magical age and theoretically could no longer receive the support they had had up to then?This compartmentalised funding focusses very much on the short-term for both the individual and the community as a whole. Being funded to involve more young volunteers may change attitudes towards young people, but will do little to change attitudes towards older volunteers or disabled volunteers for example. That requires much more of a cultural step-change which compartmentalised funding can never achieve as it only ever focusses on a specific group at a time.And it shows an absolute lackof trust in volunteer-involving organisations. Knowledgeable and skilled volunteer managers don’t involve young volunteers because there’s a pot of money attached. They do it because they know a diverse volunteer-force is best for their clients and their organisation.Rather than be so prescriptive, why not try the novel approach of spending the money on developing local infrastructure (whether that be on volunteer management within local organisations or, say, on volunteer centre support) and saying we trust you to spend it as you see fit that both benefits volunteers and the clients?   

  2. I can see the logic behind starting people volunteering at a young age so that it becomes a lifetime habit, but the concentration on young volunteers, to the exclusion of others, does really worry me. I remember going to a conference a few years ago where a whole range of projects involving young people as volunteers gave presentations.  Every single one of them referred at some point to how great they were because all their volunteers were young, and they didn’t have any ‘old biddies’ volunteering with them. The young people all enthused about how volunteering in those organisations was ‘cool’ because all the other volunteers were just like them, and they didn’t have to mix with any crusty old people. These projects were being shown to us because they were, apparently, the apex of good practice, but it really depressed me.  How dare we turn round to volunteers who’ve been the lifeblood of our communities for years, and suddenly tell them they’re not good enough for us any more.  Do we really think that creating ghettoised volunteering opportunities where young people don’t have to face the horrific spectre of a person over the age of 25 is helpful?There’s been a story in the news recently about a library who started to play background music because their youth panel identified this as something that would make young people want to use libraries more.  This was massively unpopular with all the older people who had been happily using the library’s services for years, and they stopped coming in.  I think that’s a salient reminder that, in the real world, we have to all live together.  One thing all of us, young and old,  need to learn, is how to compromise.

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