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Let’s give more support to our ‘hidden’ volunteers

By Luke Guinness

15 June 2015

Volunteering has been in the news of late. Recently the Financial Times reported that the Government was trying to quietly shelve its pre-election manifesto promise to give employees of large companies three days paid volunteering leave each year, despite protestations that these were merely on hold and to be published ‘in due course’.

It is of course important to encourage employers to support their staff to become involved in voluntary activity and to contribute their professional skills where they are most needed.

But it can sometimes seem that the public discourse around volunteering is too often focused on promoting the prospective benefits for the volunteer instead of thinking about how existing volunteers at grassroots level can be better supported and empowered to create positive change. Our client Local Trust is taking a different approach to this issue by focusing on empowering volunteers at a local level and helping them make more impact in helping to transform their communities.

Its resident-led Big Local programme is happening in 150 communities across England over 15 years and provides residents in each community with at least £1m and a range of other support and funding to enable them to make their own decisions to create positive changes in their local area. The approach is built on the idea that giving greater recognition, trust and support to local volunteers, with an acute sense of what is needed, is a progressive way of harnessing the potential of volunteering to achieve lasting social change.

The contribution made by people who volunteer in their community often goes overlooked but it is critically important – whether it is helping to renovate disused buildings and improve green spaces, running youth or sports clubs, improving access to local services and amenities through community transport, or supporting people to access training to find jobs.

We recently worked with Local Trust to host a roundtable discussion with key figures from the government and voluntary sectors to discuss new ideas about how to empower more residents and local volunteers with more control around the decisions that affect their communities.

It was broadly agreed that more proactive steps from central and local government to hand over more decision-making powers to local volunteers about the provision of services could act as a vital incentive to engagement – especially where people may previously have felt apathetic about getting involved in social causes through being unable to make their voice heard.

It can often seem that discussions around volunteering focus on change that is needed from the top down. We will benefit equally from giving more support and recognition to the more ‘hidden’ volunteering that we too often take for granted.

Image credit: Local Trust: The Northfleet Shoot project