No Volunteers Week

Celebrating 30 years of Volunteers’ Week

This year is the 30th anniversary of Volunteers’ Week and, if we look back over the past three decades, we can take some satisfaction at how far we have come in terms of putting volunteering on the map. It is beyond question that there is far greater recognition today of the value and importance of volunteering than there was in 1984. But, despite the progress we have made, there is still more to do, especially in terms of making the case that volunteering, although enormously good value for money, is not cost free.

No Volunteers Week

What about for one year only running a ‘No Volunteers Week’? If the traditional approach of celebrating all that is good about volunteering has largely failed to get across the key message that it requires investment to thrive, how about coming at things from the opposite direction and pointing to all that would be lost if volunteers disappeared from our communities?

A world without volunteers

Just imagine it. There would be no life-boats, Samaritans or hospices. Magistrates, school governors, sports coaches, Guide and Scout leaders, special constables, National Trust wardens, would all have disappeared. Our leisure and heritage industry would be decimated, as would our schools and colleges, hospitals, day centres, prisons, parks, and sports clubs. There would be no fund-raising, so many of our charities and voluntary groups would cease to exist, and no trustees, so even those able to eke out an existence, would have no-one to lead them. There would be no campaigning, no advocacy, no food-banks, no credit unions, and no citizen advice bureau. In short, our communities would grind to a halt.

Mapping this exodus

We could map this volunteering desert using the latest crowd-sourcing (or should it be crowd-dispersing!) software. We could make a film about it, along the lines of the renowned 2004 film A Day without a Mexican, which looked at the impact on California when the Mexicans disappeared. Or we could do it the old-fashioned way and take a look at what is around us and see what would be missed. I live in a smallish village near St Albans, about 30 miles north of London. A cursory glance at our village newsletter (itself produced and delivered by volunteers!) suggests that life in our community in June when the volunteers disappear is going to be a rather soulless place to live.

You might want to move away if you have children, as the St Mary’s Church Holiday Club for Children will have closed its doors, as will the Village Youth Club and Community Centre and the local branches of the Guides and Scouts.

Probably best not to be ill during the month either, as The Village Care Bus, which ferries people to and from hospital and which won a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service for its efforts, will be parked up in a lay-by for a few weeks, and Hertbeats, the Cardiac Support Group, Good Companions, the Carers’ Support Group, and the local Samaritans will all have shut up shop.

Culturally it will be a pretty dull month too. The Local village museum will be closed, the Village Singers will be quiet, the ‘Folk on the Common’ concert will be cancelled, and the curtain will have come down on the eagerly anticipated production of the Alan Ayckbourn play Tons of Money (how very apt!) by the Village Players.

Those of a sporting bent won’t fare much better as the football, tennis, cricket and bowls clubs will all be closed. And things are not looking good for those who prefer more sedentary leisure pursuits, as the Village in Stitches will have downed its needles and the WI and U3A will have gone away for the summer.

Oh and if you were looking forward to the Village in Bloom competition and the Cure Parkinson’s Trust concert and fireworks display, you will be in for a disappointment.

Making a point

What if anything does this prove? This activity, or rather inactivity in No Volunteers Week, goes on (or doesn’t go on) in every community across the country. Volunteers make society work. They humanise our relationships. They improve our quality of life. They enhance our public services and strengthen our sense of place. They bring about change, make a nuisance of themselves, and make things happen. Oh, and if we want to get all hard-nosed about it, they add almost £40 billion to our GDP in the process. And without them? Well our communities would grind to a halt.

Celebrating 30 Years

No Volunteers Week would certainly help us make this case. But it’s not really feasible. So instead, let’s go all out this year, in this the 30th anniversary of Volunteers’ Week, to celebrate the amazing work of volunteers and the enormous contribution they make to society. And then let’s re-double our efforts to secure the investment needed to maximize their impact. Please join us in making this the biggest and best celebration of volunteering we have ever seen. And remember to register your event on the Volunteers’ Week website so everyone can see what you are doing.

This entry was posted in Practical support and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Like this? Read more

Justin was executive director of volunteering and development at NCVO and chief executive of Volunteering England. He is now a senior research fellow at City University Cass Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness.