Bringing volunteering home?

Hands up if you know where the European Capital of Culture is for 2015? Or the European Capital of Sport? No particular reason why you should unless you live there, or work in the sports or arts field, although the European Capital of Culture has been growing in prestige in recent years.

But how about this one? How many of you know where the European Capital of Volunteering is this year? Or perhaps more to the point, how many of you knew there was such a thing as a European Capital of Volunteering? Now be honest…

Well, for those clever clogs among you, full marks if you said Lisbon, and double points if you knew that Barcelona held this coveted title last year, the first year the competition took place. You will notice a pattern emerging (if you can have a pattern after just two rounds?) that both recipients so far have been based in the south of the continent and neither in the UK. Oh, and both winners are beautiful places to boot.

I am using this year’s Volunteers’ Week to launch a drive to claim the crown for next year, or for 2017, for a city or town in the UK. Note, that although both winners have so far been cities, the competition is open to any sized place so long as it can be seen as a champion of volunteering and meets the criteria laid down by the European Volunteer Centre which oversees the award.

So get planning and let’s see if we can mount a serious challenge to land this prize for the UK.

A bit of background

The idea of a European Capital of Volunteering arose out of the European Year of Volunteering in 2011. When the organisers were planning for a legacy they seized upon the idea of a competition which would recognise a place in Europe which best enshrined the values of the year and could be held up as an exemplar in its support for volunteering.

The call for 2016 and 2017 has just gone out, with a deadline for both set for 21 September, with the winners being announced on International Volunteer Day on 5 December. So you have just over three months to get an application in.

CEV have made the eligibility criteria available, but it is worth noting a couple of important points:

The application has to be made by the local authority

This is an award to celebrate the contribution made by a town or city in promoting and championing volunteering, in partnership of course with the voluntary sector (and indeed business), but the lead has to come from the council. The first step therefore is to get in touch with your local council and encourage them to apply.

The application form and process have been slimmed down and streamlined

The criteria against which the award is made, links closely to a key document published during the European Year, the Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe (PAVE) report, which sets out what should be expected from a town or city if it is to be judged exceptional in the way it supports volunteering. The report is quite dense and there was a concern that it made for a rather onerous application process, so the organisers have addressed that.

Why bother?

Preparing a good quality application which has a chance of snatching the crown will of course take some time and effort. So why bother? Well how about the following reasons for starters:

  • being designated the European Capital of Volunteering will raise the profile of volunteering within your region and will shine a spotlight on the great work already going on and the areas for further development
  • the very process of applying will ensure closer dialogue between the council and the voluntary sector which can only be helpful for future cooperation and collaborative working
  • businesses will want to be associated with such a prestigious award and will look to beef up their employer supported volunteering programmes and consider further investment
  • the local media, always on the lookout for a story which shines a favourable light on their local patch, will be more receptive to covering volunteering which will give added profile and publicity
  • and most important of all, local residents will be so inspired by the prominence given to volunteering in their area that they will immediately rush to their local Volunteer Centre to see how they can sign up and join in the fun.

Volunteers’ Week

What better time to begin planning your application than during Volunteers’ Week, which showcases all that is great about volunteering in the UK.

As in previous years there are hundreds of events taking place from awards ceremonies, barbecues, roadshows and tea parties. This year we are encouraging volunteers to share their own stories and experiences on social media using the hashtag #ivolunteer to raise awareness and encourage others to get involved. Being recognised as the European Capital of Volunteering would be a fantastic tribute to the 20m or so people who volunteer regularly in our communities.

To misquote dreadfully from Skinner, Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds circa 1996… let’s ensure volunteering is coming home in 2016 (or 2017)!

Have a great Volunteers’ Week.

Oh, and for those of you who are interested: the European Capital of Culture this year is shared between the Czech city of Pilsen and Mons in Belgium, while Turin in Italy holds the title of 2015 European Capital of Sport.

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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.

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