Archive for the ‘Talking topics & opinion’ Category
Close your eyes, and imagine you are on the finest beach in the world, lying on a towel with a cold drink and a trashy book. As you wiggle your toes in the warm sand, the stress floats gradually from your knotted muscles.
Your towel is supported by four million grains of sand, give or take. You wouldn’t miss any individual grain if it wasn’t there, yet those grains combine to turn your corner of paradise into something wonderful.
The volunteering effort around the Olympics is a bit like that. OK, there’s a load of top quality international sport going on, but it wasn’t that which won London the bid. What is special about our Olympics is that up to 70,000 people will volunteer – each individually anonymous, but all part of a glorious event starting with the Opening Ceremony on 27 July and ending with the Paralympics closing ceremony on 9 September. I’m not a great sports fan, yet I felt a strong calling to be part of this magnificent adventure.
In November, I was one of 14,000 people who embarked on the audition process to perform at one of the ceremonies: a hopelessly overambitious goal for a mildly overweight middle-aged accountant. Although I sing with Rock Choir and do some impro I was woefully unprepared for … a dance audition. I don’t do dance. Pretty much everyone there was younger than me, fitter than me, and better looking than me. After the four hour audition, I was expecting a polite “Thanks, but no thanks”. Yet somehow, I scraped through by the skin of my teeth to a second audition, where I was asked demonstrate my abilities at an entirely different new skill.
And astonishingly, on 16 January, I received some extraordinary news: I will be performing at the 2012 Opening Ceremony. So if you scan your TV on that amazing night, for one nanosecond one of the pixels will be me.
There will be thousands of opportunities to volunteer in programmes before, during and after the Olympics. So if you fancy being a grain of sand on the finest beach in the world, find a project that aligns with your passions and be part of something amazing this summer.
Today marks the beginning of National Apprenticeship Week 2012, which celebrates UK apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals and businesses.
Apprenticeships are potentially a great way to begin your career – offering the chance to simultaneously earn and learn on the job, on the way to gaining nationally recognised qualifications and enjoy career progression opportunities.
If you’re currently considering your career prospects, then this week might the perfect opportunity to check out one of more than 700 National Apprenticeship Week events and activities taking place across England, where colleges and organisations will be promoting and recruiting apprentice opportunities for young people.
And of course, there are currently a range of careers-related volunteering opportunities over on the vInspired website. Whether it’s marketing and PR, media and film, event organising or office admin, we’ve got a range of opportunities to help build new professional skills and put you in a better position to apply for that perfect job.
Volunteering in general is a great way to help others, whilst at the same time learning a lot about yourself and building skills and strengths to take into your professional career. If you’re aged between 14-25, register with vinspired.com to find out more and connect with our network of young people who are making a difference and doing some good.
For more information on the benefits of apprenticeships, watch this video from National Apprenticeship Week:
I commute into London from the Chilterns – a beautiful area, famous for its wildlife. Red Kites soar above my garden; a Sparrowhawk recently perched on my bird feeder, waiting for its lunch to fly in; a fox wanders round the station car park at night; and my lane plays host to owls, bats, and badgers.
Like many Chilternians, I rely on Chiltern Railways to get into work. You would think that the trains would not pose a threat to the wildlife but in the weekend before Christmas, four sizeable birds were hit by trains, and their remains travelled all the way to Marylebone Station on the front of the train before dropping onto the tracks.
I hate to see dead wildlife so I reported the birds to the station staff, who weren’t interested … then the Chiltern Railways Twitter Feed (which escalated it to Network Rail but got nowhere) … then the Station Manager in person … then again to Twitter … and finally a formal complaint to Customer Services. The issue was even trending on Twitter for a while. The station manager said it was a Network Rail problem as the birds were on the lines. Network Rail, it seems, felt it was the Station Manager’s problem as the birds were in the station. After a couple of dozen communications spanning nearly a month, the manager grudgingly removed the dead birds. I despair at lack of initiative, recalcitrance, and those who side-step accountability.
What a refreshing contrast that the Team v Young Leaders at vInspired have such a “can do” attitude. In their recent food poverty drive, 41 of them inspired a further 308 young people and 135 schools and businesses (including Tesco and Morrisons) to secure over twenty thousand food items to help 6,629 poorer families over Christmas. The Young Leaders don’t hide behind jurisdiction; they don’t look for excuses to not do what needs doing. What is more, they are taking great pride in spending as little of their budget as possible. They blagged food from the public and supermarkets, and ran fundraising pub quizzes and Zumba classes.
Luke Harris went one step further: he spotted David Miliband on the tube one morning, and introduced himself; briefed the MP on the programme; and invited him to meet the volunteers later that week for a photoshoot outside the Houses of Parliament. Luke then jumped off the tube and sprinted across to the train at the opposite platform: he had gone way past his stop!
In a time when young people are often portrayed negatively in the press I, for one, can’t wait to give these Young Leaders a chance to run the country.
When I was a kid, one of my favourite fairy tales was The Elves and the Shoemaker. An impoverished shoemaker is helped out by a couple of elves, who secretly make shoes for him overnight until he’s back on his feet. I adored the story because I was intrigued by the altruism of the elves. The glow I felt inside when reading the story is the same one I now feel when volunteering.
These days, I am fired up by the concept of Guerrilla Gardening. From the moment I first saw a news item about it, I loved the fact that these enterprising individuals would emerge from the mist, transform some miserable scrag-end of land into a colourful feature, and then disappear into the night.
Throughout the capital, Guerrilla Gardeners have quietly transformed their communities. I used to study impro in Kentish Town and loved walking round the area: because everywhere the council has planted a tree, someone has turned the surrounding bare earth into a miniature garden. Guerrilla Gardening can, it seems, be done on a modest scale.
When I moved into my current house, there was an area nearby that used to depress me. It was a small neglected piece of land: mainly clay with deep holes in it, and covered with brambles and nettles. I hated passing it, and I am sure the locals felt the same. It was way too big a project to do in a couple of hours overnight, but happily the owners of the land were delighted for me to tackle it.
So over a series of weekends, I
- filled in the holes;
- designed the landscape;
- chopped down some dead trees;
- used the dead trees to edge the flower beds;
- weeded the space; and
- distributed a lorryload of topsoil into the flower beds.
I wanted to do the whole project on a shoestring budget, so many of the original flowers were cuttings from my or my Mum’s garden, and abandoned plants and wild flowers on a nearby building site that was about to be cleared. At one of vInspired’s project showcases, the Waterways Trust was giving away wild flower seeds, so I accepted these gratefully and scattered them in the Community Garden.
The garden needed a feature to tie it into its surroundings, so I built a bench from railway sleeper offcuts and created paths to draw the eye to this focal point from both directions. The garden now has real presence in its corner location, and the design works well whether you are approaching by car, foot or horseback from the nearby stables. The project has drawn many appreciative comments from the community and a dog walker joined me for an hour’s weeding last spring, to add his contribution to the project.
So if there is a local eyesore that would benefit from a bit of TLC, do see if you can improve matters.
A Word of Warning
It is very rare, but some councils have tried to prosecute Guerrilla Gardeners for improving their neighbourhoods. Just last Saturday, the Mirror (right) reported that a couple had cleared the rubbish and weeds from a piece of council land (a job the council is paid to carry out) and have been hit with a £78 demand by the council for a licence to allow them to do the work. Alternatively, the council requires the couple to throw rubbish on the land to “return it to how they found it”. Doubtless if they do as instructed, another department of the council will prosecute them for fly-tipping …
I do want to encourage you to improve your community: but please don’t do anything illegal.
The Good Childhood Report 2012 published earlier this month by The Children’s Society, gives us rich food for thought. Perhaps not surprisingly it found that family is the most important factor in children’s well-being, particularly its harmony and stability. Having friends and the quality of peer relationships feature highly too, though to a lesser degree than relationships within the family.
Feeling safe both at home and at school are important to children’s well-being but around 7% reported not feeling safe at school. In fact those reporting regular and recent bullying by peers are six times as likely to have low well-being as those not bullied at all. On the issue of feeling safe, girls feel safer in rural areas than in urban ones.
Changes to household income were found to affect well-being, particularly in the poorest 20% of households. I welcome the news that most children are happy with their health and place importance on doing well at school. However, one must be concerned by the link between poverty and lower educational aspirations and expectations.
A real fascination of mine is body image in adolescence, so I was particularly struck by the results pertaining to children’s feelings about their appearance. No surprises really: negative feelings about appearance increase with age and more so for girls than boys.
As an advocate of youth-led activity and active listening to the young, the most striking, fundamental issue in the report for children’s quality of life is that related to choice, freedom and autonomy. A substantial minority (23%) feel they have very little choice, with 23% feeling that their views are not listened to locally. This also worsens with age. For those of us who work with the young: take heed and do more!
The Good Childhood Report set out what children need and how they can get it and I believe that volunteering can play a significant part in many respects. Especially on issues of self-esteem and confidence, relationships with others, opportunities for free play, access to the outdoors, feeling safe, experiencing care and caring and having plenty to do in the local area. Volunteers can provide opportunities for children to experience all of the above – and volunteering itself enables young people to experience these things for themselves.
Here at vInspired, opportunities for young people to be heard occur through programmes like vcashpoint and Team v; and we also link young people to many wider opportunities in the charity sector through our website, vinspired.com.
Of course there is little that can replace the fundamental of a stable and harmonious family. But we can most certainly supplement it and fill some of the gaps to give children the best possible present and future.
Most of us would agree that the internet is a societal force for good. It has created previously unrealised “global communities” and brought the world to our fingertips in a pretty astonishing way.
For professional organisations large and small, the benefits of having gone digital and online are obvious. But is the same thing true in our personal lives? Has the evolution of email, through to social networks and smartphones, genuinely enhanced our individual quality of life? Or can a healthy interaction with the online world quickly turn into a distractive (or even destructive) force on our own lives and more importantly, our offline relationships with others?
Well, there are signs that 2012 could be a year in which people are feeling “digital fatigue”. A recent New York Times blog effectively raises the point by asking: “can you appreciate a beautiful sunset – without feeling the need to capture it on your iPhone and share it online?”.
The emerging trend of anti-distraction software, (which once installed can be scheduled to block internet access during intended productive offline periods) is further evidence that for many, “social” networks and internet usage have started to feel more like a distractive habit than a genuine enhancement of their social lives.
A number of books and academic studies have been published on this very subject – the important link between our sense of wellbeing and having daily periods when we empty our minds, freeing it of distraction, to help generate new ideas.
Perhaps most troubling of all, was a study which revealed that over one in three recent UK divorce cases specifically mentioned Facebook. So social networking sites are not only distracting us personally – but acting as a devaluing and even destructive force on our most meaningful offline connections and relationships with others.
There is perhaps, a threshold of healthy personal online interaction with others which once passed, comes at the expense of meaningful offline experiences and relationships.
Getting out there and volunteering, is one way making a tangible difference to the community, gives us real, genuine communication with others and hopefully, meaningful insight about and value of ourselves. Why not pledge to spend less of the time you spend every week distracting yourself online, and more time out in the real world engaging with others?
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. But it can be the ideal time of year to re-invigorate yourself. So if you work at a computer or in an office why not get out there in the fresh air?
Not only can you clear those cobwebs from your head and start toning that fat winter belly with a bit of outdoor action, but you can also combine it with volunteering at the same time.
The Surrey branch of the Ramblers has teamed up with the council to patrol the countryside to make sure paths are kept clear. Volunteers will undertake work such as clearing the overgrowth and fixing signs
If you think that all sounds a bit fuddy duddy, bobble hat and tea flask, then think again and read up on the history of the radical Ramblers Association, which was formed after a mass trespass (resulting in five arrests) of Kinder Scout (the highest point in the peak District) in the 1930s. It remains a key moment in the Ramblers’ history and ever since they have campaigned for open access to the countryside.
So, if you’re feeling a bit revolting this New Year, Surrey County Council wants to hear from a variety of individuals, such as horse riders, and other organisations that want to get involved. You can read more here or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Could rambling be your New Year’s Revolution?
I will always remember a couple of things my dad used to say to me as a child while we picked raspberries: “If you squish a raspberry, you had better eat it” and “will you stop squishing the raspberries -they’re supposed to go in the punnet”.
I was very fortunate to have strong role models in my parents. Right from the start, they set clear boundaries and made sure that my siblings and I knew what was expected of us; what was “right”; and also what my parents expected of themselves.
Likewise at school, the teachers lived by the rule book. Mainly to make their lives easier I think (small boys can be little monsters), although I am sure that giving us a strong steer in life was also important. The ultimate threat was for the school to tell our parents about a major transgression … and I would have died of shame if I had disappointed the parents who had made such sacrifices to give us a good start in life.
As I emerged from my oh-so-painful teens via my accountancy training and into a professional career as a Finance Director, I could trace a strong set of professional ethics all the way back to my childhood. In decision-making I often ask myself “What is the right thing to do?”.
This is why it is vital that the Government doesn’t wash its hands of young people who are not in education, employment or training schemes (“NEETs”). Everyone needs something useful to do with their time, something to strive for. And young people need strong role models as they transition from education into the adult world; people who can help them develop a strong moral compass; people who can explain to them why they should not squish the raspberries.
As youth unemployment increases, youth volunteering becomes ever more important as pairing young people with youth workers gives them the opportunity to work alongside a strong role model.
Unfulfilled Potential needs to be harnessed.
Like thousands of other people over Christmas, I volunteered some of my time. And I really enjoyed it. In fact, it was the best thing I did all Christmas.
I helped prepare and serve lunch on Christmas day at an old people’s home down the road. It was only for about 4 hours and the time flew by. I met some great people, helped serve some nice food and felt like I made a little bit of a difference to a few people’s Christmases.
However, I left wishing I had asked one question of my fellow volunteers. Why are you all here? Why are you spending Christmas day away from your family and friends? The volunteers were from all walks of life and I left wondering what their individual motivations would have been.
A couple of days later I saw one of them and managed to ask them. “Because they needed volunteers” came the reply.
The reasons why people volunteer can vary greatly – from complex personal influences, to the simplest of human instincts to respond to those in need. Did you volunteer over Christmas? What were your reasons for making the commitment? We’d love to hear your stories here.