Awards season always comes around so fast. The glitz and glamour of The Globes, the Oscars and of course, our very own vInspired National Awards. Now yet another stellar event is in the diary – the Team London Achievement Awards have now opened for nominations.
All vInspired supporters know the positive power of volunteering – so it’s great to see another opportunity for people to get recognised for the good stuff that they do. These awards will be celebrating the positive effect volunteering can have in communities, with the aim of recognising those that have demonstrated a particular enthusiasm and commitment to volunteering in London – either individually, as a team or as an organisation
So while you may not be a budding Michelle Williams or Brad Pitt, this does prove that anyone who gives their time to help others will get their chance to shine. So if you know an individual, team or organisation based in London whose efforts benefit London or Londoners and deserve a large Boris shaped pat on the back – it’s time to get nominating. Good Luck!
Nominations close 1st February 2012. For more information, check out the Team London website.
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.
Boris Johnson recently stated that the young unemployed British “lack energy and appetite” and should adopt foreign attitudes when it comes to hard work. Being of mixed ethnicity myself (British/Turkish) it got me thinking: is a hard-worker born or nurtured?
My Father, who is Turkish, moved to London in the ‘80s with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a dream of a better future. He has been a labourer ever since and so was the perfect person to hold this debate with.
When I first quizzed him on Boris’ statement he initially agreed; sharing his struggles of finding work and how he would knock on doors offering cheap labour, anything to put a roof over his head and food in his mouth. He then went on to describe a friend he met recently who moved from Italy to London with her two children and now works two jobs to support them. One involved getting up at 6am to clean offices and the other working 9-5 at a hairdresser’s earning minimum wage. “How many people do you reckon would do that?”, he asked.
I was stumped and even questioned my own work ethic. Could I do that?
Moving off topic, I began asking my Dad about how his work was going. “Not too good, I keep being undercut by these Polish workers. I don’t know how they do it and still earn a living”, he responded. And there it was – my answer!
It’s not that foreign workers necessarily work harder than British – it’s just that their perceptions of work, pay and job satisfaction can differ greatly to ours. Although my Dad would have been happy to do the job for a lower cost when he first arrived in Britain, times had changed. As Britain boomed, his expectation changed too. Prices increased and the standard of living improved, so he grew accustomed to his new way of living – just like the millions of young Brits who have seen their parents prosper, buying houses, working hard and starting families.
Now that the UK faces economic gloom, Boris and government officials need to be sympathetic to a generation who need to radically change their perceptions of what makes a successful citizen. It’s not that we’re lazy – it’s just that society and the media created an expectation, then pulled the rug from beneath our feet.
Maybe it’s time that people like Boris back off, give us all a breather and let us accept our new predicament. Because I know one thing for sure: humans have a great capacity for adapting… but it doesn’t happen overnight.
What do you think of Boris’ views on the UK’s young unemployed? We’d like to hear from you. Share your views below.
On January 16th the vInspired Youth Advisory Board (YAB) descended on the London offices for an exciting day of obscure facts, time travel to 2016 (as you do) and speaking to the DCLG. The day started off on an interesting note with the revelation that a certain YAB member, who will remain anonymous, once had a chip, yes a chip, stuck up his nose for over a month. Once the revelations had finished and the ice was truly broken, the YAB got down to the serious business of the day.
Today the YAB were presenting their vision of what vInspired should look like by 2016. I have to say from watching the team practice and prepare their presentation, I was blown away not only by their ideas, but by their passion for vInspired, youth volunteering, and their belief in what vInspired can achieve in just a few years.
Although I didn’t see Ryan, Flo and Matt in action in front of the trustees, the feedback they, and the rest of the group (who all contributed brilliant ideas for the vision), received was universally fantastic. Not only did they manage to energise what otherwise would have been a rather boring long meeting, but the trustees and SMT were so enthused by the YAB vision that their ideas will take a leading role in the direction vInspired takes in the next few years. Not bad for a day’s work!
The second half of the day was spent with representatives from the Riots Communities and Victim’s Panel from the Department for Local Communities and Government (DCLG). The DCLG has been tasked with trying to understand why the summer riots happened, and ways to prevent future disturbances, with the results to be delivered directly to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The DCLG wanted to hold a consultation with a group of young people who are engaged and proactive in their communities, and who better to speak to than vInspired’s YAB.
There were plenty of strong opinions expressed as the DCLG representatives quizzed members of the YAB on why some young people have high aspirations and are inspired to make a difference and their views on whether young people have enough access to opportunities for work and study at the moment. The YAB had a lot of constructive things to say about youth unemployment and some brilliant suggestions on how opportunities and employment prospects for young people could be improved, especially through encouraging volunteering. It will be interesting to see what the DCLG make of this meeting and whether or not the government listens….
For me Monday’s meeting with the YAB was genuinely insightful and interesting. I was really impressed with how young people at vInspired have so much influence in the charity. With rising youth unemployment and youth service’s being hit hard by spending cuts, the picture is pretty gloomy for young people right now, and the next few years are undeniably going to be challenging. However, with the YAB offering such fresh ideas and perspectives on these issues vInspired is better able to engage and help more young people develop skills and improve their life chances, whilst making a difference in their community.
My internship at vInspired got off to a flying start at the weekend, as I had the opportunity to support the second Team v residential. The Team v programme gives 18-25 year olds the opportunity to lead social action projects in their local communities – helping to change the world, one campaign at a time.
Over 40 Team v leaders rolled up to the venue in London, and despite early morning train travel, they were fizzing with excitement, and thrilled to be back with their Team v family once again. There was a room-wide exclamation of “WOW” upon revealing that together they had collected over 19,000 food items to help 6,000 people affected by food poverty. Despite these phenomenal statistics, I learnt that many Team v leaders faced significant challenges and experienced a huge learning curve during their first campaign. However, in true Team v fashion, they were undeterred and were back fighting fitter than ever to throw themselves into Campaign 2.
Then came the moment we had all been waiting for – the BIG REVEAL of the next Team v campaign. Anticipation had been mounting for days and we were excited to see the leader’s reactions after showing the campaign video for the first time. Campaign 2 aims to combat loneliness and isolation experienced by older people – a cause which seems to be very close to many people’s hearts. Representatives from the Campaign to End Loneliness and the Beth Johnson Foundation spoke about the serious health impacts of loneliness and isolation which can be as big an indicator of lifespan as smoking and obesity. They also led great workshops for our leaders, showing us all that effective intergenerational projects are collaborative, and an opportunity for generations to learn from each other.
I welcomed my day off to relax after a busy weekend, but for our Team v leaders, Monday was campaign kick-off day – and a visit to the Team v Leaders Facebook page showed that many leaders were already making contact with local agencies to get their projects underway. Then again, I would expect nothing less from this group of overwhelmingly motivated, creative, passionate, determined and most of all, inspiring young people. What incredible ambassadors they are for Team v – Go Team v leaders!
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?
So it’s a New Year, a fresh start, time to forget the woes of 2011 and move forward into 2012 with bright optimism – just don’t expect any help from Transport for London.
2nd January saw transport costs rocket by up to 11% with some people having to pay a crippling £250-£400 more for their season tickets – pulling more money away from already cash-strapped citizens. But the most damaging effect will be among the young unemployed, looking to build their CV through unpaid volunteering and internships.
Before I gained my current internship, traveling around London for interviews, volunteering and work experience would cost me £8 – £15 for a one day travelcard (Zone 1-5). That’s almost three hours work just for a travelcard! With my jobseekers allowance cut to around £35 a week due to my weekend bar work (on minimum wage), travel costs became a huge factor in whether or not I could afford to take up unpaid work opportunities, which meant losing out on valuable work experience.
The government needs to realise the hypocrisy of pushing volunteering and internships as ways of getting the young unemployed back into the workplace; whilst also allowing and even defending, the creation of financial barriers to these opportunities through obscene transport fares.
In fact, some discounted travel seems to actively incentivise prolonged youth unemployment. The 16-25 rail card only offers discounts if you’re travelling long distances or within central London during off-peak hours – no use to those interning a 9-5 week then, but a nice perk for those who don’t venture out during working hours, relying exclusively on state support.
What I want to see is an “intern travel card” specifically for those who are volunteering, interning or on an unpaid apprenticeship from day one (rather than the current 6 months wait on Jobseekers Allowance). There are currently many barriers obstructing young people from getting their foot through the door in workplaces – but allowing travel costs to be the decisive barrier is something travel authorities and the government should be ashamed of.
For now I, like many others out there, will be taking the fare rises on the chin. But Boris and transport authorities need to seriously ask themselves if they truly are helping to keep young London moving.
Have soaring travel fares been a factor in you taking up work experience in London, or elsewhere in the UK? Do you agree the government should do more to assist interns and volunteers with travel expenses? We’d love to hear from you.
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 email@example.com
Could rambling be your New Year’s Revolution?