Posts Tagged ‘Big Society’
The Big Society seems to be disappearing from political rhetoric these days, but in Kensal Rise, as local people come to terms with key cuts in public services, we’re witnessing an example of citizen-power in action.
Following the decision to close the Kensal Rise Library over two months ago, local residents have been out in force to campaign for volunteers to run the library and to attract donations for additional books and IT services.
Determined to keep a local library service, local volunteers have organised a ‘pop-up’ library, with further plans to transform the old library building into a social hub at the heart of the community – also staffed by volunteers.
Frankly, I’m absolutely in awe of the small group of committed people who believe in their local library service, and are doing all they can to defend and protect it. However, the key question I keep returning to is the issue of sustainability. What happens when the good will of a small group of volunteers runs out?
Is goodwill enough?
It’s clear that the local council is not prepared to back down on its decision to close the library. Instead, it appears that it is relying on community members to step forward and fill the gaps in key public services. Of course, it’s possible to argue that volunteers have been doing this for decades – centuries even – filling gaps in public services. So what’s new?
Well, it seems to me that what’s new in all of this is the shockingly erroneous assumption that underpins the citizen-power agenda – that volunteering is a cost-free alternative to publicly funded services. Supporting volunteers to deliver high quality public services requires co-ordination, training, support, good governance – as well as every day travel and subsistence expenses for the committed individuals who give their time to keep valuable services open and accessible to their communities. Assuming that all of this can be delivered for free, ad-infinitum, is a huge mistake and one that will see the goodwill, time and talents of local people eventually run out.
David Cameron has said that he wants people to come out and reclaim these services for themselves. But unless this activity is properly resourced and supported, it’s unlikely to be sustained in the long term, and may ultimately have the reverse effect, as volunteers become disillusioned and withdraw their support.
Here at vinspired, we’re particularly concerned about high levels of youth unemployment, and we’ve already made a compelling case for renewed investment in high quality, structured volunteering programmes which enable young people to develop their skills and experience, whilst helping to deliver key public services. We have experience of delivering long term volunteering programmes such as vtalent year and 24 /24. These programmes provide an important contribution to this agenda, enabling young people to undertake 6 – 9 month placements in local councils, supporting the delivery of education, leisure and library services.
Creative thinking on the part of government could turn a youth unemployment crisis into an innovative public service volunteering programme. So, pick up the phone Dave – we’re waiting for your call.
Sadly, after lots of amazing work, the vinvolved teams programme is coming to a close, so we’ve been getting lots of emails asking if vinspired and the vinspired awards will still be available to voluntary organisations and their young volunteers. The good news is that organisations, charities, CICs and social enterprises (large and small, local or national) can continue to access these services completely free of charge. I thought it might be useful and more efficient to answer the most common queries about the vinspired service here…
Free advertising of vacancies for young volunteers
If you are looking to recruit young volunteers, you can advertise your volunteering opportunities totally free of charge on vinspired.com. You can use vinspired to promote any volunteering opportunity as long as it’s unpaid (expenses are OK) and helps other people, the environment or society. (We don’t advertise jobs, work experience or training, sorry.)
You will get a page for your organisation and access to our easy-to-use content management system so that you can post ads for your opportunities. When someone applies, you’ll get an email with their details, and can continue with the recruitment process as appropriate for your organisation (using your own application forms, conducting interviews if necessary).
You can sign up for a vinspired account for your organisation here. (It’s quick and easy.)
vinspired awards for your volunteers
The vinspired awards are available for any young volunteer aged 16-25 in England. The recognition scheme is totally free for volunteers and organisations. There are two ways to get vinspired awards for your volunteers.
Through v’s central validation team: Simply ask your volunteers to join vinspired, log their hours and apply for their award. Their award application will be validated by v‘s central team and they’ll get a certificate through the post. If there are any issues with the application, the central team will contact them by email to request more information. You may be contacted to provide a reference for your volunteers.
Through your organisation: If you would like to be able to validate awards and give out certificates, you can apply to join the vinspired awards network. Once your application has been accepted, you’ll be able to validate vinspired awards online and order certificates. You’ll get user guides and support by phone and email, and your first five validations will be moderated by the central validation team to make sure you’ve got the hang of it. Download an application form here.
All opportunities you post on vinspired will automatically appear on the vinspired iPhone app, without any extra work for you. The app is totally free to download from iTunes and has had some great reviews in the press as well as great feedback from volunteers and organisations. We are currently working on free apps for other mobile operating systems, which we hope to release in May – again any opportunities you post on vinspired will then be available on these platforms. Click on the App store logo to download the app, or (if, like me, you haven’t got an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch) find out what it does here.
I think that covers the most common queries – shout if I’ve missed anything! We’re working on lots of exciting digital projects at the moment so stay tuned for more news.
Well what a week! It started off with v20 and I attending a Big Society Network event at Somerset House to hear the Prime Minister, David Cameron, mount a robust defence of his Big Society idea following a couple of stormy weeks on the subject. Then off to Age UK to talk about how we might work together to help achieve some of their objectives through youth social action. Then off to a meeting with the Rank Foundation to explore the possibility of a new programme for young volunteers. Then, our regular catch-up with Volunteering England to share perspectives on how the land lies.
I had a very rewarding discussion with SSAT (Special Schools and Academies Trust) about how we might together extend volunteering and social action within schools. I’d really love this to happen. We also discussed tweaking the vinspired awards online to make them even more accessible and we’re looking at the potential and usefulness of accreditation. On a lighter note I took my Director of Programmes, Rena Sodhi, for a drink since she’s leaving to take up the role of Chief Executive of Safer London having done a great job for v.
We organised a roundtable discussion on Wednesday morning on the subject of employee volunteering with big companies like Sky and Enterprise sharing experiences of their respective programmes. It was chaired by journalist Peter Crush of HR Magazine, included the IOD and was most insightful. Wednesday also brought me a timely reminder that no matter how balanced your contribution journalists pick and choose from what you say to support the angle they want to portray! C’est la vie.
On Thursday at Peabody’s London Wellbeing Conference I shared the platform with Lord Wei, Geoff Mulgan from the Young Foundation and Alison Ogden-Newton from Social Enterprise London. I always learn something new at these sorts of things and social housing presents a really interesting context in which to engage volunteers. I also met the wonderful Baroness Newlove so I look forward to continuing our dialogue. In the evening I attended the Co-operative’s launch of their radical new CSR programme with a strand of ‘Inspiring Young People’. Such powerful speakers as Jonathon Porritt of Forum for the Future and Harriet Lamb of the Fair Trade Foundation contributed to a brilliant evening and this is an excellent example of a big business taking CSR seriously.
Whilst all this is going on so too is our reorganisation to reduce costs, our drawing to a close all our current funded programmes and our continuing drive to secure investment in youth volunteering! It couldn’t be done without great people.
Friday was a wonderful day. A meeting with our Chairman, Rod Aldridge, led to a really, really big idea to help young people during this period of high unemployment and lost opportunity. I’m really excited about it and will do all in my power to make it happen as v moves towards v2.0. On this high then I proceeded with Kevin Spacey and a young volunteer to 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister and for the Old Vic Tunnels to receive a Big Society Award for their youth volunteering programme (the third v supported project to do so). I loved driving through the gates of Number Ten in Kevin Spacey’s 1986 Granada! It was a lovely visit and I even saw the picture on the PM’s phone of the famous mouse spotted in his flat and we were introduced to the new cat whose job it is to keep the mouse at bay! Well done to the Old Vic Tunnels, your recognition is well deserved.
Well, yesterday I and a few v20 heard from the man himself why he is recommitting to his Big Society idea. After the furore of last week speculators half expected, half hoped that the Prime Minister would jack it all in and admit it was a big mistake. Far from it. What we witnessed was a strong defence of his big idea and an even stronger defence against the argument that it is all just a cover for cuts.
It is absolutely true that David Cameron was committed to his big society ideal long before he became Prime Minister. It is equally true that he involved voluntary sector organisations in the formation of his youth flagship National Citizens Service and it is also true that he tried and tested this prior to implementation. He made it clear that power is best held in the hands of citizens. So, how come he is being vilified for doing what he said he would do?
The answer lies in what has really changed here since it’s not the man himself. It is of course the context. It is a fact that we need to reduce the deficit so that in the long term we may all prosper. That means, pain for many and I don’t agree that the voluntary sector should be immune from this. As always, the devil is in the doing.
Currently, nationally funded Programmes that encourage volunteering, and on which small frontline organisations depend, are coming to an end next month. Local Authorities have to cut spending by 28% in 4 years so that reduces funding from that source. There is wholesale change in the education sector, massive change in the health service, rising inflation, increased taxation, rising unemployment, rising numbers of young people not in education, employment or training, rising costs in Higher Education and fewer incentives and opportunities to keep the young in gainful occupation. I could go on.
The context has most definitely changed since David Cameron first articulated his ideals on Big Society. He now leads the Coalition Government with its many calls for matters to be attended to resulting in multiple strands of ‘change’ and they’re all coming together to affect perception, outlook, goodwill and reality. What I see forming is a perfect storm and I truly hope I’m wrong.
If you’re aged 16-25, have your say about Big Society on Big Society’s Big Mouth.
Today, v’s chief executive Terry Ryall announced plans to launch a Big Society Youth Inquiry. Here at v, we’ve been totally inspired by all the debate and discussion that’s been generated on the vblog around young people’s role in the Big Society, and we decided to do something about it. Or more precisely, we decided to help you do something about it.
So here’s the idea: In January 2011, we’ll be launching a Big Society online community, which is open to all young people across the country. We’ll be seeking your views about what the Big Society means to you, what action you’d like to take, and the support you need to make it happen. We’re not really interested in talking shops (yawn). But we are interested in getting all your brilliant brains ticking together, to help us shape up a Big Society where every young person feels valued and can participate.
For those of you who like doing stuff in the real world, we’ll also be making an appearance in communities around England. We’ll be introducing ourselves to the neighbours and finding out more about what issues your local area is facing, and work with you to come up with brilliant solutions. We’ll give you some practical project management and fundraising tips and we might even throw a few quid your way to get things started.
65% of young people are keen to learn more about the Big Society, and to find out how they can get involved. Our online community will be a great place to start, giving you the chance to take part in surveys, polls and discussion groups as well as uploading your own blogs and video clips to share your views about the role of young people in the Big Society.
The community is now under construction, and we’re recruiting people to contribute. We’d love to hear from you, so please get in touch to tell us what you think about the idea and what will encourage you to get involved. Better still, if you’ve got something to say about the Big Society, then get it off your chest – write a blog or upload a video – all soapboxes welcome!
You can reply to the blog or email us at email@example.com