Mike Walton examines the latest developments in the government’s efforts to make increased youth volunteering a reality.
There’s a new kid on the charity block. And first impressions are that this kid’s streetwise and intent on establishing a very positive image. The kid’s also got some powerful friends, is ambitious, and has some useful-looking financial backers already.
The kid in question is the new charity, called (simply and memorably) v. This name was announced at the launch of the charity in a West End cinema on 8 May 2006. It clearly delighted the young people involved in creating it, and those in the audience receiving the news. So surely it will help the charity to be effective and to reach its youthful target audience. It has the task of delivering a step-change in youth volunteering in the UK, and engaging a million new young people in volunteering and community action over the next five years.
The charity was born out of the deliberations of the Russell Commission, established in May 2004 by the then home secretary, David Blunkett, and the chancellor, Gordon Brown. It was designed to develop a new national framework for youth action and engagement, in line with the government’s declared enthusiasm for increasing the range, number, and quality of youth volunteering opportunities.
The commission launched a nationwide consultation in October 2004, receiving over 700 responses from voluntary and community sector organisations, and 6,000 responses from young people. Ian Russell, chief executive of Scottish Power, presented their final recommendations to the chancellor and home secretary in March 2005. The recommendations were welcomed by the government. The Russell Commission wants over 50%. of the 7m 16-25 year olds across the UK to volunteer annually. Currently, 41% of this age-group volunteer.
The Russell Commission recommended the following:
- a series of campaigns to promote awareness of volunteering, in order to establish volunteering as an activity for all young people across the education system
- the establishment of a national portal to ensure that young people have access to information about volunteering opportunities
- creating a volunteering ethos in educational institutions, including secondary schools
- instituting a ‘dedicated implementation body’ to ensure delivery of the framework and the establishment of a high level of participation by young people in its structures and work
- establishing a firm funding basis, from both private and public sources.
The report sees the role of schools as fundamental in establishing positive attitudes to volunteering, with the citizenship curriculum as the means of conveying the message. Recommendation 4 says: ‘It should be commonplace for young people to volunteer whilst they are at school, college or in higher education. All education institutions should have a volunteering ethos.’
The authors see opportunities for schools to create the right ethos through the systematic co-ordination of: citizenship education provision; the community plan (in specialist schools, especially); and schemes such as Millennium Volunteers, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, ASDAN, the Princess Diana Memorial Awards, and Changemakers’ Citizenship programme.
Following the report’s publication, the Home Office set up a small implementation team to take forward its recommendations. The government has allocated £50m over three years to support this implementation. This is reinforced by a three-year fundraising campaign, that aims to attract £50m from private sector sources. These donations will be matched by the Treasury, making a total of £150m.
Some funding has been allocated during this initial phase: to 45 organisations for developing strategies to involve young people and to seven other organisations to develop capacity-building programmes. As it was unusual for a government department to set up a charity, especially with a big budget, it was thought important to give it independence rapidly.
The fact that no mention was made of schools at the launch event suggests that there is plenty of opportunity to get in on the act – by making friends with the new kid on the block! There will come a time when schools are bound to be needed if v is to achieve all of its objectives. In the meantime, schools can prepare the way for opportunities to access the resources held by v. Whatever the state of play in your school, you can get yourselves ready for the day v turns its attention to schools in this massive enterprise. Creating a ‘volunteering ethos’ doesn’t cost money and however well advanced your school is in establishing such an ethos, conducting a self-review is a useful, informative, and often salutary exercise. The detailed wording of the commission’s fourth recommendation provides a practical agenda for schools to undertake a review.
The Russell Commission recommended a youth-led approach. The bridging organisation, V20, which helped to bring the new charity into being, was youth-led (as was v’s launch event) and the new charity will clearly be youth-led at all levels.
At the launch, Gordon Brown and his newly-appointed ministerial colleague Ed Miliband were not allowed to make speeches. However, they were cheekily cross-examined by two youthful interviewers.
Mr Brown, when asked, ‘Can we count on you for the long term? After all, you might get another job!’, cheerfully declared his future support. ‘You all heard that!’ exclaimed the other interviewer in delight! Mr Miliband was keen to see the charity changing the poor public image of young people. ‘Governments alone can’t change society,’ he said. This should make us optimistic and determined to see schools playing their part in volunteering.
Russell Commission Report www.russellcommission.org
v website: www.wearev.com
Mike Walton is an education consultant and former deputy director of Education Extra.