Big Society, McDonalds, Asda and Volunteering

This is a guest blog by Dave Thomas, Manager of the Volunteer Centre, who expresses his personal opinions.

One of the government’s big ideas is the concept of the Big Society. Those of us who have been involved in it for years have tended to call it Volunteering. Over the years, we have realised that volunteers, volunteer managers and volunteer-involving organisations need some support. To meet these support needs, Volunteer Centres evolved via the old Volunteer Bureaux.

Now that the politicians have realised that, to help the much heralded cuts to stick, volunteers could usefully deliver lots of services that used to be paid for by the public sector, they have decided to jump aboard the volunteering bandwagon, although it seems that they are taking very little note of what is already in place and appear to be in the early stages of setting up a completely new support system.

We have already seen the failure of the JobCentre Plus contract to engage volunteers as an intermediate step to employment. OK, this project had ridiculously high targets, but the fact remains that , with a few exceptions, the project didn’t involve the existing expertise within Volunteer Centres.

Then to my, and many other people’s complete amazement, the Olympics 2012 volunteering was entrusted to the safekeeping of McDonalds. Imagine the conversation, “Do you want a volunteering opportunity with that?”.  I wait, with interest, to find out how the thousands of the “MacVols” at the London Olympics will be coordinated, managed and supported. I will be interested to find out how many of them will have a disability, a mental health problem or other additional support need and I keep my fingers crossed that they won’t be excluded in favour of the “easy” volunteers.  I would love to know whether this has even been considered by MacDonalds or the Olympic organisers.

Yesterday we heard that the Big Society Network, a supposedly independent charity with very close links to the government, has linked up with Asda. Today, Volunteering England issued a policy briefing that begins with this helpful introduction:

A number of members have been in touch with us asking for clarity on the Big Society Network, following a recent announcement that they will be getting funding from the Asda Foundation for the ‘Your square mile project’. Members have been concerned that this may be an attempt to rival the existing volunteering infrastructure. Volunteering England is keen to work with the Big Society Network to ensure they understand the existing voluntary and community sector networks and therefore add something to the sector rather than duplicating work.

 Volunteering England has been engaging with the Big Society Network primarily to better understand the Government’s vision for a Big Society. Although the Big Society Network is an independent charity which was set up in March 2010, the Government has promoted its work. Also the Executive Chairman of the network, Nat Wei, was ennobled in May 2010, and now sits in the House of Lords as an advisor to Government on the Big Society.

They go on to explain:

The Big Society Network has three goals:

1. To encourage and enable meaningful, local action by citizens, especially amongst people who are currently unengaged in their communities.
2. To raise the number of people who take part in neighbourhood groups outside of work and home, and to support those groups as they grow.
3. To help neighbourhood groups and social enterprises access local powers and rights created under the government’s “Big Society legislation”.

They also make this pledge:

Volunteering England will continue to work to strengthen and promote volunteering infrastructure, and will update members as and when we have any more information about the activities of Big Society Network. There are clearly some unanswered questions about how the network will interact with existing infrastructure, however their projects are at an early stage of development, which may indicate there is still time to influence their agenda. Members may want to register with the network in order to keep up-to-date with their progress (click here for details http://www.thebigsociety.co.uk/register.html).

I have signed up to their website and I strongly urge anyone with an interest in volunteering and volunteer management to do the same. As professionals in our field, we must ensure that the private sector’s involvement in volunteering incorporates and retains the best practice that has been developed around volunteering over many years.

If we fail, we will be letting down the hard-to-reach potential volunteers of tomorrow who could well be excluded from the benefits that volunteering should be offering to them.

I shudder to think that my future shopping list for my local Asda store could include:

  • Bread
  • Milk
  • Baked Beans
  • Volunteering Opportunity

If we fail, we will be letting down the hard-to-reach potential volunteers of tomorrow who could well be excluded from the benefits that volunteering should be offering to them.

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About Volunteer Centre South Derbyshire

We are the Volunteer Centre serving South Derbyshire, supporting volunteers, volunteer managers and volunteering organsiations
This entry was posted in Good Practice, Volunteer Centre South Derbyshire, Volunteering and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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