"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Volunteer and the 'Big Society'

I keep trying to ignore all the puns etc on 'The Big Society'. I have had to wait until I cool down for long enough to write a sensible blog on this subject but more and more 'soundbites' from the ConDems mean my 'sensible levels' have not reached the right tolerance yet.

However on holiday over the past couple weeks I suppose I was particularly noticing how many volunteers are already helping in the society already and all this speechifying from the Government is really insulting to them. They get so little recognition already yet so many give up so much time willingly with little thought of thanks.

Like many Mums over the years I have helped out at various things to do with the childrens' education and interests etc. I have served on committees; collected, sorted and sold jumble; made outfits for dancing shows; gone on brownie and school trips etc etc. I have also worked voluntarily for a couple of national charities. I and all the others did all these things because we really enjoyed doing them.

Over the past weeks I watched volunteers who run a Gateway club for adults with learning disabilities who had taken their members on their annual weeks holiday. They were all having a fantastic time and what was even better was the fact that they always go to the same holiday park every year and a lot of the other holiday makers deliberately book to go at the same time to join in the fun. A lot of tears when the coach left on the Saturday morning - mostly from the other holidaymakers!

We wandered off around the little villages doing our usual thing of charity shop hunting, mostly for second hand books. All shops staffed of course by volunteers. The West Somerset railway chugged in and out of a lot of this villages, manned by volunteers. When I could get 'air time' on the computer I got news from the charities I support - my favourite one at the moment is MAMAA [see http://www.mamaa.org/ ] which was set up and is run by volunteers, one of whom was awarded the MBE last year. Incidentally MAMAA is being supported by that same holiday park mentioned above which raises money every year for six charities chosen by the holiday makers and volunteers again are the money raisers.

I haven't mentioned all the fantastic people who did the Moonwalk marathons or the Run for Life races this summer let alone all the other fundraising events all over the country for all sorts of good causes. Often raising money that some would say is filling a gap that government is leaving open: money for schools, hospitals, medical research and more.

But for every story told above there are lots more. Like we are an island but have a charity and volunteers running the Lifeboat service. Nobody has directed any of these 'volunteers', volunteering needs to come from wanting to help, directed volunteering is really conscription. There are plenty of people doing things voluntarily now to fill in the gaps that society should be filling with professionals, surely to have more untrained - even if willing - volunteers 'out there' is not a good thing? And where are so many volunteers supposed to be hiding? Could it be that - as one caller to a radio 'phone in programme suggested this week -that as much as she would like to volunteer she has to work full time to balance the family budget and is just too tired in the evening to help out as much as she would like to?

So excuse me if I get cross that Cleggeron and co seem to think they have invented charity and 'good works' volunteering and they can replace a lot of workers with that too. Because nothing comes for free and if they make existing workers redundant by this 'Big Society' idea as some observers have suggested could happen, well won't there be redundancy payments and job seekers allowance to be paid?

I can't think of a sensible photograph to illuminate this blog so lets have a pretty one instead. A sunset across the Bristol Channel.


  1. I am convinced the Thames Estuary is far prettier!

    Otherwise, thoroughly good post.

  2. Thanks. Won't argue that the Thames Estuary is also beautiful, Julian, will redress the balance and put a photo up soon!