Volunteering is part of the Social Fabric of East Durham
Volunteering can deliver social and economic change – but it still requires investment if those benefits are to be realised.
This week was the official volunteers’ week in Britain celebrating the enormous work that unpaid workers do when they volunteer to help a person, special cause or group of people. In our area, East Durham Trust is the flagship voluntary and community sector organisation that helps to maintain the necessary infrastructure to support all types of volunteering in our area.
I therefore used this week to visit the Trust to gain a greater perspective of the work they do. Any community groups in the East Durham area can join the East Durham Trust for free and gain specialist advice on anything from funding, procurement, accommodation and community engagement. Most importantly, the Trust’s overall primary purpose is to promote the regeneration of our rural and urban areas suffering the effects of social and economic decline.
Each year volunteers across the UK donate the equivalent of over £40 billion of their time to their local communities with more than 20 million people working over 100 million hours unpaid. This dedication is to be welcomed, however more importantly these organisations and individuals also need to be supported if they are to continue to thrive.
People typically choose to play a part in community activities if they are truly voluntary, small-scale, friendly and self-fulfilling. Whereas the vision of the ‘Big Society’ is something quite different: supporting civil society in ways that are less voluntary in nature, formalised and complicated by the role of other elements such as private business and public services.
There is also a real danger that volunteers find themselves taking over where public sector staff have been made redundant, raising the issue of ‘job substitution’. Additionally, voluntary groups are collectively losing over £3 billion in Government funding between now and 2016 at a time when they are already struggling to maintain provision. A major concern must be that as this Tory-led Coalition cuts services in the most-deprived areas, it will undermine the work underway in the voluntary sector as their task simply becomes too tough.
Pushing ahead with the vague agenda of the ‘Big Society’, alongside public spending cuts which will shrink the ability of the state to provide key services is certain to undermine the free spirit of civil society and people’s ability to volunteer. However, it should not undermine the will and determination of those people who dedicate a great deal of time and energy to help others. Surveys consistently show that people that volunteer know many more people and consider their communities better places to live. I hope many more people across Peterlee and East Durham, if they consider that they are able, will be inspired to volunteer.