Prioritise volunteering - shape communities

12 May 2016

John Low, Chief Executive, Charities Aid Foundation say Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London 'would do well to prioritise volunteering as a way people can shape communities and inspire others to do the same'.

Sonia says:

Those of us who have been involved in community life or community development will understand this sentiment. Whilst we have spent time in the volunteering world understanding what motivates volunteers and professionalising the way in which we go about how we use volunteers, others involved in community development have started to recognise the benefits that involvement in volunteering can have on local and wider community groups.

This acts as a reminder that the benefits are not just for the charity's aims but also have wider benefits for community cohesion and for building communities and also reminds us that while there are needs to train and develop volunteers to protect those who may be more vulnerable in our society it is also important in the voluntary sector to remember that one of our aims is to help people feel more connected to their community, however they identify it, and that the boundaries sometimes need to be blurred a little to benefit all members of that community.

As a real advocate of asset based community development (ABCD) I can see how ensuring everyone feels they have a role to play within a community can guarantee that people do not fall into the old fashioned trap of either being a giver or recipient. This approach creates an imbalance in society where those who receive a volunteer service become disempowered and those who give their time can become the one with power, deciding what is best for the recipient or using their influence to 'help' others make the 'right' decision.

ABCD looks for the positive in people, does not see them as a potential threat to either a professional or volunteer, who if you become too friendly with them will take advantage of their relationship. It helps people who have traditionally been seen as someone who has reached a situation where they need looking after, to be recognised for what they can offer to others as well as what they can do for themselves. It challenges those of us who have been involved in service provision to see ourselves as facilitators but also as people who can benefit from what others have to offer.

This is a real challenge for charities, especially those in health and social care. How can we continue to ensure that our volunteers have the skills to deliver what is needed, understand the values of the organisation and still ensure that there is a door open for everyone to feel they are an equal member of their community where they can participate and be friends of all other members of that community? For those of us involved in faith based organisations, this surely is an approach that speaks to our theology, values and teachings - where no one is excluded from a community relationship or feels they do not have a role.

I give the last word to Patch Adams

'We can never get a recreation of community and heal our society without giving our citizens a sense of belonging'.