So we come to the end of another Volunteers’ Week – an annual national celebration of volunteering that began back in 1984. As a way of helping to promote the week, YouthNet volunteer Jenna Robinson shared her experiences of volunteering and what it means to her in a blog post in The Independent “Volunteering has provided me with skills beyond my expectations“.
As part of her volunteering at YouthNet, Jenna helps moderate a regular online chat where she helps facilitate a peer to peer support group for young people. She explains:
“To me volunteering is hugely beneficial, it has been advantageous for both my personal and professional development, but I’ve also realised how providing time, understanding, empathy and support can be helpful even if it just is in the smallest way. Each time I log into the chat room, I feel it is my time to be there for someone else, to allow those who are in the room to feel truly valued. The reward for me is knowing I have contributed to that for someone.”
Since the blog post went live on The Independent I’ve been really struck by some of the reactions, many of which have hinted at a growing cynicism and scepticism towards volunteering. One commenter responded to the post:
“This article reflects meaningful and relevant volunteering. However, I cannot help but feel cynical about its appearance or motive.”
This year’s Volunteers’ Week has coincided with Jubilee celebrations, from street parties to village fairs, which have demonstrated much of the best of volunteering bringing people and communities together. Yet this main positive headline has found a counterpoint with a negative news story (see this from BBC) highlighting the experience of a group of unpaid stewards at the hands of a private security firm. Setting aside the rights and wrongs of this specific case, it does seem to suggest a change in the way volunteering is seen.
As volunteering has risen up the policy agenda under Government’s of different political parties, it has attracted more headlines- some good, some bad. May be there is no such thing as bad publicity as the saying goes. But in a week where we seek to raise volunteering’s profile, this latest media talking point gives us food for thought.
The risk is that this higher profile leads to a politicisation of volunteering and a change in the popular perception of what volunteering is making it less appealing. If this is the case, it’s a bad news story we ought to heed. Volunteering’s too important a story for us to ignore.