Newsmaker: In search of a million - Terry Ryall Chief executive, v

Indira Das-Gupta

Terry Ryall, Chief executive, v - Wants to make volunteering more attractive for younger people.

The launch of the youth volunteering charity v last week was befitting of its achingly trendy moniker. It was held in a cinema in London's Leicester Square at the suggestion of v20, its group of 16 to 24-year-old advisers.

Vol-au-vents were replaced by popcorn and mini hamburgers while hip-hop played in the background.

By the end, the v20 presenters had the entire audience, including Ed Miliband, the new minister for the third sector, doing the Mexican wave.

The launch was impressively slick, but v is still only a start-up, operating from a few desks at the Home Office with the difficult task of recruiting a million new young volunteers within the next four years.

The fact that the new charity's name doesn't even include the word volunteering is indicative of the negative connotations the word has acquired. But Terry Ryall, v's chief executive, insists that the stereotypes don't tell the whole story.

"At the launch we showed a film featuring motivated, inspirational young people who absolutely love volunteering," she says. "Some young people don't even call it volunteering - they call it 'helping out'.

"That's why we are trying to create a brand that is instantly recognisable. We want young people to see 'v' and think of a credible and fun thing to do - something that can be part of every young person's life."

Recruiting young volunteers has long been a holy grail that few in the sector have managed to locate. Ryall is a grandmother of two, but it is evident from the jokes she told at the launch that she is no fuddy-duddy - it is likely that her attempts to embrace youth culture will prove more successful than William Hague's infamous appearance in a baseball cap at the Notting Hill Carnival.

What's more, v is different from other volunteering charities in being genuinely youth-led. In addition to the 20 youth ambassadors who make up v20, which meets twice a month, four of v's 12 trustees fall within its target age group.

The charity's name might sound like the creation of an overpaid advertising executive, but it's a name that v20 itself came up with. Far from being a body created to rubber-stamp decisions made by the 'grown-ups', v20 is crucial to the day-to-day running of the charity - there is even talk of creating a subfund that would be administered directly by the youth advisers.

One of v's greatest challenges, says Ryall, will be reaching disadvantaged young people on whose radars the word volunteering doesn't even register.

"We would like to see more young people taking up full-time volunteering opportunities," says Ryall. "We have been in talks with the Department for Work and Pensions about how this can be done without affecting their benefits.

"Sometimes the cause isn't enough, but people will give their time if there's something in it for them. One way is to give them accreditation, which can help them find paid work."

Unsurprisingly, new technology will play a big part in the way v communicates with young people. There are plans to create a website through which they can access all the available volunteering opportunities.

But for all its good intentions, can v, which started life as an initiative of Chancellor Gordon Brown, ever be truly independent? "Having financial backing from the Government will make it harder, but it's not impossible," says Ryall.

V has the ambitious target of recruiting a million new youth volunteers by 2010, but Ryall says it's not just a numbers game. "For v to work, it can't be dictated by anyone other than the supposed beneficiaries," she says. "I want this to have a real impact on their lives."

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