Over the next month, 4,000 volunteers adorned in blue and green will support the Cricket World Cup. Many will have volunteered before; for others it will be their first time, and I hope the experience will encourage them to do so again. The contribution volunteers make – to one-off events, to some of our beloved national institutions and within communities up and down the UK – should be neither underestimated nor taken for granted.
Every week, the Prime Minister recognises this work, awarding volunteers who make a difference in their communities a Points of Light award.
This week has been no different. From 96-year-old D-Day veteran Dennis Davison, who created a Peace Orchard in Coventry where people from all generations can gather to remember the Normandy Landings, to 17-year-old schoolgirl Bimini Love, who is transforming the lives of women who face period poverty in Cornwall, their stories can inspire thousands more to get involved and start their own initiatives.
In fact, more than 11 million people give up their time every month to make lives better, create new opportunities and simply to give back.
Volunteers’ Week is a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on these unsung heroes and thank them for the important work they do for our charities, grass-roots sport, the arts and communities.
And there is much to celebrate. We’ve been working with Nesta and the Centre for Social Action to support innovative initiatives that enhance public services and bring people together, such as Aesop’s Dance to Health. Volunteers at the dance programme help older people get fit and improve their balance. It has led to a 44 per cent reduction in falls and huge improvements in the physical and mental wellbeing of participants. Such impacts simply couldn’t happen without volunteers.
To ensure projects such as this reach as many people as possible, we are pleased to announce this week that we will provide follow-on-funding of up to £280,000 to some of our most promising initiatives to help them continue to scale and grow. Mims Davies, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, will continue to work closely with the sector to make sure these projects are a success.
Since 2015, the government has invested £15m in the Centre for Social Action to support projects that encourage adult volunteering. As a result, more than 200,000 people in need have been supported by a band of more than 23,000 volunteers.
Figures released last month show that 46 per cent of those surveyed said they volunteered simply because they wanted to help people and make things better. However, it is often overlooked that volunteering also benefits volunteers themselves.
Volunteering helps people make friends, build confidence and gives them a stake and sense of pride in their local areas and the causes they care most about. The government has provided more than £4m since 2017 to scale up the community organisers programme and, by March next year, 10,000 people will have been trained in community organising. This gives them the skills and confidence to support people in their communities to come together and take action on issues that matter to them.
And volunteering is for anyone of any age. Recent statistics show that more than a third of 16 to 24-year-olds have participated in formal volunteering in the past year.
The importance of engaging younger people in social action and civic activity is clear. As well as benefits for individual wellbeing and skills development, getting young people involved should help to foster a lifetime of volunteering.
Since 2015, we have invested £40m jointly with the National Lottery Community Fund in the #iwill campaign, which encourages young people aged between 10 and 20 to make a difference in their communities.
Volunteers up and down the country are continuing to make a difference every single day to the lives of others, but there’s still more we can do so that everyone who wants to volunteer is able to.
Many older people face barriers to taking part and staying involved in volunteering. It’s particularly true for those who face periods of poor health or are less financially secure. Volunteering should be available to all who want to take part, regardless of background or age.
That’s why we’re working with the Centre for Ageing Better to give more than £250,000 of funding to five projects across the country that will develop and share new approaches to volunteering for older people. We need to ensure volunteering is flexible, valued and meaningful while also making good use of people’s individual strengths.
The role volunteers play up and down the UK every week is incredible. Their invaluable energy, drive and commitment improve people’s lives, build communities and help to create a bold and bright future of which we can all be proud.
On behalf of the government, I want to thank them for all they do.
Jeremy Wright is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport