Seven cities have unveiled plans for up to 2,000 volunteers to address local challenges, as part of the Cities of Service program in the UK. The new Cities of Service are: Barnsley, Bristol, Kirklees, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Swindon, Telford and Wrekin.
Over the next 18 months these cities aim to use their new status to encourage local volunteers to go out into their communities and address neighbourhood challenges. Some of the challenges that volunteers aim to get involved in include; helping to reduce energy bills for families by mobilising volunteers to help clear loft space, ready for free insulation. In addition, improving the literacy of primary school pupils through weekly reading sessions. Furthermore, reducing social isolation amongst older people by arranging for a volunteer ‘buddy’ scheme. The plans also have a strong focus on growing local food.
Cities of Service UK is backed by innovation foundation Nesta and the Cabinet Office. Nesta aims to work with each of the seven cities to support them and measure the impact of the volunteers. The volunteer programme is based on the US model that the former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg started in 2009. The US programme has now expanded to over 180 cities across the country. To celebrate the UK launch of Cities of Service, US Ambassador Matthew Barzun hosted an evening event at the US Embassy on September 10th.
The Minister for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark, attended and commented: “The Cities of Service UK programme is a great example of how we are mobilising communities to take action on the challenges that matter to them. I’m looking forward to hearing about the impact of these volunteers.”
Nesta Director Vicki Sellick added: “Cities of Service is about helping to funnel the passion of local volunteers into areas most in need of support in their own communities. The programme has already proved successful in the US and we look forward to replicating that success in the UK, supporting the seven cities to mobilise thousands of volunteers where they are needed most. Ultimately, we think every city in the UK could become a City of Service.”
Schemes within this plan include; MENtors (used in Kirklees) pairs young men aged 18-30 with an older male mentor to support them through transitionary periods. For example; leaving care to live independently, leaving the armed forces; or moving from education or training to working full time or looking for work. In Portsmouth, Love Your Loft, aims to get volunteers to clear lofts in preparation for free loft insulation. In Swindon there is ‘Circles of Community Support’, where volunteers look to support older people with daily tasks, transport needs, companionship and socialising.
A new report by innovation foundation, Nesta, has found that the English public offer their time valued at £34 billion a year in support of public services. People Helping People reveals that volunteers contribute the equivalent of two percent of the GDP or the total 2013-14 budget for pre-primary and primary education by giving their time to support their community, alongside a local public service. This contribution is broadly referred to as social action, including regular informal and formal volunteering and types of community action. Examples of this include reading to pupils in schools or holding the hands of hospital patients with zero family around.
The report calls on public services to create more opportunities for citizens to use their talents and capabilities to support each other through social action and outlines a number of steps needed to make public services more appealing. This includes creating senior roles in local government charged with mobilising volunteers to help meet citywide needs; like the ‘Chief Service Officers’ now employed by Bristol, Kirklees, Plymouth and Portsmouth Councils. Also rewarding the contribution of volunteers publically, like the council tax rebates given to volunteers who become Special Constables in Hull’s police force. In addition, public services should map the assets of the local community and consider them in their service planning; as King’s College Hospital London did and as a result have 1,500 volunteers giving their time to patients.
How might volunteers assist with other challenges within the UK?