Active citizens who ‘keep it real’ are challenging the traditional view of volunteering, according to a report published by Demos, the independent think-tank. Start with People, written by Paul Skidmore and John Craig, argues that radical new forms of volunteering could be the secret to rejuvenating communities and delivering better public services.
David Lammy MP, Minister for Culture in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will launch the report at Demos on Friday 1 July 2005.
The report highlights the emergence of new forms of ‘citizen activists’. One group it identifies are ‘Hoodie Two Shoes’ – highly motivated young people committed to improving their communities in a way which is immediate and authentic. Their energetic approach to civic engagement is far removed from traditional modes of volunteering characterised by coffee mornings, committee meetings, and a preponderance of retirees.
“Politicians are desperate to foster a culture of volunteering, because they see it as a way to bring communities closer together and deliver better public services,” say the report’s authors Paul Skidmore and John Craig. “But politicians can’t engineer the kind of enthusiasm and energy of the best community groups.”
The report points to the success of organisations such as Envision, a London-based social and environmental charity. The group has helped a former gang member to run martial arts training and DJ skills workshops to help keep young people off the streets and away from potential trouble. Envision also helped the founders of Hands Up For Peace, an anti-war group which displayed handprints from thousands of young people outside Parliament.
The report argues that efforts to foster a culture of volunteering will fail unless the experience is made authentic for young people.
“Young people do want to change their communities, but on their own terms. Groups like Envision ask young people what they want to do to improve their communities, and then give them the tools to get on and do it. They are challenging the perception that young people are apathetic and disengaged.”
“The best community organisations realise that volunteering shouldn’t be about ‘giving up’ time to do something unrelated to the rest of your life. Civic participation only works when it is ‘real’.”
Start with People explores the role of local community organisations in supporting active citizenship, improving public services and reviving local governance. It studies five organisations funded by the Big Lottery Fund which have mobilised active involvement in community life:
- Envision – A London-based group which encourages young people to participate in environmental and community work. It has helped former gang members to run their own martial arts and music skills classes
- Brumcam - A community recycling network in Birmingham which uses its profits to make improvements to the local area.
- Capability Scotland – A Scottish disability charity which mobilised an army of disabled people as ‘action researchers’, successfully highlighting the problems they have in gaining access to voting.
- The Ashton Centre – A community centre in Belfast, offering training to local people which changes according to their needs.
- Just Ask Us – An organisation operating in and around Chichester which helps put local people in touch with local public and voluntary services.
Notes to editors
- Start with People: How community organisations put citizens in the driving seat is published by Demos on Friday 1 July 2005. Copies are available for free download at www.demos.co.uk or can be ordered from Central Books on 020 8986 5488 or online at www.centralbooks.co.uk
- The report will be launched by David Lammy MP, Minister for Culture, on Friday 1 July 2005 at 1:30 pm at Demos, Tooley Street, London, SE1 2TU. Please register for the event by contacting Demos on 020 7367 6311.
- Demos is the think-tank for everyday democracy. It is dedicated to finding ways to renew the public realm through people’s active participation.
- Start with People is the result of a two-year collaboration with the Big Lottery Fund. Big Lottery Fund is the joint operating name of the New Opportunities Fund and the National Lottery Charities Board (which made grants under the name of the Community Fund). The Big Lottery Fund, launched on 1st June 2004, is distributing half of all National Lottery good cause funding across the UK.
- Paul Skidmore and John Craig are senior researchers at Demos.