Kate Bermingham, Communications Manager

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend an All-Party Parliamentary Group on charities and volunteering at the House of Commons. This APPG was very well timed, occurring just one day after the National Citizen Service bill entered the House of Lords for its first reading, following its announcement in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year.

Baroness Pitkeathley, Chair of the Big Society Trust, chaired the meeting. In her opening remarks, she noted the (very welcome) surge in youth volunteering we have seen in recent years, and the renewed political interest in this area.

Rosalyn Old, a trustee from Girlguiding, was the first speaker. As one of three trustees aged under 30 at Girlguiding, Rosalyn emphasised the importance of women and girls being given the opportunity to make a valued contribution to the voluntary sector.

Youth volunteering offers so many benefits for girls and young women. Rosalyn quoted some concerning statistics on the confidence levels of women as they progress from primary school to secondary school and work or further study. Research suggests that, while most girls feel confident in their abilities at primary school, just a third of 17-21 year-old women felt they had the same chances of career success as men. Volunteering and social action can be excellent ways for girls and young women to build their confidence and demonstrate their skills and capabilities.

Matthew Linning, Strategic Performance Manager at Volunteer Scotland, was the next speaker. He commented on the surge in youth volunteering in Scotland, with the participation rate amongst 11-18 year-olds jumping from 33% in 2009 to 45% this year. Matthew said that several factors brought about this change. Young people who are encouraged by their parents and teachers are more likely to volunteer, as are those who are keen to develop their skills and boost their CV. Matthew also noted that volunteering is high on the policy agenda in Scotland.

Michael Lynas, CEO of the National Citizen Service Trust, spoke next. Michael discussed the negative portrayal of young people in the media, and how this contrasts sharply with the reality of young people in the UK, many of whom demonstrate a strong commitment to civil engagement through social action and volunteering. Michael did note, however, that participation is higher amongst young people from middle class backgrounds, and stressed that accessibility is something that needs to be addressed.

Michael welcomed the progression of the National Citizen Service bill through Parliament, and sees this as an important step in making youth volunteering and social action a permanent feature in UK culture. He also shared some interesting data on the long-term positive impact of the NCS programme on young people. Ipsos Mori found that, 16 months after graduation from the NCS programme, graduates increased the amount of time they devote to volunteering and social action by an average of seven hours per month.

The final speaker was Keji Okeowo, formerly the Leadership and Programmes Manager at the now defunct NCVYS. Keji agreed that NCS should be a ‘rite of passage’ for all young people. She also observed that high quality youth volunteering opportunities need to be accessible for people living in rural areas. She noted a widespread perception that initiatives such as the NCS were predominantly urban programmes, and therefore not accessible for all. Michael remarked that the NCS were developing opportunities that combined rural and urban volunteering to address this very issue, and provide young people with a broad variety of social action opportunities.

A series of questions followed, from Charlotte Hill at Step Up To Serve and others. The mood in the room was buoyant: the speakers and representatives from several charities all seemed optimistic about the progression of the bill, and pleased that the NCS programme is becoming a legal, permanent feature of UK society.

At Volunteering Matters, we are delighted that youth volunteering and social action are rising up the political agenda. Youth volunteering represents one of our four key ‘pillars’ of volunteering: young people, disabled people, families and older people.

We strongly believe that encouraging young people to play an active and meaningful role in their community through volunteering and social action, will teach them valuable skills that they can use to live a happy and productive life. With that in mind, we look forward to tracking the progression of the NCS bill, and also welcoming more young people from across the UK onto our volunteer programmes!