Join In, Get Involved: Build a Better Future

Join In, Get Involved: Build a Better Future

20 Mar 2012

Join In, Get Involved: Build a Better Future - A Volunteering Strategy and Action Plan for Northern Ireland 2012. This is Northern Ireland's first strategy for volunteering launched on behalf of the Assembly by DSD to recognise and promote volunteering.

I believe that the gift of ones time is one of the most precious commodities that anybody can give and VSB for over 40 years has nurtured, supported, advocated for those who have freely given this gift of time - volunteers. Over 50,000 people passed through VSB on their volunteering journey and it is our experience that volunteers are usually the first to see, and importantly, respond to unmet need whether local or global. It is volunteers who provide the catalyst for societal change, it is upon them that sustainable, resilient and just communities are created.

It is a significant milestone for volunteering that DSD and the Northern Ireland Assembly have produced - Join In,Get Involved:Build a Better Future - A Volunteering Strategy and Action Plan for Northern Ireland 2012.

The strategy with five key objectives,

  • Recognising and promoting the benefits
  • Enhancing accessibility and diversity
  • Improving the experience
  • Supporting and strengthening the infrastructure
  • Delivering the strategy

sets a challenge to all of us to give freely of our time to make the future better. Market failure, greed and corporate ineptitude has created a grim economic climate with little signs of immediate improvement. If and when the UK economy begins to improve Northern Ireland's will inevitably, as in the past, lag behind. Now more so than ever we need to be resilient to find the creative solutions that will help us not only get through the economic crisis but to also lay the foundations for tomorrows society. Volunteering is one of the ways individuals can practically engage in solution finding, it is one way to individually and collectively make your voice heard and to be part of the process of change that will create the future.

One of the priorities in the strategy is to "Seek to protect volunteering from the unintended negative consequences of legislation and Government policy" This might be more contentious than anticipated particularly in the current environment of reducing public expenditure where it is all too easy to presume that volunteers will "fill gaps" and be compliant "delivery agents" of public services. This passive view of volunteering as a delivery mechanism of services on behalf of government fails to understand the independent nature of the volunteer relationship in the context of civil society and the state.

As Dame Anne Owers Chair of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector states in her foreword to the report, Protecting Independence: The Voluntary Sector January 2012,

"Governments of all political parties have stressed the importance of the voluntary sector. That needs
to be more than a soft, unfocused admiration for a Big Society or Third Sector. It has to recognise
the sector's hard edge: its independence, distinctiveness and ability to speak out from experience.
If the voluntary sector is perceived to be simply the delivery arm of the statutory or private sector, or
appears indistinguishable from either, it will lose the public trust on which it depends for volunteers,
donations and tax benefits

Difficult times lie ahead, hard decisions need to be taken, new solutions must be found; volunteers and the organisations they are involved with have a significant role to play in the design and planning as well as the delivery of solutions. Perhaps more importantly it will be the actions of volunteers that will determine whether the solutions will be acceptable within the community. As government begins to recognise the value of volunteering, it will require more than "admiration" for the strategy to be successful. If we are to have a more sustainable, better and fairer future government in all its forms need to take cognisance of the strategy and to seriously listen to the voice of those who give their time freely.


Visit the Volunteer Now website