March 10th 2010
"If we are going to get out of this mess" I was told recently "then we are going to have to re-learn the art of volunteering. If we are going to mend "Broken Britain" then people are going to have to wake up to the fact that it's down to "us" and we cannot leave it to "them".
We are very fortunate in East Kent. We have a huge number of voluntary organisations catering for sport and leisure and care and for young and elderly alike. And one of the advantages of an ageing population is that there is a rich supply of relatively young but retired people with the time and the energy and the skills and the experience to manage those organisations alongside those many who are still working but somehow find the time to run Scouts and Guides and Cadet forces, to produce and to act in amateur theatricals, to manage or to coach or to play in Sports teams and, most particularly, to offer care and comfort and respite to those who are not so fortunate and can no longer fend for themselves.
It is no exaggeration to say that without all of these organisations and the small and dedicated army of volunteers that staff them our society would, to a very large extent, collapse. Think, if you will, how much the Hospitals Leagues of Friends have contributed in cash and in support to local healthcare. Consider how many young people would be loitering dangerously on the streets if it were not for the football and cricket clubs and the uniformed youth groups that provide exciting and worthwhile activity for them. And imagine how many older people would be housebound and lonely were it not for the opportunities offered by Help the Aged and Age Concern, by Rotary and the Lions, and by those organisations providing for people with physical and mental challenges and by the drivers who selflessly offer transport for them.
The question that my friend was posing is "where is the next generation of volunteers coming from?"
If we accept, as I hope that we do, that voluntary organisations enrich our lives then why do we hedge them around with bureaucracy and red tape, why to we make it so unattractive for people to offer time and energy to help others and why do we so spectacularly fail those that care?
Aside from the manner in which, for all the Prime Minister's disingenuous assertions, the present Government has so dismally failed our armed forces, one of the greatest insults has been to carers.
In a blaze of Budget hype the Chancellor promised millions of pounds in funding for respite care for those who look after partners or relatives or friends and, in so doing,, who give a better quality of life and at the same time save the taxpayer the price of a failed bank in hospital, nursing and residential care. Where has that money gone and why are the carers that I represent not receiving the respite, the days off or the short holiday breaks that would enable them to recharge and return refreshed to the tasks that they so lovingly undertake?
And why, notwithstanding the obvious need for a degree of sensible caution, have we thrown trust to the four winds and made people jump through hoops of fire before they are allowed to work as volunteers with young people? And how many willing potential helpers have, as a result, said "the hell with it" and gone back to shopping or fishing on a Saturday instead of getting out on the sports fields with the kids?
I agree with my friend. If we are to mend broken Britain, as we must, then it has to be up to "us" and not left to "them". But "them", whoever takes the political reins after the election, needs to break the shackles so that tens of thousands of "us" can continue the tradition of voluntary public service that we need to keep the wheels turning and begin to heal the wounds that dogma, political correctness and bureaucracy have inflicted upon society.