The Yorkshire snow didn’t stop well over 100 delegates from Germany, Romania, Czech Republic, France and the UK attending the launch of the 2011 European Year of Volunteering at a conference held in Leeds this week.
Much of the discussion and workshop dialogue was relevant to the work the Pathways through Participation project is exploring. Mike Locke, Director of Public Affairs for Volunteering England raised important questions regarding participation and life stages; do new citizenship programmes lead to lifelong participatory habits? Will changes in older people’s lifestyles and work patterns affect individual participation? The nebulous concept of volunteering was a recurring talking point throughout; is helping a neighbour to clear snow ‘volunteering’? Is engaging in decision making mechanisms a form of ‘volunteering’? Does one form of volunteering lead to another? All key issues the Pathways project is grappling with.
Tom Leftwich, policy advisor for the Office for Civil Society outlined the government’s take on participation in the Big Society. He spoke of the importance of engaging young adults with programmes such as the National Citizen Service for 16 year olds, and how essential it is to explore the barriers to participation such as bureaucracy and red tape, and remove such blocks. On the Wednesday I spoke to delegates from Siegen and Lille about the Pathways through Participation project and the barriers to participation. I was fascinated to hear how similar barriers and blocks tend to be beyond the UK. However it was interesting to hear about the importance of ‘project based’ participation particularly in Siegen in Germany. A local community development, for example the laying of a new football pitch, can often become a real hub for participation, bringing together local residents and which can lead to progressive individual participation (e.g. laying the pitch, playing on the pitch, coaching on the pitch). I was struck by how natural it is for people to participate, especially in rural Germany where there might be less amenities and leisure activities. Children grow up surrounded by participants and a sense of mutual-aid, and it becomes a social norm as they grow into their adult life. I was told of the saying in some German areas, “everyone here has started a club”.
To find out more about the European Year of Volunteering, including individual stories and a campaign toolbox, visit http://europa.eu/volunteering/