This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Herald editions and Petersfield Post:
"Last week’s Volunteers Week was another great opportunity to recognise and celebrate the amazing work done by thousands of volunteers who give their time and energy to help others in need.
The theme for this year was ‘A time to say thanks’ – acknowledging the most exceptional volunteering effort we have seen this past year, with people putting themselves forward to support those who found themselves unable to access normal life and often cut off from regular contact with others.
Recent research found that more that 12 million people volunteered during the pandemic with almost 5 million of them doing so for the first time. More than 3000 mutual aid groups were created, and an estimated 3 million people have taken part in one.
And despite the fact that many of those who usually volunteer weren’t able to during the pandemic, we still saw an amazing response across East Hampshire, with local covid support groups formed in many of our towns and villages.
Volunteers of course continue to play a key role in the on-going rollout of the vaccination programme across the country, and also in supporting testing.
That spirit of volunteering is something we should feel very proud of locally – we are fortunate to live in an area with a great many individuals and groups who are impassioned to make a difference within their communities.
And the range of groups is extraordinary – if you have an interest in pretty much any subject or issue, you’re very likely to find a local group of likeminded people.
Supporting the annual Keep Britain Tidy’s Spring Clean, I was delighted last week to once again join members of The Alton Society for their organised litter pick in the town.
Supported across 5 days by 70 volunteers, the pick this year managed to amass 66 bags of litter, 19 of which were full of recyclable material. Organised with the help of Alton Town Council, the initiative also had the support of local firms such as Jisp, Nationwide and Specsavers, with Botega's cafe providing a very welcome free coffee voucher for each of the volunteers.
With an estimated 25 million tonnes of litter dropped in the UK in the past year alone, we know how important community initiatives like this can be. And this is something recognised by Hampshire County Council, which operates a scheme in partnership with Norse South East to help supply rubbish bags and a collection service from organised litter pick events.
More widely the council continues to help match people with a range of broader volunteering opportunities, including roles working with families and children, or in education and learning, as well as positions involved with local history and heritage. More information is available via their website at www.hants.gov.uk/volunteering
Initiatives to help support young people is something we know will be important as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, and the opening of the King’s Arms new centre in Alton will build on their long-established youth work done with schools in and around the town, and the centre in Petersfield.
It was great to meet the team last week, and to hear about their plans to increase their support for young people in Alton and to offer after-school drop-in sessions every day from September. As well as recruiting additional staff and interns, more volunteers will be needed to support these and other in-person programmes, so anyone interested can find more information via their website www.thekingsarms.org.uk
And for anyone seeking more inspiration, The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is the lead body for volunteering in England – www.ncvo.org.uk - and represents all types of organisations, from large ‘household name’ charities to small voluntary and community groups involved at the local level.
I would like to thank the hundreds of people who volunteer across our local communities here in East Hampshire - the difference you make for others is invaluable. "