Today the Local Government Association announced that council tax discounts should be given to the thousands of 'community heroes' who improve life in their areas by giving up their time to do things like help run local libraries, museums and leisure centres.
Cllr Philippa Roe, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “We can certainly see the merits. However, the only question I would have is how much volunteering do people have to do before qualifying? And how can that be properly measured?
“There are already lots of innovative methods that councils can use to engage the public – we are about to embark on a few here at Westminster – and it is important that councils continue to look at all the possibilities when recruiting volunteers in local communities.”
Westminster City Council will invest over £300,000 a year to build Team Westminster, which will directly support over 4,000 people to volunteer over the next few years.
The top 5 points for encouraging volunteers are:
We are investing in Time Credits which do not give people cash as a reward for volunteering, but instead allows people to build up an ‘alternative bank account’ of virtual currency (in a similar way to airmiles or supermarket reward programmes) to redeem against exciting opportunities locally and across the country. Working on an ‘hour-for-an-hour’ basis, it not only encourages people to try something new through volunteering but it also gives people the chance to attend a new fitness class, go to see a film or visit a national treasure where they might otherwise have done so.
We are currently upgrading our service which matches prospective volunteers to opportunities to make it more accessible for everyone. This will include developing a new local web portal which shows up to date volunteering opportunities in your area and cuts right down on any form filling and interviews to ensure that if you are keen and interest one day, you can be volunteering the next day. The less visible the middle man is in brokering opportunities the better.
We run an annual ‘Westminster Community Awards’ programme where we recognise the city’s top volunteers and community leaders. Culminating in an ‘Oscar-style’ ceremony and the awards are our way of thanking Westminster’s ‘hidden heroes’.
Volunteering does not just have to be about altruistically helping your local community, although that’s why lots of people get involved. Instead it can also be genuinely enjoyable and we are currently re-designing our flagship volunteering programme which helps people to get involved with sports coaching at local clubs as well as volunteer at major events in Westminster. There are some great examples in Westminster, such as volunteering for a Test Match at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the BAFTAs or even the Tour de France this year.
Recognise that a lot of volunteering is informal – the volunteer might not even see it as volunteering. Many people already help their elderly neighbours for instance or litter pick their roads and parks without any incentive and without ever seeing this as volunteering – and we are introducing a new series of community action events this autumn to help encourage this kind of behaviour and target this kind of informal support at specific local issues.