An informal conversation and guide to the sometimes confusing world of volunteering.

Big Society Awards 2011

Often people who do great volunteering work for their communities go unrecognised and unrewarded. But did you know that the Big Society Awards exist to do just that? 

Anyone can make a nomination for an individual or group to be recognised with an award. Launched back in November, the Big Society Awards recognise individuals, groups or organisations that are demonstrating the Big Society in their work or activities. The award focuses upon three specific areas: promoting social action, empowering communities and opening up public services.

The latest award went to The Old Vic Tunnels, a unique performance space offering opportunities for young people to gain experience in production. Their volunteer scheme has had over 300 young people take part so far in producing sell-out shows.

So come on, get nominating and ensure that those community heroes are ‘unsung’ no more. Nominate here.

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Summer Fun

Don't know about you, but I'm quite desperately awaiting that first warm day of the year when I get my flip flops out, paint my toenails red and enjoy a Pimm's and Lemonade in the sunshine.

It'll probably be a few weeks yet, but it's always good to plan ahead...

So, if you're reading this blog, you probably like sunshine and volunteering and you'll be pleased to find out that there are some great opportunities out there where you can give your time and enjoy the sunshine at the same time this summer.

Festival of Britain: What better place to enjoy a hot day in London than by the river. The Southbank Centre is celebrating its 60th anniversary with the Festival of Britain between April and September this year and are looking for 120 volunteers to make the event happen. Sign up now.

Go on holiday: If you want to volunteer further afield, you can get your boots muddy and enjoy some stunning countryside on a conservation holiday with BTCV. Or, if you're good with kids, give six days of your time to help disadvantaged children to have a the holiday of a lifetime with CHICKS.

Music Festivals: Oxfam's applications for festival volunteers open in March. But it's not just the big charities that are looking for volunteers. Check your favourite charity's website to see if they're going to any festivals this year. Kiota for example (a small charity raising funds for education in Tanzania) are looking for litter pickers for Glastonbury.

I'm sure there must be more. So if you know of anything else going on this summer that sounds fun, rewarding or interesting post it here, so others can find out about it too.

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Student Volunteering Week 2011

Did you know that this is the 10th anniversary of Student Volunteers Week?

From Monday 21 February until Sunday 27 February there will be celebrations up and down the country recognising student volunteers in further and higher education. 

There has also been an early day motion put forward in the House of Commons so why not get your MP to support the Student Volunteering Week 2011 early day motion recognising the value of student volunteering during this time of economic instability.

As this is the European Year of Volunteering you could get your MEP to support this too.  

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Cameron 'down with the kids'

David Cameron is urging 16 year olds to register to get involved in the National Citizen Service - through Facebook.

Launched during the election campaign, it's a big part of Cameron's vision to empower communities and encourage volunteering.

The idea is that young people will be able to get involved in pilot schemes in 12 areas across the country, learning about teamwork, leadership skills and assisting community projects.

We've already seen the big impact young people can have in their communities through our online networking plaform for young people - Junction49 

Junction49 gives young people the chance to set up a community project for a cause that matters to them - with support from us of course. So, if you know a young person that wants to run their own project, tell them about it.

If they're not able to take part in the National Citizen Service due to limited places (there are plans to expand) Junction49 could be right up their street.

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Big Society: No volunteering without support

It was reassuring to hear the Prime Minister yesterday restating his party’s vision for a Big Society and “encouraging volunteering and social action so people contribute more to their community”.

What concerns us, however, is that the whole project could be seriously undermined by the current policy of cuts.

TimeBank has been helping a ‘big society’ to flourish for the past decade by inspiring and encouraging 300,000 people into volunteering. There is no doubt that the British public has a big appetite to find the time to donate their skills and expertise to worthwhile projects in their community. But as our own research shows, they need the right help, guidance and encouragement. That is what we have been successfully doing for ten years.

Government cuts are hitting everyone and we are by no means alone in bearing some of the brunt in competing for an ever decreasing pot of funding streams – it is a stark reality that faces our sector. But we are in a strong position to underpin and add real value to the Big Society agenda as we have the knowledge and expertise in helping people like you to volunteer. To carry out our work though we need a viable, stable funding base to keep the dreams of potential volunteers alive.

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I read recently about how a particularly violent area in LA has set up it's first all-American side to tour Australia. Ok, so what?

Well, these cricketers are former gangsters, homeless men and street kids. Cricket has literally turned their lives around. In fact, it was so successful that they've even lost teamates because they literally left their old lives behind and moved away from the area.

Why not get your community (and it doesn't have to be violent) to come together through sport? You will:

- get to meet your neighbours

- give everyone something to do (let's not assume it's just young people hanging around with nothing to do)

- meet someone that you wouldn't normally.

And let's not forget, it'll be fun (but only if it's not raining).

The best thing is, you don't need an organisation to set it up - just a few willing volunteers to get it started.

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Usher, what's a volunteer?

Check out Usher explaining to Elmo what a volunteer is

The definition of volunteering is always an interesting one for me especially in light of the big society.

Has Elmo hit the nail on the head or can you give me a better definition of “volunteer”?

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The fruits of my labour…

In the summer I spent a weekend with friends in Bristol and helped out on their allotment.

A few months later they visited me in London and brought with them a basket of veggies fresh from their plot, being a Londoner this was a real novelty for me. I immediately put my name down for an allotment in London and was promptly notified that there would be a 10 year waiting list!

Feeling a little put off by this I discovered Capital Growth, a partnership between London Food Link, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and the Big Lottery's Local Food Fund. Its aim is to help Londoners transform the capital by creating 2,012 new food growing spaces by the end of 2012, there are currently 738. They offer practical help, grants, training and support to groups wanting to establish community food growing projects.

Get involved by setting up a new growing space or volunteer on an existing one. For further information to get involved and search for a plot near you click here, or check out project dirt or landshare.

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