Today, it is reported in the Daily Mail, that Mr Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, is proposing a ‘National Volunteer Programme’ for young people who are not in employment education or training, known as NEETs. As well as working with the old and in education they would also be used in conservation, which is my own area of interest.
In the past I have worked with people on such schemes as community pay back and its predecessors and whilst it would be far to say that not everyone of these young people from the point of view of getting anything done were a waste of time, those that did show any enthusiasm were very much in a minority. The ones that did get stuck in already had some interest in wildlife and conservation.
Now I haven’t seen a copy of this proposal which has gone to No 10, but understand that there will be an element of compulsion in this volunteering which reminds me of the old army saying ‘I want 3 volunteers – you, you and you!’ So whatever the scheme is, good or bad, it is definitely not volunteering.
I’m not against the principle of the scheme but it will have to be extremely well thought through, it will not be enough to dump a group of young people onto an organisation and it be expected for them to get on with it. So I would suggest that before they turn up to help with the maintenance of our parks and open spaces they will probably need to have spent time in a more structured environment learning, as Mr Blunkett said “reason to get up in the morning and a pattern of daily life”. Some enthusiasm for the task they were going to undertake would also need to be cultured.
Working with volunteer groups is not going to lead them to a job, there are already people with environmental type degrees working as volunteers in order gain experience and have something to add to their CV. But it could open their eyes to the possibility of going on to places like Moulton College to get the qualifications they need to find a career in the outdoors.
If the programme can be made to work then we will all benefit, and whilst I suspect it will go the same way as previous schemes we should at least wait until we see the details before condemning it on the basis of Mr Blunkett's previous political and private life.