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This weekend sees the end of a very successful month of volunteering during which we celebrated the voluntary work done by many thousands of people across the city every day, week, month and year.
At the beginning of the month I was extremely pleased to attend the Lord Mayor’s official launch of Leeds City Council’s Month of Volunteering – the Lord Mayor at the time being Cllr David Congreve - where over 130 volunteers from across the city were the special guests of the Lord Mayor for a light tea and some fun and games.
Our city is all the richer for the contribution of the many thousands of volunteers who donate their time and skills to a wide range of activities, and despite the fact that our launch event represented just a small cross section of those volunteers, it was quite astonishing to see the range of people involved and the range of activities that they support. There were quite a few people there who were born and bred in Leeds, or elsewhere in the UK, but equally there were representatives of many BME communities – some whose families have been here for a few generations, and yet others who are relatively new to our city and our country. Every conceivable age group was represented in the room; and there were people with disabilities, as well as people in employment, unemployed, retired, or still in full-time education. It really brought home to me the fact that volunteering is something for everyone.
And equally, it reminded me that there is a volunteering opportunity for everyone – we had people there who work to support the elderly, the sick or disabled; who work with and mentor our young people; who support projects tackling all sorts of poverty including food poverty; who care for our environment; who look after the needs of unwanted or abused animals; who support sporting activities; who act as ambassadors for our city; or who care for their community and make it more resilient and a great place to live. There simply isn’t an end to the list of things that people do for our city because they care, and it is quite humbling to hear of the efforts of these people to make Leeds a great place to live.
The evening was a celebration of them and all of their colleagues. A small thank you, but one that was well-deserved and very much welcomed by the people there. A small selection of the comments we heard included:
“I’ve been volunteering for 45 years and this is the best celebration event I’ve been to, I feel really valued and appreciated”.
“It was amazing to see lots of different people from so many backgrounds and walks of life who all have volunteering in common. I made some new friends and we had a great time. Very well organised event.”
“It was fantastic to have our photo taken with the Mayor, we will hang this photo on the wall in our community centre. Our community don’t get the chance to do things like this very often and so this means so much to us and we are very proud to have met the mayor”.
And one of the most touching stories I heard was from volunteer Alexandra, who told us that she arrived in the UK nine years ago, and in Leeds four years ago. In her first few days in the city she walked by the Civic Hall, this impressive building with owls on top of it, not knowing what it was but marvelling at the grandeur. She explained that she had never once thought that she could possibly ever be thought important enough to come into such a grand building, or to be an official guest of the Lord Mayor or to personally meet him and the Lady Mayoress. There were tears in her eyes as she explained how proud she was to be so honoured.
In reality, Alexandra, I think I can speak both for the Lord Mayor and myself when I say that the honour was all ours, in meeting you and so many of your fellow volunteers.
Our month of volunteering runs until this coming Sunday, and during the month there were a large number of activities taking place. Our Corporate Leadership team, led by Tom Riordan, led volunteering teams– watch out for blogs over the next few weeks to find out what volunteering CLT members did.
My last formal engagement in the month of volunteering was to attend a celebration of the fantastically named #VolunteerSelfie initiative, this time with the new Lord Mayor Cllr Judith Chapman. This initiative was led by Voluntary Action Leeds and the Youth Giving Time project which supports young people who are vulnerable or who have criminal convictions to access volunteering. These young people have experienced many challenges during their transition into adulthood and Youth Giving Time recognises that many young people are volunteering within a wide range of charities across Leeds. It is our duty to recognise and celebrate this and this is what we did yesterday afternoon.
Volunteering is an excellent way for young people to gain confidence, learn new skills, meet new people, engage in new experiences and to have a sense of achievement. All of which are valuable in supporting young people to transition to adulthood and preparing them for the world of work.
The idea of the #VolunteerSelfie social media campaign was developed by young people who volunteer on the Youth Giving Time Steering Group. The young people wanted to celebrate the excellent contributions made by young volunteers. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the many young people who volunteer but welcomes all volunteers to join in.
And I even ended up with my own #VolunteerSelfie – if you’re struggling, I’m the one in the batman mask!