This year’s Volunteers’ Week slogan is a Time to Celebrate. A huge big thank you to all the people involved in bringing volunteering to life. From the 1st to 7th June there will be parties and promotions in every corner of the UK. It’s heart-warming to see that Twitter is already buzzing with positive messages and friendly emotions from a massive number of individuals, groups and organisations.
I, for my part, am a volunteer cook and each year the team of around 20 cooks receive a bar of the best chocolate out and a letter of thanks. I could wax lyrical about all the other elements of being part of a community of volunteers. I’m just like the million plus volunteers who would “talk for Scotland” about their friendly, uplifting and rewarding experiences. I’d like to say a big thank you to you all.
Back in May I visited Hungary with the Centre for European Volunteering. Hungary has been in the news a lot about the “populist” politics and especially anti-immigrant policies and actions.
There are major challenges there on civic and civil society and it made me think that Volunteers’ Week is also “Time to Celebrate” fundamental human rights, and especially our freedom of association.
About 3/4 of volunteering activity in Scotland happens through associational life where there is mostly little money or staff involved. People helping out in relationships of trust and shared interest that benefit the common weal. Voluntary time is given to a broad spectrum of pursuits, from the highly expert mountain rescue teams to the most basic human activities like helping to make the tea. Shared values and societal norms are precious in bringing about a country that is welcoming, fair and compassionate.
Free will and freedom to come together with others in common cause are core values in volunteering. Now is a time to celebrate and defend these by living those values. A starting point is to recognise where they are already being expressed. To use Volunteers’ Week like an annual birthday and send a card and a message of thanks and appreciation for the kindness around.
Maybe, just as important is for us all to seek out the opportunities to come together in community. To recognise that if we don’t live the values of free association and build community wellbeing that the vacuum will be filled by competing values of exclusion, distrust and breakdown in civil life.
Volunteers’ Week 2019 is time to celebrate all our Scottish volunteering community in its widest sense and the freedoms that we have to build a civil society that we want. Unfortunately, whilst I’m not a bad cook baking is a mystery to me, so I’ll make a point this year of joining in the tea and cakes extravaganza and enjoyment of our annual celebration.