UK’s young people flying the flag for the Big Society

Vitalise logoSurvey by national charity Vitalise reveals surprising benefits of volunteering

David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ model, the coalition policy ideal that aims to empower local people and communities, is being embraced by young people, according to a new survey.

To mark National Volunteers’ Week, a new survey of volunteers carried out by national disability charity Vitalise has discovered that young volunteers are leading the way when it comes to improving themselves – and society.

The survey highlighted the particular challenges faced by younger people in getting a foothold in the world of work. Over half the 16-25 year-olds surveyed were unemployed, compared with less than a quarter of 26-45 year-olds. For a fifth of 16-25 year-olds, volunteering with Vitalise had been their only experience of a work environment to date.

However, the younger volunteers not in work remained upbeat, with 84% of the 16-25 year-olds believing that volunteering had improved their prospects of getting paid work.

Of the 16-25 year-olds now in work, nearly half said that volunteering had helped them gain paid employment and 80% believed that volunteering had improved their prospects of advancement in their jobs.

Vitalise runs the largest residential volunteer programme of any UK charity. Each year the charity’s army of volunteers give a total of over 4,000 weeks of their time in order to live and work at the charity’s three UK respite break centres for people with disabilities and carers. The volunteers are integral to Vitalise’s mission to enhance the lives of people with disabilities and carers by providing vital opportunities for social interaction. The volunteers enable the centres’ guests to take full advantage of the inclusive social activities and excursions provided by Vitalise.

Across all age groups, the personal benefits of volunteering were very clear. Over 99% of the respondents said that volunteering for Vitalise had improved their understanding and attitude towards people with disabilities, with 84% saying it had that improved their understanding and attitude towards diverse nationalities and cultures. Over 90% said that they felt more confident and well-rounded as a result of volunteering.

And when it comes to improving society, the motivational effect of volunteering was also very clear: eight out of ten of the volunteers surveyed said that volunteering had inspired them to play a greater part in society and get more involved in their local communities.

Vitalise Chief Executive Chris Simmonds commented:

“This current generation of young people is so often demonised by society and the media, but our survey shows they have a thing or two to teach the rest of us when it comes to making the world a better place.

“As a charity our aim is to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities by providing them with revitalising experiences, and it is safe to say that without the contribution of our volunteers we would not be able to achieve that mission.

What’s particularly gratifying about this survey is that it shows that volunteers are benefitting just as much as from the volunteering experience as the people they are supporting. Not only do volunteers become more optimistic about their own futures, but they are also inspired to play a role in improving society too.

“Vitalise’s volunteers are an incredibly diverse bunch, coming from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and nationalities, and the vast majority of them come away energised and enriched by the experience.

“This year Vitalise celebrates its 50th birthday. We owe our very existence to the inspirational efforts of our founding volunteers all those years ago, so in that same spirit I hope this survey will inspire many more people to try their hand at volunteering and take advantage of the many life-enhancing benefits it provides.”

Vitalise Vice President Esther Rantzen CBE also commented on the findings:

“Finding ways to support some of the most vulnerable and isolated people in society is an issue I’m passionate about and volunteering has a hugely important part to play in opening up social opportunities for disabled and older people.

“This is why I find the results of Vitalise’s survey so inspiring. Younger people are defying society’s perception of them and setting a brilliant example for the rest of us to follow. Not only are they determined to forge a more productive future for themselves, but they are also exhibiting an equal determination to improve society for everyone.

“As the population gets older and families more fragmented, the need for people to consider the needs of others will become ever more important. I applaud the UK’s volunteers for showing us one way to make the world a better place.”

Echoing the findings of the survey, recent volunteer Leah Bevan, 30, of Swindon, said:

“For me the experience was transformative, it gave me a huge confidence boost and a greater awareness of the challenges some people face in life. However it also gave me a great sense of optimism watching people overcoming barriers and the volunteers, staff and carers helping them. I felt part of a team who were making a real difference and felt empowered and enthusiastic at a time when I felt quite disconnected from things.”

Vitalise is a national charity providing essential respite breaks for people with disabilities – including Alzheimer’s and dementia – and carers at three accessible UK centres in Chigwell in Essex, Southampton and Southport, with 24-hour nursing care on-call, personal support and a range of accessible excursions, activities and entertainment. Vitalise – formerly the Winged Fellowship Trust – is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013.

People wanting more information about volunteering for Vitalise are requested to call 0303 303 0147, email volunteer@vitalise.org.uk or visit www.vitalise.org.uk.

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