Introduction and brief opening statements from speakers

Nat Defriend, Deputy chief executive, Participatory City

  • At Participatory City we are building a platform that systematically identifies and removes barriers that are stopping people within communities being able to support one another and sustain community projects.
  • Through this it allows us to test different ways in which civic authorities can engage with and support their residents and citizens.
  • We are trying to identify what the infrastructure looks like that will enable hundreds of projects and thousands of opportunities for people in Barking and Dagenham to engage in their community, and the role of the local council in that.

Carrie Deacon, Head of social action innovation, Nesta

  • A key area of our work has been supporting ‘people power’ and the changing role between what people want and need to achieve outcomes in their lives and how public services used to be delivered paternalistically.
  • To face some of society’s biggest challenges (social inequality, disadvantage) we need to surround people with networks that help them to succeed. We don’t use the language ‘volunteering’ but that is essentially what this is.
  • We have seen instances of institutions working with citizens to change the way in which public services are delivered – many public services are trying to re-define their relationship with service users.
  • The issue of volunteering in public services is often entrenched with the concept of saving money, but I think that even if we have all of the money in the world we could not address the challenges relating to effective public service delivery if we did not involve the time and talents of our communities.

Paul Buddery, Director of strategy, Volunteering Matters

  • I think the question to ask is what is the value that volunteering, and volunteers can bring to public service delivery?
  • People talk much about job substitution when we talk about volunteering in public services. This is obviously a real and substantive concern. But at Volunteering Matters we also think it is a bad lens with which to consider volunteering in public services, we need to think about where volunteering can contribute to increasing the value and participation of public services.
  • An example of one of our programmes is our Volunteers Supporting Families programme which recruits, trains and matches volunteers to mentor and support families with complex needs. It is about the capability and experience within communities in safeguarding that makes the programme work and improve the delivery of public services.

Hena Khurram, Volunteer, Supporting Families Programme, Volunteering Matters

  • I volunteer through the Supporting Families Programme at Volunteering Matters.
  • I joined Volunteering Matters to gain experience in working with vulnerable families to make positive change and to promote positive outcomes. My experience so far has been both positive and valuable.
  • It is a difficult role, but we get much support and mentoring from Volunteering Matters. My intervention does have positive impacts and I see confidence changes in the people I am working with. One of the major things to bear in mind here is the need to build up a trusting relationship with these families – you are there to support them and not to boss them around and tell them what to do.


Lord Hodgson:I have no doubt about the important role of volunteers. One of the challenges I notice is small teams of volunteers who need support. How do we give volunteers a bit more permanence, and how do we ensure that the social capital around London and the South East (which is very important for volunteering) is more widely spread?
  • Carrie Deacon: People to need support to volunteer, often especially within public services. Volunteering is not free, and we need to start thinking about it slightly differently. Do we need to challenge ourselves as civil society organisations and as public services to think about roles a bit differently? Sometimes we create very hard, restrictive and experienced volunteering roles which can be limiting. We need to use existing skills, for example ‘Good Sam’ which involves people trained in first aid to attend to people going into cardiac arrest before the ambulance comes. There are further challenges where there are not resources, and often social capital goes underneath the radar.
  • Nat Defriend: Barking and Dagenham would be characterised by challenges to resource. Civil society in general is small scale and there aren’t the proposals and ideas that become good prospects for funders. We would also be characterised as lacking social capital and having low levels of traditional volunteering. Our approach to galvanise people around the things they want to do and not abut defining volunteering but giving people many flexible ways to define their experiences.
  • Paul Buddery: I won’t go into battle for the word volunteering. It is about the opportunity for people to participate in their communities. What is the structure and infrastructure? Volunteering does require training and support, so the experiences are safe and positive for all concerned. What we do argue is that if your focus is on outcomes of a service, then if volunteering is an option that should be considered. The diversity of volunteers is much greater than the diversity of the professionals in public services.
Susan Elan Jones MP: There are some aspects of public service volunteering that people don’t see as controversial (hospital shop) but this is a very different conversation generally. It is about consultation and engagement of communities in public services. When I was young in North Wales people gave tremendous amounts of time into local voluntary organisations, but I don’t think I once thought that they were volunteers. It was part of their identity and what they did. The label of ‘volunteers’ is very interesting.
Lord Shinkwin: Often it does sound very professionalised what people are being asked to do. What is the average time commitment that people are expected and prepared to make?
  • Hena Khurram: I can do up to about four hours a week and there is no restrictions.
  • Carrie Deacon: There is a huge tradition that some roles that take up huge amounts of time and professionalism. It is about engaging people with the amount of time and expertise they are willing and able to give.
Rebecca Young, policy officer, NCVO: Thinking about independent living support, what do the panel think about those who use services have enough decision-making power over when and how volunteers are engaged with their care and support?
  • Paul Buddery: Choice and control are absolutely essential, and the decision should be with the person. Whether the service is being delivered by a paid employee or a volunteer. We have to think about what we can offer for disabled people or young people who can never be thought to be considered ‘social care on the cheap’ it is about considering the actual positive difference a volunteer can bring.
  • Carrie Deacon: I can only respond anecdotally but last week my colleagues wrote a blog about how often these decisions are removed from people with learning disabilities. It is a problem around supply and demand – getting a timely match between a volunteer and a person is a driving force doesn’t always allow it to be about choice and control.
  • Hena Khurram: I think to begin with Volunteering Matters will match you to families that will match with your skills and my experiences and how to offer. There are times when I have said no if I don’t have enough experience in. We have a choice and families have a choice - I say to families if this does not work out then I will not be offended you are not restricted to me.
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