Dhruv Patel: Our volunteers must feel valued; charities would crumble without them

When we think about giving to a good cause, most of us think immediately of stretching our hands into our pockets to donate some loose change. Of course, this is much needed, and welcomed by charity and voluntary organisations alike.

But more and more, individuals and businesses, schools and organisations, are turning their thoughts to something else they can donate: their skills and time. At City Bridge Trust, we understand the value of volunteering only too well, and over our 24-year history we have supported many organisations championing volunteering.

We are a big supporter of the umbrella group ‘London’s Giving’ – which was inspired by the original ‘Islington Giving’, an innovative way of allowing business and people to give back to their local community – in a way that suits them best.

London's Giving shares what works from local giving campaigns to help London boroughs create their own initiatives. It recognises that locally focused solutions are usually the most effective way of targeting resources to make real impact with those who need it most.

Similarly, we recently supported a project that helps young disabled Londoners to volunteer. Volunteering Matters will give 125 young people with physical and learning disabilities volunteering placements, as well as providing 225 youngsters with skills workshops, offer 15 work experience roles, and help 100 organisations deliver accessible volunteering opportunities.

Volunteers matter hugely, and many charities would simply crumble, or close down all together, without them.

For many people, volunteering starts at work. We support our staff to take part through our Employee Volunteering Programme, and we are increasingly providing more flexible opportunities to our staff.

In recent years, we have seen many volunteers support our services. Between 2016 and 2017, they gave over 60,000 hours of their time to support the many open spaces we manage across London. And 150 volunteer governors offered their time to support our family of schools to provide world class education for more than 8,700 pupils across five London boroughs.

This mirrors a trend in the Square Mile itself. The UK’s financial and professional services sector is giving more back to society through volunteering, donations and fundraising than ever before.

Recent research we carried out estimates that the UK’s FPS sector contributed nearly one million hours of volunteering time in 2017 and gave £534.5m to charitable causes, compared to £505m in the 2008 study.

Since my university days, I myself have consistently volunteered; through university clubs and societies, as founder of the City Hindus Network, engagement with Sewa Day, as an NHS trust governor and school governor, and through my service as an unpaid elected member of the City of London Corporation.

While my parents came to the UK with nothing, they were able to give me a much more secure start to life than they had themselves. This lucky start has consistently and incrementally driven me to help those who have had less fortunate starts and to make society fairer, to the extent where now volunteering has become a huge part of my life. That’s why I volunteer, and will continue to do so.

Not that volunteering has been purely about me giving back, but it has also undoubtably given me experiences that I will never forget, which have helped me grow as a person. Mixing with other volunteers has given me a positive outlook in life reinforcing my optimistic views about the nature of society.

We should be proud of our own ambitions, the upwards philanthropic trends in the City – and most of all, the wisdom and commitment of those organisations that work so hard to reach those in the direst need.

It’s imperative, at a time of pressure on public finances and growing inequality, that we think innovatively at a personal, organisational and community level to meet the ever-growing needs of our fellow Londoners, and learn from one another what works.

We don’t see volunteering as a one-way street – our vision is that all our volunteers benefit from having enriching, meaningful placements.

We want them to feel valued. And in turn, we expect that the organisations and people they are giving their time and skills to benefit from higher value volunteering. Working together like this, we can see real change.

Dhruv Patel is chairman of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust Committee.

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