Volunteering has crucial role to play

From: Peter Westgarth

Chief Executive, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

I was delighted to read your article about David Blunkett’s proposal for a volunteering programme for young people (Blunkett calls for volunteer programme for over-16s, 01 September 2011).  The DofE has provided a structure to encourage, facilitate and recognise volunteering by young people for over 50 years and has proven itself to be resilient to political change, financial constraints and fashion.

Over 275,000 young people are involved in the DofE as I write.  In the last year 208,466 new young people started their DofE Award journey (a year-on-year increase of 13%).  The demand by young people for the DofE experience is growing and is greater than we have the resources to support.  Thousands are turned away by their local authority youth service, school or youth group each year through lack of resources to support more.  Heart-breaking and frustrating to me!

Volunteering is a key component of the DofE.  We calculate the value of young people’s time, dedicated to supporting their local communities, at £21 million a year.

The DofE works with and through the most comprehensive network of youth and community organisations in the UK.  Our experience of working with the complete range of ability and background (prisons to private schools, army cadets to Foyers) confirms to us that David Blunkett is correct in his view that young people will respond positively to opportunity presented to them by enthusiastic, motivated and skilled adults.

Volunteering is also at the heart of the DofE network.  Some 45,000 adult volunteers give over 2 million hours of their time each year to support young people in their efforts.  A very conservative calculation of the social value of their efforts is £15.25 million.

Whilst our focus is on delivery to young people and support for our network of youth organisations rather than our own profile, I am keen that the DofE’s impact is not overlooked.

I am also keen to see that Government is not encouraged to “reinvent the wheel” as has been done in the past.  There are excellent organisations and programmes of activity in existence (most of them linked through the DofE network) that can do more if given the encouragement and resources.

Society’s recognition of the efforts of young people is also important. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has built a reputation as a badge of high achievement by a young person.  It is that recognition that gives the DofE real currency and credibility for the young person leaving prison or their local school.  It is trusted and valued by employers, higher education establishments and parents.  We believe this should be embraced by politicians too and built upon as tried and tested, moving with the times, and continuing to extend access, inclusion and involvement.

We wish David Blunkett every success in furthering his proposal.