Recently published in The Jewish Chronicle’s JC Celebrations Magazine. By Simon Rocker.
Fundraising is a vital part of any charity’s work, but there is something else which is just as precious: time. No charity could do without the countless unpaid hours contributed by its dedicated squadrons of volunteers, from those who trudge across icy pavements to deliver meals on wheels to those who stand sentinel on security duty at the gates of our shuls and schools.
It was to showcase some of the finest examples of community spirit that the Jewish Volunteering Network — the agency set up to match people to organisations that could best use their talents — launched its first awards this year. JVN Director Leonie Lewis was keen to make sure that the presentation ceremony, held in summer, “wasn’t just the usual awards event where everyone says everyone is marvellous. We wanted to do something that profiled organisations as well as promote volunteering.”
One of the key elements was not only to celebrate achievement, but also to give something back to the organisations; so each winner in the eight categories received a £1,000 donation to their charity — a prize which no doubt helped to
secure the high level of nominations from 60 different organisations. “Every award was sponsored and the sponsors covered the costs,” Mrs Lewis says. “The event did not cost a lot, but it took a lot of time to organise.”
Videos of the winners had to be shot beforehand, to show at the award ceremony. a smart brochure, funded by the UJIA, highlighted not only the nominees for awards but also the volunteer experiences of prominent figures such as Baroness Neuberger, Gerald Ronson and reggae star Matisyahu, who recalled delivering soup to the homeless at night on behalf of his synagogue.
Rather than splash out on a hotel, JVN chose the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Hampstead, North-West London, a venue just large enough to accommodate the 150 guests. It was also conscious about not keeping people in their seats too long.
“We didn’t want it to go on and on,” Mrs Lewis says. “We set a maximum of two and a half hours and did the whole thing in two. We also split the evening. We had a buffet and drinks on the terrace for half an hour, then people went upstairs for the ceremony and to hear our guest speaker, the newsreader Martyn Lewis, chairman of the national Council of Volunteering. Then people could come back down for more food and to socialise. That also gave time for the winners to have their photos taken upstairs and for people to speak to Martyn Lewis.”
Despite the event’s success, she says: “We are not doing it every year. It will be biennial. These things can become a bit clichéd, you have to maintain a sense of gravitas.”