It’s been a really busy few weeks here in the office: the main reason being the number of major events we’ve been hosting, one of which we told you about last week. Last Wednesday the 15th, saw nearly 100 people attend an evening dedicated to thanking the immense effort of volunteering-involved organisations we work with and our supporters and friends.
I had the honour of speaking first and introducing our guest speakers, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, Lord Greville Janner of Braunstone and Andrew Stunell OBE MP (Communities and Local Government minister). Our distinguished panel talked about what makes volunteering such an integral part of people’s lives, and as Mr Stunell highlighted, how volunteering contributes to the ‘Big Society’. The JVN team were a veritable whirlwind of event organising; whipping the room into suitable shape after the previous event left it looking more like a cramped Victorian schoolroom than the setting for an evening soiree!
With barely a moment and only a tiny bit of space to spare, the guests arrived. After brief introductions, Lord Palmer - a legend in local volunteering in Barnet – ably chaired the panel, and began by talking about his experiences in the volunteer sector. He shared the idea that once you dedicate your time to volunteering it becomes an essential part of your life and can literally change its direction whether personal or professional. He started off as a treasurer for a local charity and from that to trusteeships, local politics and beyond! I’ve found exactly the same in my experience, particularly if, as a volunteer, you end up doing diverse tasks, particularly if they’re not necessarily what you have always envisioned, with the result being you learn unexpected new skills and how to adapt to changing situations. And all while helping other people!
Lord Janner then talked about his own emotional experience as a young volunteer going to Bergen Belsen after it had been liberated. It was here that he and others spent time caring for the remaining survivors in the concentration camp. This, for Lord Janner is what makes a society a community, when individuals together go leaps and bounds to help others. Something the Jewish community time and again capitalises on. This according to Mr Stunell – with a personal, long history of volunteering in his faith and local community – is exactly what the government intends to create through the social concept of the ‘Big Society’.
Here at JVN we welcome these ideas, these challenges, as they are what we believe society should embody at its core. The idea of connecting volunteers to the right organisations is the critical first step in improving the welfare of our community, with potentially powerful relationships flourishing afterwards. Minister Stunell also took questions from the room in very good spirit, luckily saved by the division bell from answering one particularly tricky one. He also asked the room, as a great representation of the Jewish volunteering community to provide our thoughts to help him in his work about how best to dismantle the barriers preventing people from volunteering. And, of course, JVN will definitely let him know the responses!
The evening overall was one where people could think and talk in a relaxed way about our work – and our vocation and passion – for the voluntary sector in all its guises. This was personified by Lords Wallace and Janner volunteering to take some lucky guests on a personal tour of the House of Lords at the end of the evening. JVN is so grateful to our speakers for taking the time to talk to our guests, and I am delighted that we were able to thank those who attended for their support of our work. Next year, PG, an even bigger conference room and an even Bigger Society!