I'm in, Kirklees: one year on
To celebrate National Volunteers' Week Adrian Lythgo, Chief Executive of Kirklees Council, shares what they are learning about the Cities of Service Programme and having a Chief Service Officer on staff.
One of the first things that attracted us to the programme, was that across our diverse district we already have a long history of 'service' and not just organised volunteering. Societies like our volunteer orchestras can trace their roots back to the mills and the mines; our networks of sports clubs and groups are full of people who are the lifeblood of our communities, and who do far far more than sports and socials. But many of them would not automatically describe themselves as volunteers - they are 'just' giving back and being active members of their communities.
One of our chief jobs as local authorities is to make sure we get the balance right in this. We want to create the conditions where people do more for themselves and each other, and we also want to put in place the right support and systems that means we can get the most impact, in the most important areas. Our challenge is to make it as easy as possible to get involved in a way that suits individual's skills, passions and time constraints – that's why locally we've been calling it 'I'm in'.
What we are learning from the way Cities of Service has developed in the US, is the emphasis on 'impact volunteering': making sure we know what difference we are looking to make, why we want to make it, and how we know we are achieving it.
Good examples of this are two initiatives we are trialling. We know that loneliness in our older population is reaching disturbing proportions and this has a huge impact on people's health and happiness. Our Out and About volunteers, often older people themselves, are working with people who need some encouragement and support to find the right range of options that will help them maintain the strong social connections that will keep them fit, healthy and 'out and about' for as long as possible.
We also know that there are some young men in Kirklees who have an increased risk to negative outcomes, during times of transition in their lives. MENtors is older male volunteers mentoring younger men and is helping them develop confidence, independence and skills in making sound life decisions.
We are learning how to bring together a wide coalition of partners across sector boundaries, and hierarchies. We are learning how to get the best out of what each sector can offer. And essentially, what we are learning as a local authority is how to be a valuable part of this whole ecosystem of help and support that exists in communities.