Why did we do this?
Millions of volunteers already give their time to volunteer and make a difference to their local communities. Many do so as part of public services – like school governors and special constables - and we've seen it more recently with initiatives like the Games Makers and Team London.
We thought it was also possible for public services to create new and better opportunities for people to give their time to make a difference to issues that they care about, like helping young people succeed, supporting older people to live great lives or improving the physical environment.
The Cities of Service initiative had proved to be a useful approach within the United States and we were keen to explore how well it could be adapted and used to use volunteers in new ways within the UK environment.
What did we do?
Between March 2014 and March 2016 we supported seven local authorities in the UK to adapt and explore the opportunity of the US Cities of Service model as a way to harness volunteers to meet city wide challenges.
The programme was inspired by Cities of Service, a coalition of Mayors across the US (initiated by Mayor Bloomberg, the 108th Mayor of New York City) who have put citizen service at the heart of their efforts to address big challenges. They are mobilising millions of volunteers in cities across the US to help with practical tasks to improve their city.
We wanted to replicate this successful approach in the UK and joined forces with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Cabinet Office to back seven UK cities to join the Cities of Service movement. Each city received grant funding, as well as mentoring and advice from US colleagues leading successful Cities of Service programmes.
Bristol, Kirklees, Plymouth and Portsmouth each received grants of £180,000 to fund the creation of a Chief Service Officer post and to support new initiatives that mobilise citizens to make a difference to specific challenges.
Barnsley, Swindon and Telford & Wrekin received grants of £30,000 to support new initiatives that mobilise citizens to make a difference to specific challenges.
All UK cities were supported to identify local challenges, mobilise volunteers and measure the impact volunteers had for improving people's lives and / or the local environment.
Each city published a Service Plan in September 2014. Nearly 10,000 volunteers were mobilised in total, assisting 18,500 people directly.
Cities of Service started in New York in 2009. Today, the Cities of Service coalition includes more than 170 mayors, representing nearly 50 million Americans. It is successfully mobilising thousands of volunteers to improve their city one task at a time. Volunteers give their time in the service of others and their local city, often co-ordinated by a Chief Service Officer and always with a focus on measuring the impact they are having. Cities in the coalition share successful strategies and programmes, which are published in a series of blueprints that ensure the most effective ones are copied by others.
In recent years, the movement has spread internationally to inspire Team London and “Count on Me” in Madrid.
This programme was developed as part of the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund, and was co-funded by Cabinet Office and Nesta with support from the Cities of Service coalition in the US and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
- The model has helped elevate the significance and status of volunteering for the councils involved
- The role of a senior leader within the council to coordinate and corral volunteering was powerful
- Embedding impact volunteering activities into existing local priorities that resonate with residents achieved greatest impact
Read our evaluation report for further information on project impact and insights.