Olympic spirit in­spires the next gen­er­a­tion of vol­un­teers

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

a dozen schools last year. One was St Saviour’s.

“We thought the best way for­ward was for the pupils them­selves to de­cide what they would do,” says Flora Vi­dal, the se­nior teach­ing as­sis­tant who was put in charge of or­gan­is­ing the school’s ap­proach. “So we got the school coun­cil – which con­sists of two chil­dren from each of the seven classes – to dis­cuss what they would like to do.”

The idea they came up with did not in­volve chang­ing the school uni­form to a pur­ple tu­nic with red-fringed epaulettes. Rather it was green tinged. Pots were made and planted around the play­ground. Then, af­ter a cou­ple of months of care­ful cul­ti­va­tion, they were taken on a sur­prise trip to a res­i­den­tial home close by. Here each of the el­derly res­i­dents was pre­sented with their own pot plant. There were a lot of smiles – and no few tears – when chil­dren, some as young as four, de­liv­ered their spe­cially made gifts to the old peo­ple.

“It was a lovely day,” says Vi­dal. “There was a cou­ple in there who hap­pened to be cel­e­brat­ing their 70th wed­ding an­niver­sary that day. They were so touched to get their two pot plants. They said they couldn’t think of a nicer present.”

But the re­ally in­ter­est­ing thing about this small act of vol­un­teer­ing was what hap­pened next.

“Ev­ery­where around the school, peo­ple started vol­un­teer­ing,” says Vi­dal. “They were sharp­en­ing pen­cils, help­ing with the lunch queue, pick­ing up lit­ter. Now they are busy get­ting stuff to­gether for chil­dren in Syria. A huge par­cel is be­ing put to­gether to send there for Christ­mas.”

The rea­son, she is con­vinced, is that the plant pot idea was theirs in the first place.

“It came from the school coun­cil,” she says. “Be­cause it was not im­posed on them by adults, the chil­dren re­ally bought into what they were do­ing. They couldn’t wait for lunchtime so they could get out there wa­ter­ing the plants, or dec­o­rat­ing the pots. Chil­dren are nat­u­rally re­ally help­ful any­way, but what this did was make them more aware.”

And that aware­ness has spread well be­yond dec­o­rat­ing pots.

“For the first time I can re­mem­ber, chil­dren want to be on the school coun­cil. More than half the pupils now want to be on coun­cil. It’s made them more con­fi­dent about com­ing for­ward. It has made them more com­mu­nally minded. They just want to do more. They want to join in, be in­volved. A cou­ple of par­ents have said to me their chil­dren’s con­fi­dence had re­ally been boosted by be­ing on the project.”

The pupils at St Saviour’s are not un­usual. This is of­ten the con­se­quence of vol­un­teer­ing: as those be­hind in­sti­tu­tions such as the Scouts, Guides and Cubs long ago recog­nised, it has a largely ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on those who vol­un­teer.

“I think ev­ery­one saw through the Olympics that it’s great fun, great so­cial net­work­ing, get­ting to­gether, mak­ing friends. Which are all won­der­ful things in them­selves,” says Wadley. “But if you in­te­grate vol­un­teer­ing into chil­dren’s lives there is some­thing more. Self-es­teem, con­fi­dence, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, team­work all im­prove. Th­ese are soft skills that ul­ti­mately lead to an im­prove­ment in ed­u­ca­tional re­sults.”

Wadley is con­vinced that it is this that will en­sure ev­ery school, no mat­ter how pressed it may be for time and re­sources, will en­gage en­thu­si­as­ti­cally with the idea of vol­un­teer­ing. As Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Chil­dren, the or­gan­i­sa­tion tasked by Team Lon­don to de­liver the Mayor’s project across all of the cap­i­tal’s schools, puts it: “We’ve seen first­hand that in­volv­ing stu­dents in their com­mu­ni­ties cre­ates an at­mos­phere of car­ing and com­pas­sion, and over the years we’ve seen the con­fi­dence and so­cial con­science of hun­dreds of thou­sands of young peo­ple in­volved in our pro­grammes grow and flour­ish.”

Free the Chil­dren will use young co­or­di­na­tors to en­cour­age the pupils to come up with their own ini­tia­tives. No one will be told what to do by Team Lon­don. And this is the key. Not only does vol­un­teer­ing make the streets cleaner, the mood lighter and the smiles broader, prop­erly di­rected it has a prac­ti­cal con­se­quence on those who do it.

“Sta­tis­tics show the value of vol­un­teer­ing,” says Wadley. “Re­search by Reed em­ploy­ment showed that 73 per cent of em­ploy­ers would em­ploy some­one with vol­un­teer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence over some­one with­out. What makes you stand out when you go for a univer­sity place or a job? It’s not just good GCSEs or A-lev­els. It’s those soft skills. Put vol­un­teer­ing in your life and it will help you.”

So, what are you wait­ing for?

vol­un­teerteam.lon­don.gov.uk

Seeds planted: St Saviour’s pupils, above, and their plants for the Team Lon­don project in­spired by Games Mak­ers, be­low

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