Launch of a National Volunteer Charter

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Launch of a National Volunteer Charter

A National Volunteer Charter, produced by Community Service Volunteers (CSV), Disability Rights UK (DRUK) and a number of other Disability Action Alliance (DAA) members, is being launched on 5th December 2014. The Minister of State for Disabled People, Mark Harper, is endorsing the launch on this the ‘International Volunteer Day’, seeing the benefits of such an initiative as part of his wider drive for a more accessible Britain. The launch will take place at the Buckinghamshire University Technical College, whose premises were generously provided for this purpose in partnership with hosts the Buckinghamshire Disability Service and the Bucks Legacy Board.

The Volunteer Charter was developed as a result of a series of workshops undertaken by the DAA with member organisations earlier in 2014. At these workshops it became apparent that participants felt that many barriers remain for disabled people wishing to participate in volunteering, and indeed integrating fully with their wider communities.

The 2012/13 Community Life Survey & the Citizenship Survey for England found that 26% of those with a long-term limiting illness or disability formally volunteered compared with 30% of those with no long-term limiting illness or disability. Such statistics re-enforced the perception expressed by organisations in the DAA workshops that there is room for more to be done to increase volunteering opportunities for disabled people, including addressing any accessibility issues that may still be seen as a challenge.

In response to the voices of its members and statistics like those above, the DAA formed a working group to look at how they could increase the number, value and accessibility of volunteering opportunities available to disabled people. With CSV and DRUK taking the lead, a number of organisations came together and identified raising the visibility of and access to volunteering as key to meeting this aim.

The development of the Volunteer Charter is a first step in this direction. It sets out the vision ‘To build a society in which the contribution of disabled people as volunteers is valued and volunteering opportunities are widely available on an equal and accessible basis’. The Charter is aimed at both organisations able to offer volunteering opportunities and at disabled people who may wish to undertake such activity. Its core principles set out several reasonable commitments and expectations for both the organisations offering volunteering opportunities and for the volunteer to adhere to.

By setting out clear commitments and expectations, the Charter seeks to encourage organisations to feel confident in providing volunteering opportunities for disabled people in order to benefit from their skills, talents and experiences. Equally it hopes to ensure that opportunities provided are high quality and rewarding, and enable disabled people volunteering to make a positive contribution to their communities, their own wellbeing and lives more generally.

To make this happen, there are some short-term goals that the Volunteer Charter hopes to achieve. In the first instance, it will be used to engage volunteer organisations by encouraging them to pledge to the Charter. Pledging organisations are signing-up to offering more volunteer opportunities that are fully accessible and provide valuable experience to disabled people; one request of the Charter is that organisations provide a reference for volunteers wherever appropriate. Commitments like this seek to encourage disabled people to see the value that taking up such an opportunity could have in their own lives.

The Launch event on the 5th December will be the first push to sign organisations up to this charter, and the DAA has already received requests from a number of organisations wishing to make the pledge. In recognition of this their logos will be displayed on the Charter.

The event offers a rare opportunity to network with the leading figures in the disability community, discussing and celebrating a major development in the opening-up of volunteering opportunities to disabled people. With guest speakers including people such as Paralympian – Naomi Riches, Duncan Tree & Jemma Mindham (CSV), Andrew Clark (BuDS), Cllr Zahid Mohammed (Chair Bucks County Council & Chair Bucks Legacy Board), Sue Bott (DRUK), Dave Oxley (McAfee UK), Bev Flanagan (Buckinghamshire University Technical College), and Richard d’Souza (DWP Director). Talks will centre on subjects such as ‘Why Volunteering Matters’ and ‘The Experiences of Disabled People as Volunteers’, and an address from Mark Harper, Minister of State for Disabled People, will be made.

This is an opportunity to emphasise and celebrate the important role that we can play in further enabling disabled people to make a valuable contribution to society, fulfil their potential through volunteering and enable the power of the purple pound to influence the economy. Though the current focus is on organisations from the voluntary sector signing-up, the longer term aim is to extend this call for sign-up will be extended to other sectors, including mainstream employers, businesses and organisations.

Let’s make offering volunteering opportunities to or employing disabled people the norm in society rather than the exception!