Friday, August 6, 2010

UK's New Youth Service Plan

On July 22, 2010, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK launched the National Citizen Service program for 16 year olds. The program resembles a summer camp through which young people spend seven to eight weeks volunteering in a variety of ways. The summer camp includes a three-week session that is part out-door service challenges, part university courses and a week at home during which participants would analyze their communities’ needs and design a program to address them.

The pilot program will take place next summer, involving 10,000 participants. The motivation behind the program is to encourage young people to be more socially responsible and engaged in their communities. Though there are concerns that participants will mainly be upper and middle class young people who would have volunteered anyway, Cameron says that young people from all socio-economic groups will be involved.

“It’s going to mix young people from different backgrounds in a way that doesn’t happen right now,” said David Cameron during the program’s launch. Young people of all backgrounds will be exposed to volunteer service, communities in need and a sense of a greater British community in a way that will encourage them to work together and acknowledge each other’s skills and contributions as well as their own.

The program is part of Cameron’s “Big Society” philosophy which plans give greater control over community programs and services to the communities themselves, reducing the involvement of the central government. Four areas of the UK have become project areas where civil service manpower and expert organizers will be assigned to help communities achieve certain grassroots projects like recruiting museum volunteers and the community buy-out of a local pub. These, in addition to other projects, will serve to redistribute central government resources to local governments and projects.

Representatives from the British Youth Council approve of the plan, but want to make sure that young people have a voice in the construction and planning.
“We would have welcomed an opportunity to feed the views of our member organizations into the development of the scheme and will be debating its merits at our London Convention in the summer when we know more,” said the BYC chair, Alex Delaney. (, National Citizen Service launched for 16 year olds) Delaney also states that the program should attempt to reach people who wouldn’t normally volunteer, echoing other concerns voiced after the program’s launch.

Dame Elizabeth Hoodless, Executive Director of Citizen Service Volunteers and Chairman of the International Association for National Youth Service Global Council (she also serves on ICP’s Board of Directors), believes that this program will help alleviate some of the pressing issues in British society, such as youth unemployment and a high dropout rate for higher education. (, David Cameron unveils national service pilot scheme)

"Young volunteers report increased confidence, self-esteem and pride in doing something meaningful and purposeful in the community," said Hoodless, reacting to the program’s launch. (, Cameron outlines details of youth service plan)This renewed assurance that young people gain from volunteering will help them commit to and achieve other goals in addition to improving their employability and contributions to their communities.

Though funding for this program isn’t yet certain, next summer will hopefully see a new generation of committed volunteers in Britain, committing themselves to improving their own skills and confidence in addition to addressing their communities’ needs.

Photo credit here.

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