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How can the do-gooders who turned up after the riots be turned into long-term volunteers?

This week’s rioting in cities across
England has shocked the nation – but it has also prompted displays of human
nature’s better side.

I have experienced two such displays in the
past two days in my local area, Brixton in south London, where several shops
were looted and a Foot Locker store was set on fire during disturbances on
Sunday night.

On Tuesday evening I joined around 30 or 40
other volunteers for ‘Riot Cleanup Brixton’, in which local residents
brandishing brooms, gloves and binbags took to the streets to clean up the
damage.

On Wednesday I went to a second event:
residents were meeting up to donate blankets, clothes, baby food and toiletries
to be sent to those in Tottenham made homeless by the riots.

At both events, there was a sense that we
do-gooders were of limited use: the streets were mostly clean by Tuesday
evening, leaving us to sweep glass from the doorway of a Vodafone shop and
remove a few shards from outside the station before retiring to a local pub.

On Wednesday, Haringey Council had
published a statement saying it was “overwhelmed with the generosity of
donations of clothing, food and many other items” and no longer needed more
blankets and clothing, before we made our donations.

Still, the events were gatherings of
well-intentioned locals who were willing to give up their evenings at short
notice to do their bit for others – even if it was more about making a
statement than offering much practical help. Similar events took place across
London, in Liverpool and in Birmingham.

The question now for the voluntary sector
is how to harness this sporadic goodwill that breaks out at times of crisis.
Can these last-minute do-gooders, who turn up in response to Twitter and Facebook
posts alone, be turned into longer-term volunteers who help out regularly at
charities that do the gritty, everyday work that is of real value to those
communities? And if so, how?

Read Kaye Wiggins’ blog for the Brixton Blog on the local clean-up efforts

  • Mark Ellis

    I think this is a really pertinent question. If there is to be a positive legacy from this week it will be fostering community champions and neighbourhood involvement. But the difficulty is holding onto these volunteers and channelling their passion and interests into local projects that need help. I recently met up with someone involved in Orange RockCorps – and his biggest challenge is holding onto the volunteers after their short placement (and their gig-ticket incentive) has passed. Have the volunteering charities been present at the Riot CleanUps? It seemed like a perfect opportunity to connect with local people who take pride in where they live and want to give their time to supporting their communities.

  • Rob Jackson

    Long-term volunteering, that is giving significant time over an extended period, is a concept that is dying out as the generation who were prepared to make such committments die.

    Whilst some will give as long-term volunteers, many want shorter-term committments that offer flexibility to meet the demands of their complex and time-pressured lives.

    If we try to convert people into long-term volunteers they will often run a mile seeking to avoid the kind of committment they just don’t want to make.

    However, if we are smart, we will realise that we can create shorter-term committments that really enable people to make a difference and see the impact they have. We can then seek to engage more people in such volunteering opportunities and re-engage them over an extended period.

    In other words, inspire people to give their time in short-term, flexible bursts over the long-term.

    For those interested in this issue it is worth looking at some of the work Volunteering Queensland did after the flooding there earlier in year and the challenges faced in engaging people as volunteers beyond the initial offers of support for the immediate clean up.

  • alexandra spencer

    Hi Lambeth Mediation are holding a dialogue concerning the London riots, focussing on Lambeth including in Brixton, to explore some of the claims made about them and the causes and effects etc.We want to get as many different parts of the community together for the dialogue – residents, businesses, young people, parents etc, some of whom were affected by, maybe even involved in the riots – and to ensure that everyone has a voice, whatever it is they want to say, and representation at the event. We have invited all sorts of local groups and organisations and various people and departments from Lambeth council and have a speaker from the black community (I think to do with Smiley Culture) and hope to get speakers from other groups. So come to listen and give your views and discuss with others and speak for a few minutes if you want to. It is on the 1st September, 6.30pm at the Brix at St Mathews, Brixton Hill. Email Admin@lambethmediation.org.uk to attend or phone Alex/Jai on 0208 6786046. Be prompt as space is limited!