Last night I went to a “speed dating” event
organised by Lambeth Council.
Before you start to think this was some
strange kind of matchmaking service for public sector singletons, I should
explain. The “dates” were between locals like myself who wanted to volunteer
for projects in their community, and organisations in need of volunteers.
It was arranged as an attempt to harness
the community spirit shown by the so-called “riot wombles” who voluntarily
cleaned the streets after last week’s rioting.
And the wombles were out in force. Hundreds
of would-be volunteers wandered around, fuelled by a generous buffet and some
hefty cupcakes, courtesy of Lambeth. They looked at projects ranging from oral
history to park maintenance and from hospital helpers to youth mentors.
But I’m not convinced the volunteering
organisations had understood the “wombles” phenomenon. Those who cleaned the
streets were, by and large, professionals with full-time jobs who were happy to
do a sporadic hour of evening work to give something back to their community.
But as I and my housemate wandered around,
we kept hitting the same hurdle: organisations wanted us in the daytime, during
the week, for several hours. We had to keep explaining that we worked
full-time, and asking apologetically whether one evening a week would be of any
use. The general consensus was a polite “no”.
Another thing that struck me was the number
of public sector bodies looking for volunteers at an event I had expected would
be made up entirely of charities and community groups.
Groups with stalls included Young &
Safe, a Lambeth Council programme tackling youth violence; King’s College
Hospital and the local police force, which was looking for volunteer special
constables. Lambeth Voluntary Action Council, a charity that brokers local
volunteering placements and a more obvious host of the event than the council,
didn’t even have a stand.
We left the event with armfuls of leaflets
and plenty of ideas, but no stand-out projects to volunteer for. We concluded
that, as with real dating, it can take time to find the right match.