19 February 2006 – Sarah Sands – The Sunday Telegraph
I am proud to announce the launch today of a national awards scheme that will recognise and highlight the extraordinary voluntary work being undertaken by young people.
The Sunday Telegraph Spirit of the Community Awards will honour young people between the ages of 10 and 18 and reward the best of them for their outstanding achievements in community service. The awards, the first of their kind to be devoted solely to young volunteers in Britain, are being sponsored by the Reuben Foundation and are supported by a variety of groups, including the Scouts, Girlguiding UK, The Prince’s Trust, the Association of School and College Leaders, and Worldwide Volunteering for Young People
They have also been warmly welcomed by a wide cross-section of British society, including Tony Blair and David Cameron, whose comments we also publish. I hope that the awards will help to nurture the numbers of young people becoming involved in voluntary work and instil in them an ethos of consideration for others that will last throughout their lives, helping them to become successful people with consciences.
In what appears sometimes to be an increasingly selfish world, we hope our Spirit of the Community awards will become a beacon for selflessness. To quote Mr Cameron: “There is such a thing as society but it is not the same as the state.”
Those wishing to enter need to have undertaken unpaid voluntary work in the UK or abroad sometime between June 1, 2005 and May 30, 2006 and be nominated by someone like a teacher, or a Scout or Guide leader. Entry forms for the awards will be printed in the Sunday Telegraph, starting next week, and details of how to enter can also be found online at www.telegraph.co.uk. The closing date for nominations is May 31, 2006, and the winners will be announced in October, at a ceremony in London hosted by our columnist, Terry Wogan.
The overall winner will receive £5,000 and the runner-up £2,500. Ten other young people (five in the age range 10-13, five aged 14-18) will win £500. With all the prizes, half the money will go to the individual concerned and half to a charity of his or her choice.
The judges, who will include the Chief Scout, the Chief Guide, and the chief executive of The Prince’s Trust, will be looking at the type of work undertaken, what inspired it, the sacrifices involved, and what practical benefit or impact it has had. I hope everyone between the age of 10 and 18 who has done volunteer work will enter for these awards, so that we can begin to celebrate their achievements.
Reuben Brothers Foundation
The awards are being sponsored by the Reuben Foundation, a $100 million UK-registered charity created to channel the charitable giving of David and Simon Reuben.
The foundation funds a wide range of charitable causes, particularly in education or healthcare.
David Reuben, the co-founder of the Reuben Foundation, said: “My brother Simon and I are delighted to be sponsoring the Sunday Telegraph’s Spirit of the Community awards. Volunteering plays a vital role in the community and young people can learn an enormous amount from helping those in need.”
Don’t miss your entry form for the Awards in next week’s Sunday Telegraph.
Tony Blair, Prime Minister:
“I am delighted to see the Sunday Telegraph celebrating the tremendous good in young people. It is easy to make the mistake, because of the bad behaviour of the few, of implying that all young people are inconsiderate. The vast majority are a credit to their families and their country.”
Andrew Strauss, England cricketer:
“It is a great pleasure to support the Sunday Telegraph Spirit of the Community Awards. It is easy to forget how many people up and down the country put in precious time and effort, without pay, to help those around them. They do it for no other reason than to see a smile on someone’s face. These volunteers do not search for any type of recognition, and that is the exact reason why they should be recognised.”
David Cameron, Conservative leader:
“This awards scheme gets my full backing. Anything that encourages and praises young people who get involved in voluntary work can only be a good thing. The benefits are huge, not only for the community but also for the young people. They have the opportunity to gain skills that will stay with them.”
Griff Rhys Jones, writer and comedian:
“Great sections of this country actually keep going because of simple person-to-person help. The wholly important, true charitable instinct is quite different from a hand-out or a Government grant or a bung. I am not a believer in religious messages or anything, but I know that both sides gain from charity, and if these awards recognise the value of all this to everybody, then they are an excellent thing altogether.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats:
“We can all cite examples of groups that have made a huge contribution to our local area. These sorts of organisations help forge community bonds, they give a sense of belonging.”
Andrew O’Hagan, writer:
“We live in a time when it is more possible than ever to become lost in private or personal concerns and where the benefits of civic duty and commitment can seem distant. But I found as a young person that community spirit was an animating principle, allowing many of us to grow up in partnership, in a way that enlarges the possibilities of individuals and society.”
Richard Curtis, screenwriter:
“I’m confident that the young generation is going to do better than we have done in fighting injustice. Volunteering is the perfect way to get your hands dirty from the start.”
Stephen Fry, actor and comedian:
“It is a wonderful and splendid thing. I can’t think of anything better. Now young people can no longer hang around shopping centres, it is wonderful to think of them helping each other out. We have a wonderful tradition of volunteering in this country. Who could disapprove?”
Shelley Rudman, Winter Olympic silver medalist:
“Volunteering plays an important role in the community. I benefited from the help of many volunteers who have all made a small but valuable contribution to my success.”
Let’s give the future the spirit of our past
There is nothing new about the complaint that young people are more selfish than ever before. Every generation has made this observation about its successor, since at least the time of Seneca.
In contemporary Britain, however, there may be more truth in the charge than usual. There has been an observable change in social morality, directly traceable to alterations in Government policy.
The swelling of the welfare state has squeezed private acts of charity. Assured that the Government is looking after our neighbours, we no longer feel under pressure to do so ourselves.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when any adult, seeing a child out of school during term, would have asked: “Why aren’t you in class?” Now, that is seen as the council’s job.
Similarly, it used to be up to all of us to check that the old lady at Number 17 was collecting her milk each morning. Now, she is seen as the state’s responsibility. We no longer expect to look after our parents when they become elderly and difficult: that task, too, is shuffled off onto the Government.
This is a relatively new phenomenon: it can be traced directly to changes in the benefits system after the Second World War. During the 1940s, social workers were horrified to find cases of pensioners who lived in penury because they didn’t want to “take charity”.
They therefore set out to remove any stigma from the welfare system by drumming into people the notion that state benefits were a universal right. The trouble was that this notion was difficult to reconcile with the idea that we have a specific obligation to the less fortunate.
It was precisely this point that Margaret Thatcher was making when she argued that “There is no such thing as society”: that, instead, individuals and families should take direct responsibility for acts of neighbourliness.
So much for the diagnosis. What about the cure? Is there anything we can do to weave, once again, those bonds of mutual obligation that half a century of welfarism has frayed? Yes: we can encourage our children in the belief that it is better to do something than to complain that “Something must be done”. We don’t even need to inculcate this belief; we simply need to stop knocking it out of them.
Hence the Sunday Telegraph’s “Spirit of the Community” initiative that we launch today. We aim to recognise the thousands of acts of one-to-one kindness on which decent communities depend.
We are not talking of the instances of life-saving heroism that make the front pages, but of the things that any young person can do: cleaning up their neighbourhoods, offering help and companionship to the elderly.
That such things happen at all, through the Scouts and Guides movement, church groups and countless other youth organisations, is testimony to the ability of human nature to withstand the assault of political doctrine. But it could do with a little more public celebration.
This generation may be cynical; but perhaps the next will return to the public-spiritedness that our grandparents took for granted.