A celebration of volunteering


You may or may not be a fan of the UK monarchy. You may or may not be interested in the upcoming coronation of Charles III. But even convinced anti-monarchists will surely applaud the fact that recognition of the work of volunteers and charities – and community-mindedness more generally – will be a key part of the coronation weekend. It is particularly welcome that young people will be honoured for their efforts. The volunteering spirit aligns closely with the values of Life-Based Learning, particularly in relation to strengthening communities and bringing people closer together.

It was announced this week that more than 850 community and charity representatives have been invited to next month’s coronation. This includes more than 450 recipients of the British Empire Medal (BEM) in recognition of “the contributions made by remarkable volunteers, charity representatives and community champions up and down the country”. There will also be 400 young people in attendance representing various charitable organisations linked to the royal family or nominated by the UK government.

The organisations selected by the king and queen consort include the Prince’s Trust, Barnardo’s and the National Literacy Trust. Young people will also be representing the Scout Association, Girlguiding UK, St John Ambulance and the National Citizen Service, which have been nominated by the UK government. The four organisations are providing stewarding, route lining and first-aid services across London on the day of the coronation.

One of the BEM recipients is Max Woosey, who has now received a Guinness World Record (I initially wrote ‘who is now in the Guinness Book of Records’ but that just shows my age!) after raising more than £700,000 for North Devon Hospice. Max, who has become known as the Boy in the Tent, began camping in his garden during the Covid lockdown to raise £100 for the hospice and was still there three years later. He is now 13 years old. The chief executive of the hospice said that “Max has directly funded 15 nurses for a whole year. The funds he raised for North Devon hospice in this time have made a real difference to the patients and families we support.”

Another BEM recipient is Sahil Usman from Blackburn. While battling leukaemia at the age of 15, Sahil dedicated time to support vulnerable people in his local community during the Covid lockdown. Sahil also coordinated a cancer awareness-raising project, designing presentations for delivery in schools to help young people understand the impact of cancer.

The public was invited in February to nominate volunteers for Coronation Champions Awards. By the time the awards closed at the beginning of April almost 5,000 people had been nominated. A total of 500 Coronation Champions will be chosen. They will receive a specially designed Coronation Champions badge and a certificate signed by the queen consort. They will also be given tickets to either the coronation concert at Windsor Castle on 7 May or the garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Meanwhile, the Big Help Out is being organised by the Together Coalition and other partners to “highlight the positive impact volunteering has on communities across the nation”. Monday 8 May is a bank holiday and members of the public are invited to take part. The aim is to encourage people to try volunteering for themselves and join the work being undertaken to support their local areas.

Life-Based Learning and the importance of community

We need to protect and nurture our communities. We have argued before that volunteering and community go hand in hand: volunteering is a glue that helps bind communities together. As we wrote in our blog about the Big Help Out, volunteering – and helping others more generally – brings many benefits:

  • It is rewarding in itself
  • It improves wellbeing
  • It teaches us new skills
  • It makes us more outward-looking
  • It helps bring people and communities together

The long-term future of our communities depends to a large extent on today’s young people and on the generations that follow. That’s why community education matters. Any long-term strategy for building stronger communities must involve looking at what we are teaching children in school. Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of community pride and activism, and – in a similar way to volunteering – promotes agency and empowerment.

Life-Based Learning (LBL) would raise the profile of community by treating it as one of nine life-based themes delivered through subject content, and ensure that our children and young people have the knowledge, skills and values to contribute positively to community life.

The image of Sahil Usman at the head of this article is from an article on the ITV website. The image of Max Woosey is from his JustGiving page.

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