With his talk of a Big Society, David Cameron has given volunteering a bad name. Instead of an altruistic activity which can be fun and help us to make friendships and improve ourselves, in his eyes it means people doing for nothing tasks that the state, funded by taxpayers, would ordinarily carry out. The cash nexus, sadly, leaves little room for other, less selfish values.
As Tuesday night’s celebration of young volunteers at Lerwick Town Hall indicates, such notions are simply not entertained in Shetland. Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS), which organised the awards in conjunction with The Rotary Club of Shetland, has more than 360 registered volunteers on its books (that must only be a fraction of the real number of people in the isles who do voluntary work in all its various guises). All of them are motivated by helping others, each other and themselves – fundamental values in any cohesive community.
Emily Shaw, who won the individual award last year and presented it this year, encapsulated the benefits in her speech: “The award last year gave me the confidence I needed to push myself. Being nominated for the award made me see that what I did was valued by others and made a difference to my community and those around me.”
The range of constructive projects undertaken by the volunteers is a ringing corrective to the belief, lazily voiced by some, that young people are feckless layabouts.
Congratulations not only to the winners but to all those people who give of their time to make someone else’s life a little more agreeable.