We live in a great city. So, what can be done to make it even better? Volunteers are being recruited to try to make a difference to our communities through a special project. Ruth Scammell finds out more about it.
Volunteers do so much for our local communities.
And now, a project inspired by the Big Apple has started to take place right here in Portsmouth.
Portsmouth Together has been developed with the support of Cities of Service – an international coalition of cities dedicated to engaging citizens locally to make a difference against pressing city issues.
The coalition builds on the work of former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, who pioneered the approach.
He designated New York as a service city and created opportunities for thousands of citizens to serve.
Portsmouth is one of the first cities in the UK to have the chance to use the volunteering model.
The Cities of Service UK programme provides a chance for volunteers in Portsmouth to work in local communities and see the impact which volunteers can have on their neighbourhoods and their city.
The project will focus on four key areas: education, community and civic pride, sustainability and infrastructure.
Brian Bracker is the chief service officer at Portsmouth City Council who has been taking the lead on the campaign.
He says: ‘It’s to try to encourage and promote the work that volunteers do in the city.
‘I have met lots of wonderful people. We want to promote all the work that volunteers do and to find ways to encourage more people to do that.
‘It’s to try to show there are hundreds of different ways that we can give.
‘There is an awful lot of volunteering going on across the city of Portsmouth already. We want to try and encourage more and carry on from the fantastic work they are doing.
‘People are really keen on this idea. By bringing it together through Portsmouth Together, people feel they are part of the community.
‘It’s early days but we think people really do want to get involved.’
Read the panels below to see what areas the service plan be focusing on and why...
The first Portsmouth Together priority area is education. There are two initiatives.
The first is a mentoring and coaching programme called Activate, supported by local businesses.
Brian Bracker says: ‘One of the key issues for Portsmouth is to try to encourage people in their last years of secondary school to go for it and to aspire more and to believe they can get those results and go on to college or university.
‘That will generate a workforce in Portsmouth.
‘If we can get some coaches in from businesses, could that make a difference?
‘When they pass their exams, have they achieved more than they thought they could when they started that programme?
‘It’s been very focused on what do they want to achieve and how can they do that with volunteers. And if it does work, how do we scale it up?’
Another education initiative is called Paulsgrove Counts. It will recruit and train volunteer mentors known as ‘challenge champions’ who will support people to improve their everyday maths by accessing online assessment and learning resources, with Paulsgrove being the main focus.
Community and civic pride
This has a big focus on increasing people’s satisfaction with their neighbourhood as a place to live.
‘It’s about feeling better about the place that we live in,’ says Brian Bracker.
‘We have seen in Portsmouth when we had the jubilee, Portsmouth had more street parties than anywhere else. There was a real coming together.
‘We want people to feel better about where they love by working together. We want to build more of a neighbourhood community spirit.’
The council has a Love Your Street project which will launch next month.
It encourages residents to propose their own local projects that will enhance their environment through volunteer effort.
The scheme will offer mini grants to purchase supplies needed for the project and city services will be coordinated as necessary to provide support.
Mr Bracker adds: ‘People can bid for grants for some sort of improvement project.
‘A key element of that is that it needs to be volunteer led, and it needs to be local. It’s things like how much green space there is.’
The third priority focuses on protecting our environment and making sustainable choices. It means improving the long-term wellbeing of the area.
This will involve the Love Your Loft campaign, pictured left, which supports trained volunteers to clear the loft in homes, when partners will then insulate the loft for free.
‘It’s a really important one for Portsmouth,’ says Brian Bracker.
‘One of the most cost-effective ways of keeping your house warm is insulating your loft.
‘It’s cheap but a lot of people don’t want to do it because they can’t be bothered to clear their loft.
‘The idea is volunteers will help them by clearing their stuff out and help them with their property afterwards.
‘We are working with a fuel poverty group to target the vulnerable and those that are in need.
‘We are trying to see if energy companies want to come on board.’
Portsmouth Together has an infrastructure initiative to address challenges experienced by both volunteers and organisations.
An interactive website has been developed to make volunteer recruitment easy and accessible.
Brian Bracker says: ‘If you want people to volunteer for your initiatives, how are you going to do it?
‘We identified that Portsmouth doesn’t have a website where people can find out about volunteering.
‘With the website people can come and have a look
at the area that interests them.
‘What’s really important is we work with all the organisations to make sure that the volunteering opportunities are current.
‘People need volunteers to do that work.
“We are sharing news about what volunteers are doing.’
History of the cities of service
The Cities of Service coalition and its member cities aim to find new and innovative ways to use the power of volunteers to solve strategic issues in the city.
It was pioneered in New York but many other cities have replicated the approach.
Today, in the United States, the Cities of Service coalition includes more than 170 mayors and it is successfully using thousands of volunteers to improve their city one task at a time.
Over the past three years the movement has spread internationally to inspire Team London and ‘Count on Me’ in Madrid.
Now, Portsmouth has joined forces with other parts of the UK which are in the coalition including Bristol, Plymouth, Barnsley and Swindon.