On 23rd February, Lord Blunkett hosted an event at the House of Lords to explore how the UK could replicate countries such as the US, Germany and France by creating legal recognition for a year of voluntary service, building on the foundations laid by National Citizen Service.
Keynote speaker Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency which supports national service programmes in the US, talked about the huge impact that voluntary service has had on American society over more than 20 years. Appointed by President Obama in 2012, she’s been tasked with looking at how national service can be expanded to address nearly every national priority, from strengthening education programs to disaster response.
Also taking part was a US delegation of national service experts from across the education, health and conservation sectors. Representing AmeriCorps, a CNCS programme engaging more than 75,000 Americans in voluntary service each year, they highlighted the wide range of service opportunities available to young people in the US.
Created by President Bill Clinton in 1993, following an inspirational visit to City Year (then a small Boston-based NGO), AmeriCorps has attracted cross party support and investment ever since. Owing to its legal status, 980,000 Americans have now performed nearly 1.4 billion hours of national service through AmeriCorps and qualified for $3.1 billion in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards, or scholarships.
Since 2010, City Year UK has demonstrated that the year of service model has the potential to work just as well on this side of the Atlantic. Over 500 young people have already served full-time for a year through our programme, equating to 800,000 hours in 30 schools across London, Birmingham and Greater Manchester. This is in addition to organisations such as vInspired, The Scouts and Volunteering Matters which offer opportunities using similar models.
Following the House of Lords event, Sophie Livingstone, Chief Executive of City Year UK, accompanied the US delegates to Number 10 Downing Street for further discussions with senior government officials about the potential for a comprehensive UK ‘year of service’ offer.
Sophie Livingstone said: “It is fantastic to host Wendy and so many other representatives of the AmeriCorps programme who can so clearly demonstrate what young people can achieve in a variety of sectors through the power of a year of full-time voluntary service.
“City Year UK has shown that through service in schools, young people can make a difference, not only to the educational achievements of children growing up in some of the most disadvantaged areas of this country, but also to their own lives and prospects. It is time to unlock this potential in areas as diverse as heritage, health, social care and conservation, by creating legal status for a year of service in the UK – similar to AmeriCorps. We are committed to making this a reality and will continue to work with those in our sector and beyond to achieve this.”
The US delegation comprised: Wendy Spencer, CEO, CNCS, AnnMaura Connolly, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President, City Year, Inc., Jono McKinney, CEO/President, Montana Conservation Corps, Jason Patnosh, Associate Vice President, Partnership and Resource Development National Association of Community Health Centers, Inc. and Gregg Petersmeyer, Vice Chair, America’s Promise Alliance.