Everybody here has interests to declare, so I shall rattle quickly through mine. I may mention some of these organisations: I am a recently retired trustee of the Gloucestershire Community Foundation; the current chair of the Gloucester History Trust; a joint patron of the charity HaVinG a Voice in Gloucester, which helps the homeless on to pathways; and a joint patron of the Discover DeCrypt project at St Mary de Crypt church and school. Every year, I volunteer with Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
Today is a very good time for this debate and I congratulate the Minister on her introduction to it. She is quite right to focus on what is such a big part of such a big society. She is quite right to say that volunteers and charities are at the heart of every community in all our constituencies, and she is inspired to highlight some of the new awards that have been given to projects about deprivation and community. I would have loved to have seen at least one of those come the way of Gloucester, but there may be opportunities for that shortly. The more she is able to do on this front, with the help of the Chancellor, the more difference it will make to local pride, local people and local potential. Let me share some thoughts from almost 12 years of focus on community and its role in the regeneration of Gloucester.
The first point is that pride matters hugely. England and Britain’s characteristics include an attractive self-deprecation and a not always so attractive approach to not appreciating ourselves, our cities, our towns and villages enough. How do we measure pride and what does it mean? There is no index, but there are various indicators we can use. I often use Centre for Cities’ research as a snapshot of how our city is doing relative to others. The employment rate immediately tells me that Gloucester is working. We have the fourth-best employment rate of any city in the nation. Then there are the less tangible things, such as the amount of volunteering.
Can any of us truly say that we know how many people are volunteering and how many hours they give to our city or our county? It is very hard to tell, but when we look at the different ingredients it is there for us to see. For example, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital has over 400 volunteers, not including the 30-plus in the chaplain’s office. The Gloucester Civic Trust has hundreds of volunteers who play a crucial role on Gloucester Day and on heritage open days, which are one of those wonderful things that have grown and grown.
We then have the community groups themselves. The Redwell Centre in Matson is a fantastic success, with programmes, projects and activities for everybody from the very young to the very old, including the cross-faith and denomination Together in Matson. There are community groups, such as Chit Chat within St James’s church in Quedgeley, which involve the community. There are the festivals, which all our communities have. I would like to talk about the Gloucester History Festival, which I started eight years ago and which now has 24,000 visitors.
We have groups who help the homeless and rough sleepers. The George Whitefield Centre incorporates Gloucestershire care services, the Gloucester City Mission and the food bank, which has lots of volunteers. It is not just Christian charities either. Islamic groups in Gloucester are raising funds for good causes. There are immigrants who are giving back to the society that has looked after them since they left their own country. I want to single out Babu Odedra and Ash Chavda. They own the Olympus Theatre, where there is a great project to regenerate culture and drama in the heart of Barton in Gloucester. There are the Rotary Clubs. We now get all the Rotary Clubs in Gloucester together and we have our community awards every year, with some £10,000 going to about 20 different groups. These little things matter and it is a way for charities to highlight what they are doing to a group of people who are very charitably minded. The Barnwood Trust nearby, a mental health-focused charity, now interprets mental health in a much wider way. There are lots of things that help. The Gloucester Pride festival every year attracts many times the numbers it had when it started, as does the Lantern festival, which ends up at the cathedral.
What works? What transforms communities and cities? I think often, as my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis mentioned, out of sadness can come determination to change. Charities are formed from disasters in families, such as: the Hollie Gazzard Trust which is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary; Charlie’s Cancer Support group; and the Nelson Trust, which does great things for women in trouble. All of these things boost pride. Success breeds confidence and success. Buildings help. As Churchill said, we shape buildings and then they shape us. Above all, it is about the potential in our societies and things that are good for mental health. The role of volunteering and charities is absolutely critical.