A week past Monday, the Minister, who spoke so well at the start of this debate, was reported in Hansard as saying, “thank goodness for Stirling!” I hope that she will feel compelled to say something similar when she sums up at the end of this debate. Much has been said today about how communities become connected by volunteering, and I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying, with no little pride and a great deal of humility, that Stirling is an epicentre when it comes to volunteering. Stirling was the UK’s sole contender for the European volunteering capital for 2020, and it was shortlisted to the final two.
The latest Scottish household survey shows that 39% of people in Stirling volunteer, compared with the national average for Scotland of 28%. This means that 30,000 people are enlisted as volunteers, working to improve the quality of life in so many aspects of the Stirling constituency. They are young and old, male and female, and people of faith and no faith. They are the people who keep our community centres open, who provide vital care for vulnerable people and who are working to enhance and protect our environment. It is the volunteers who are the backbone of Stirling district citizens advice bureau, and of Start Up Stirling, which runs Stirling’s food bank and mobile food bank. They do so much to support and help people who are in difficulties and distress for any number of reasons, and they do so in a way that is entirely focused on helping people to get back on their feet, whether that involves a short-term or a longer-term commitment. Those organisations have my deep and abiding appreciation and admiration, and I am glad that my office works closely with both of them.
Let us take the Trossachs search and rescue team as another example. They won several prestigious Scottish and UK-wide awards last year and, more importantly, they have won the gratitude of the many communities from Strathblane to Strathyre who were cut off and isolated as a result of the “beast from the east”. The Braeport memory cafe in Dunblane and Town Break in Stirling do a magnificent job in helping and supporting those with dementia and their families. With new initiatives being planned in other parts of my constituency, the work of those volunteers is inspirational. Many of their families have been affected by dementia, as indeed has mine.
The Doune Community Woodland Group has recently completed another successful path project at Doune ponds. It was officially opened just last Saturday, and it is physically connecting communities as well as encouraging health and wellbeing in this historic rural community. Then there is PLUS Forth Valley, which is based in Stirling and works with children with additional support requirements and their families. Its motto is “disabilities are no barrier to fun” and the hard work of its extraordinary volunteers makes that statement come to life. They have my full admiration.
I was recently privileged to attend the annual Killin Drama Club panto. Not only was it a superb production, but it was very funny and brought the whole community together, enhancing everybody’s wellbeing. I want specifically to mention Gordon Hibbert, who has written and directed the pantomime for the past 24 years. I look forward to his 25th production this year.
Volunteering is the fastener that brings our communities together and then keeps them together. As parliamentarians, when we see a societal need or a social injustice, it is always tempting to reach into taxpayers’ pockets to fund an imposed remedy. However, when we do that, often inadvertently creating governmental agencies and complex bureaucracies, we must be very careful. Communities that work together can not only bring about sustainable change, but be strengthened and uplifted in the process. They provide the service, but they also give love and receive love in return. That is the enduring thing which binds us all together, come what may.