Communities: Charities and Volunteers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 13th February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader 6:26 pm, 13th February 2019

It is really great to get the opportunity to speak in this debate. There are so many charities and organisations that I could mention, but, with just five minutes in which to speak, I clearly do not have the time to do so. I could easily speak for a number of hours about the different organisations that I have seen in my constituency, as I am sure could Members across this House. I echo those who have said thank you to our volunteers, particularly to those who are genuinely involved in charitable organisations and charitable activities across Scotland and across the wider UK. Our communities would be incredibly different without them.

I shall start on a slightly negative note, but I promise that the rest of my speech will be positive. When talking about the number of people volunteering, I have to say that I have a real concern about millennials and their ability to volunteer given that they are working in jobs that are lower paid than in previous generations, given that their housing costs are increased, and that, in some cases, they are having to work more hours than those from previous generations. Finding time to volunteer in that stramash of everything that has been going on since the financial crisis is really hard for them. Anything that the Government can do to help, such as increasing the minimum wage, would be great as it would give people that breathing space so that they can have time to go out and volunteer.

I have one more general point in relation to corporate social responsibility. When I sit down and speak to organisations that want to put forward corporate social responsibility, I say to them, “Most people can paint a shed or do something like that, but if you are an IT organisation and you can bring your expertise to help people improve their IT systems or to help people fill in funding applications, that would be absolutely vital for some of our frontline charities.” I encourage companies thinking about corporate social responsibility to go down those routes if they possibly can, especially if they have that expertise within their organisations.

Let me talk about some of the charities in my constituency. There is an organisation called Lighthouse in Tillydrone, which was co-founded by John Merson. This man has had an amazing life. As a prison pastor, he found that there was almost a revolving door for people coming out of prison, and he wanted to help them. His church was in an affluent area of Aberdeen, but he started to work in one of Aberdeen’s more deprived communities. The difference that his project has made to people coming out of prison in that community is absolutely unbelievable. The work was totally taken on by him to begin with, but he now has an army of volunteers and paid workers. He planted the seed of that project, and it could not have been better for that community.

Newhills Parish Church has a Living Well Café and a dementia outreach service. It has a befriending project, which provides support for people who are lonely. The café is linked in with dementia services, and it is a brilliant place to go along to. Music For You is another organisation in my constituency. It is a stage school that does shows. People with physical and learning disabilities attend the school. Everyone is supported in that organisation to reach their potential. It is just how I think life should be, with everyone supported to reach their potential and overcome barriers. I could not be more supportive of Music 4 U and Debbie Kirkness, who runs that organisation.

Aberdeen Muslims does excellent work in supporting the local community. For example, the beach in Aberdeen was an absolute mess after flooding a few years ago; there was stuff everywhere, and the Aberdeen Muslim community rallied round and organised much-needed beach cleans.

There are so many more groups in my area. I will briefly mention the uniformed organisations such as the Guides, the Scouts, the Boys’ Brigade and the Girls’ Brigade. I started my journey in the Guides at Rainbows, and my daughter has now started her journey in Rainbows. I was a Rainbow, then a Brownie, then a Guide and then a Young Leader. [Interruption.] How things have changed—not necessarily for the better. I have also helped to run a Rainbows group. The volunteering hours are a brilliant experience. These organisations are so good for bringing people together from all the different corners of communities, and giving them the opportunity to socialise with people who they might not normally socialise with.

I have said before that I am not religious, but I could not have more respect for the amount of volunteering that our religious and faith communities do. My city would be very different if it were not for people who attend churches of all different types, and who volunteer and try to improve their communities. I thank them all.