Monday this week saw the world celebrating International Volunteers Day, and also the Team London International Volunteering Conference, taking place at City Hall. London was the CEV European Capital of Volunteering for 2016, nominated for three mains reasons: their innovation in use of websites apps; their skills in working with London-based businesses and charities; and in recognition of how London created a real volunteering legacy from the 2012 Olympic Games.
The conference culminated their year as the capital of volunteering, and it saw Team London gather together many charities and organisations – including our members Volunteering Matters and Emfasis Foundation – for a celebration of the past year and the years to come. We heard speeches from Matthew Ryder QC, the Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, who welcomed the attendees to the conference. He spoke about the volunteering that has been going on in the capital in 2016, and congratulated Sligo, from Ireland, to whom London passes the baton 2017.
A delegation from Sligo gave us in the audience a taste of the work they have been doing in Ireland, while also showing off the spectacular scenery to be found there. Much smaller than London (and previous winners Barcelona and Lisbon), nonetheless, Sligo looks set to punch above its weight, and continue the volunteering legacy started by the preceding cities. We saw the European Capital of Volunteering for 2018 awarded to a very excitable contingent from Aarhus in Denmark, who look set to continue the work of volunteering in their city.
The afternoon was split into two sections, divided between practice showcases, and policy workshops. Volunteering Matters and Emfasis were presenting in the afternoon so I attended the early afternoon workshop on inclusivity, and the integration of refugees through volunteering. Led by three organisations – Ethelon, a Greek NGO, and CARAS and Transition Town Tooting (TTT), from Tooting in London – the workshop looked at the successes they have had in integrating refugees and migrants into their local communities.
The afternoon session was a Volonteurope affair, with Emfasis presenting in the practice showcase on ‘Creating the next generation of volunteers’ and Volunteering Matters unveiling their work in the field of ‘Measuring impact.’ Our own Laura de Bonfils, along with Volunteering Matters’ Angela Schlenkhoff-Hus, presented their work on measuring impact in the volunteering sector, while Maria Karra from Emfasis Foundation spoke about how her organisation has worked to create the next generation of volunteers. Maria gave a great overview of the work that Emfasis does – specifically, what they describe as ‘streetwork’ – and how they have made connections with the people that spend some, if not all, of their time of then streets of Athens.
In an increasingly difficult economic climate, Emfasis works to provide essential services, such as a hot meal, hygienic supplies, and often an understanding ear, to people living on the streets in Athens. Having started Emfasis in 2013, Maria and her team have now mobilised more than 200 young volunteers in Greece to join their streetwork cause. In so doing, they support rough sleepers, substance addicts, vulnerable and socially excluded youth, as well as people under imminent threat of becoming homeless.
The conference was a fantastic opportunity for diverse volunteering organisations to get together and share knowledge, and to learn about the essential work being done across Europe. The timetable, while full, was engaging and well planned, and we were also allowed plenty of opportunities to network and exchange ideas. I’m sure it’s not just me already looking forward to next year in Sligo!