Let’s hear it for the unsung volunteers

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
7:00 AM

Some would have you believe that economic meltdown or the disintegration of the traditional family are the things that will make civilisation collapse around our ears.

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But I think there is another factor that is too often forgotten - and arguably even more important. If this nation’s army of volunteers stopped marching, society would be almost impossible to sustain.

The London 2012 Olympics has rightly received some adverse publicity because it is such a corporate leviathan, heartbreakingly divorced from its amateur roots and corrupted by the megabucks thrown at it by multinational brands.

And yet, for all the expenditure and all the influence that is being bartered by the money men, it would not take place without the many thousands of volunteers who will give up their time to steward at and administer the events.

The recent Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations brought home to me just how important volunteers are to Britain. They are the cement that binds together the bricks that make up a civilised society.

Almost every town and village across Norfolk staged splendid jubilee events. And they were powered not by hard cash but by hard work - by countless unsung volunteers.

While we were making sure that our union flag bow ties matched our royal blue socks, they were putting up bunting, laying the tables, setting up stages and even forging the beacons.

Without the volunteers, much of the community coming together would not have happened. Jubilee parties would have been lonely affairs, and many people would have missed out on meeting their neighbours.

In the midst of all the wonderful jubilee events, a remarkable event passed off relatively quietly, when Cromer resident Vera Woodcock passed 60 unbroken years on the town council and its urban district council predecessor.

Again, she is a volunteer, having received no recompense for the thousands of disrupted days and evenings that she has given up for the sake of serving her town.

It is unlikely that such stalwart service in the face of an endless supply of agendas and reports and occasional outbreaks of total tedium will be repeated.

But there are still plenty of people who do serve on our parish and town councils. And they certainly aren’t doing it for the glory or for people’s gratitude.

But councillors are not unique. What about the school governors, village hall committees, youth sport committees, preservation societies, “In Bloom” groups, churches, Rotary clubs and school friends’ organisations?

They are all peopled by volunteers, who give so much more than they get. If they all withdrew their labour, or demanded a realistic hourly rate for their toil, life would be considerably less rich.

But they don’t. And that fact should give all of us hope as we are bombarded with prophesies of doom about society’s imminent disintegration.

The big question is - how often do you say “thank you” to the men and women whose tireless work gives your community coherence?

I confess that I rather take them for granted. I enjoy the events of Cromer Carnival and the Cromer and Sheringham Crab and Lobster Festival and pay little attention to the people whose work for 12 months enables us all to enjoy a week of fun.

So next time you are at a local event, tell the volunteers that you appreciate them.

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