hands up

Queuing, volunteering and coming together for The Big Help Out

How very British

By Matt Hyde OBE 9 February 2023 4 minute read

The efforts of volunteers during the Lying-in-State, the pandemic – and soon, the Coronation of HM King Charles III, shows this country at its very best, says Matt Hyde, CEO of the Scouts. It’s the ultimate expression of the connectedness of civil society, anchored by the word that defined our late Queen: service.

It’s 15 September 2022, and I’m in leafy Westminster as the queue moves forward, quietly, for the Lying-in-State of our late Queen. Alongside me is, Enver Eng, one of the 180 inspirational 18–25-year-olds in Scouts from across the UK, who’ve volunteered to support the public paying their respects. When he joined Scouts, Enver made a promise: to help other people. Today that’s become an absolute reality.

Enver’s exhausted, but he doesn’t let it show. He and his teammates have been working eight-hour shifts, 24/7, preparing people for security, keeping spirits up, collecting flowers and making sure uneaten food doesn’t go to waste. Over four tons will go to a good home thanks to our Scouts, in partnership with food redistribution charity, the Felix Project. Hundreds of blankets used to keep people warm overnight will be laundered at a local prison and sent on to Crisis for people experiencing homelessness.

The power of giving back

But what does this all tell us? I truly believe that one of the things that makes this country great is our incredible voluntary effort, and our willingness to step up when we’re needed most. During the lying- in-state we saw Scouts doing that, and so many others too, from St John Ambulance, and Samaritans to Girlguiding and NCS, who all played their part. Collectively, we showed the great strength of civil society as charities, small and large, played their part.

We saw that same spirit during the pandemic. An incredible 12.4m people volunteered to support the national effort, 4.6m for the first time, of which 3.8m want to volunteer again. (One in four jabs were delivered by a St John Ambulance volunteer). Even more encouragingly, so many of the new volunteers who stepped forward were from diverse backgrounds, with the shift to virtual volunteering.

These massive, collaborative endeavours lift us all. They remind of the astonishing generosity of which we’re all capable, and our deep-rooted instinct to care for others. It’s in our most selfless moments when we’re at our best.

The Big Help Out

The Coronation is our next major opportunity to bring people together and make a difference again. It provides a hook to talk about volunteering and to make this truly a Coronation that reflects a service nation.

Catherine Johnstone at RVS and I, alongside some of the largest volunteer-involving charities in the UK and the Together Coalition, took on this challenge, and came up with The Big Help Out. This is a national day of volunteering taking place on the extra Bank Holiday Monday, 8 May, as the culmination of the Coronation weekend. It’s about taking a lead from King Charles III’s life of service, inspiring a new generation of volunteers. As such, it looks set to be one most significant moments of volunteering mobilisation the country’s ever seen.

I want The Big Help Out to be sea-change moment for volunteering: a chance to show that helping others is as rewarding for volunteers as it is beneficial to others.

This part of the Coronation weekend will be a galvanising moment for us all to roll up our sleeves and do something good in our local community. Whether that’s helping out with a sports tournament, undertaking citizen science programmes or clearing rubbish from a riverbank. I’m proud that Scouts will be in our towns and cities offering pop-up activities to families and inviting people to volunteer for the first time.

Getting involved will be simple: an app and instructions will all be available via the Big Help Out volunteering hub. The key will be for the volunteering to be local, accessible and rewarding, helping people see the impact of their actions.

But this is about creating a lasting legacy, not just one day. If we can help more people feel that volunteering ‘glow,’ and thank them properly, they’ll come back again and again.

It’s a springboard for future volunteering, aligned to the vision for volunteering, and the ripple effect could be enormous.

A kinder, closer society

The Big Help Out represents a massive opportunity to make a positive change, not just in society, but in ourselves – to find that true spirit of selflessness that’s there in each of us. It has the potential to make our nation stronger, closer and, dare I say it, kinder. By starting small and local, we can unlock pride in our communities and compassion for each other, or as Edmund Burke put it ‘To love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country…’

So, I encourage you, and those in your own networks, to be part of The Big Help Out and be the first link in that chain of kindness. By seizing this moment, we can make a big and long-lasting difference.


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