It seems bizarre that it is possible to make a career out of volunteering when the very definition implies that work is undertaken without pay. But that’s exactly what Hugo Chittenden has done. Going by the alias of ‘The Volunteer’, like some sort of social superhero, Chittenden is leading a crusade to make volunteering an obligatory part of the UK curriculum and believes that it’s only a matter of time before that dream becomes a reality.
The author of The Volunteer: A Guide to Volunteering, published just this year, says the benefits are manifold. Not only do students gain new skills, such as leadership and teamwork, but they also learn how to communicate, take the initiative and be creative. Ultimately, it helps them to progress "from secondary school into the work arena".
These sentiments are shared by Tim Pare, director of First Give, a charity that offers an educational programme that encourages young people to actively engage in charity work and volunteering, who adds that it "boosts self-confidence… not to mention a CV at an age when there is little else to include on it".
But while Chittenden takes a more top-down approach, focusing primarily on the petitioning of government, First Give is down at the grassroots, making it happen in a very real way.
Having already launched successfully in 61 Greater London schools, with plans to reach another 120 in the next academic year, the First Give programme empowers young people to identify and advocate for a social issue in their local community through a public speaking competition. The prize? A £1,000 grant for the students’ charity. And, according to Pare, a generation with a "spark of positive social conscience" and a "lifelong commitment to charity", which in an era of social disengagement is surely invaluable.
With such broad-reaching benefits for both students and the local community, its inclusion in the curriculum is arguably a no-brainer. But where are schools supposed to find time?
Both Chittenden and Pare describe this as the "challenge", which First Give has certainly embraced, going so far as to design a fully resourced and completely free programme with distinct learning links to RE, citizenship, PSHE and English.
Two schools that have successfully delivered First Give’s programme have done so to Year 9 students during their weekly PSHE lessons.
Nickael Briggs, who dedicated an entire term to the programme in her former role as curriculum leader of citizenship and PSHE at Carshalton High School for Girls, is "definitely" planning on embedding it into her new school.
She says her students "were able to grow hugely in confidence and built rewarding relationships with their chosen charities" and many even continued the relationship by becoming ambassadors and undertaking work experience.
Similarly, Stuart George, head of Personal Development at Didcot Girls' School, who is also looking forward to delivering the programme again this year, described how the experience helped many pupils to "put their own lives and challenges into perspective" in addition to developing their employability skills.
"How can these experiences not be meaningful, memorable and moving, let alone educational?" he asks. "How can you not find time in the curriculum for this?"
Cheering sentiments no doubt shared and applauded by Chittenden as he dons his cape, ready to fight the good fight and take one step closer to fulfilling his dream.