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Volunteers' learning lead

A NEw learning culture has been fostered in more than 200 communities thanks to a scheme to encourage voluntary groups to train their helpers.

Project 2001, a three-year initiative which ends this month, was developed by the Royal Society of Arts, to overcome barriers to learning and qualifications in the voluntary sector, which employs just over half-a-million people. Three million people volunter on a regular basis, and some 22 million volunteered at least once last year.

The project provided advice about routes to qualifications via work-based learning, plus a grant of up to pound;1,000 for each organisation.

"With volunteering now high on the national agenda ever-greater demands are being placed on community groups and voluntary organisations to provide volunteers with learning experiences that develop or enhance their skills, and to improve the quality of the services they provide," says the society.

"The really successful organisations are those that respond to these demands and develop rewarding and challenging volunteer placements that meet both the needs of the volunteer and the recipient."

According to the society the potental for the growth of the voluntary sector could be enormous given the right investment, not only money, but also in training and development. It would also benefit from the sharing of resources and networking information and "know-how".

The organisations that took part in Project 2001 found that they enhanced their planning skills; increased motivation; improved customer service; created better team working and forged new links with other groups. There was also evidence of a new learning culture, with the potential to further enrich the communities in which they existed.

But they also had to surmount considerable barriers. Some volunteers saw training merely as an "add-on" to their main job, for which they lacked both skills and time. Some management committees were unwilling to spend money on training. The high turnover of volunteers made planning difficult.

Other problems were long courses and qualifications that required attendance at FE colleges, especially in the evening.

Nevertheless the volunteers found improvements in their performance, and the experience was helpful in future plans for employment, says the society.

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