This week, the story of the Jubilee stewards – ferried to London to work shifts during the Queen’s celebration events – threw an unwelcome spotlight on volunteering; principally what can go wrong when careless management lets things go to rot.
To recap: jobseeking ‘volunteers’ reported to The Guardian that when their coach arrived two hours early during the night, the group were left under London Bridge in the rain and cold until managers from security firm Care Protection UK turned up.
Whether what happened was exaggerated, or is the tip of the iceberg (not to even address whether their volunteering was somewhat coerced) – it didn’t help that it was days before any crisis comms appeared.
Now all parties – particularly the ‘work placement’-brokering charity Tomorrow’s People – must demonstrate they can move forward swiftly, account for what happened, and use their public relations (including social media) to prevent any more reputational damage.
A day after I posted this comment on CivilSociety.org.uk, I was pleased to see an attempt in The Daily Mail to give voice to a volunteer who did enjoy the experience. But I’d also like to see more demonstrable impact of the charities’ services outside of #JubileeStewards (notice how the humble Twitter hashtag has replaced the need to prefix everything with ‘-gate’).
The irony that this happened in ‘Volunteers Week’, and against a backdrop of renewed excitement in volunteering because of the Olympics and Paralympics, is a sad blow to many charity events that rely on the goodwill of those that wish to give their time.
The incident is already being zealously used as a political football – with allusions to Big Society, welfare policies, and the austerity agenda – but the public won’t be satisfied with a blame game. However, they should have their faith restored in volunteering, and why they should bother.