Take a look at the people on this page today. All are volunteers. It’s abundantly clear from their smiles that it’s not about giving. You can’t put a price on what they get out of it.
This month they – and hundreds more – get a very special thank you, thanks to the Volunteer Centre for Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde.
The centre is just within the gates of Stanley Park. It’s a special location for a special bunch of people, within one of the former gatehouse lodges. The Wellness centre the service helped to establish is in the lodge opposite.
The volunteer centre, originally an offshoot of the Council for Voluntary Services, went it alone and is now the gateway to volunteering across the Fylde.
It’s gone from two paid workers to 20 but the real value, stresses chief executive Lynn Saggerson, is in the volunteers recruited, encouraged, channelled towards opportunities where skills are really appreciated. The centre also offers training – including certified vocational skills – and volunteer mentors.
It’s hard to put a value on the price of saving a life or helping the family of a terminally ill child, or signposting hospital visitors to the right out-patient clinic, buying crucial equipment or ensuring a lifeboat or mountain rescue team go out on time.
Neither can you stick a financial label on volunteers who staff our the shops that support the legions of local charities, social enterprises or companies who care enough to make a difference
But we all know Blackpool would be lost without its volunteers. The statistics are mind boggling. Thousands volunteer locally. So many the charities themselves can’t put a figure on the economics of generosity.
Take Trinity, the Hospice on the Fylde, which has 600 volunteers. Or Blackpool Victoria Hospital which has 400. Or any of the hundreds of charities, and social enterprises, or public spirited companies, big and small, in and around Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre.
We all know someone who goes that extra mile to help a neighbour. Or spends their spare time supporting a community group. Or simply serves us or takes our donations whenever we visit our favourite charity shop.
But do you know if they know that Blackpool wants to say thank you to them?
The Volunteer Centre has organised a huge thank you for volunteers at Blackpool Winter Gardens – with the support of Blackpool Council.
Blackpool’s Big Thank You is to be held at the Empress Ballroom from noon to 5pm next Tuesday.
It is free to attend for volunteers. More than 300 are already joining the celebration – signed up to take part by their own organisations, Trinity, the Vic, the Carers Centre, and more.
But there is room for 200 more. The event will also feature the first Volunteer of the Year award to be presented by the Volunteer Centre, but essentially the aim is to give volunteers the time to simply be thanked for who they are and what they give to the rest of us.
Stalls will be set out by those involved, entertainment laid on, eats and treats, and council leader Simon Blackburn there, along with civic leaders, to ensure each and every volunteer realises their inherent worth to the local authority and across the community.
It’s not about the money, although that tends to be the focus of charity chief executives struggling to maintain lifeline services on shoestring budgets.
It’s about the bigger picture, increasingly plugging the gaps left by public and statutory sector cutbacks, and building on the adage if you want something doing do it yourself.
Lynn also makes a critical point: “Volunteering is not just about giving, it’s about what you get out of it too. I think every volunteer would say they get far out of it than they give.”
She speaks from personal experience. Lynne is paid to run the Volunteer Centre which is open five days a week but also volunteers what time she has left to charities close to her heart, women’s aid and other causes.
Much the same goes for support worker Claire Mashiter, who co-ordinates allied projects, along with the development of a volunteer academy, a One Blackpool scheme to help develop the infrastructure, and another programme to support volunteers in their workforces. Claire volunteers with a mountain rescue support group.
Centre champions include the doughty Elaine Smith, about to stand down as chairman of Blackpool Civic Trust. Elaine’ just became national Civic Voice/Marsh (heritage) volunteer of the year. “Why do we do it? Who knows. The answer’s different for each of us. It’s about making a difference. Because you can. It’s that simple.”
l For more information see www.blackpoolsbigthankyou.eventbrite.com. If you would like to nominate an individual as Blackpool’s Volunteer of the Year or get involved as an organisation or community group - or just volunteer – contact the Volunteer Centre on (01253) 301004.