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Civil Service volunteers – great traditions, great skills

Source: PSE Aug-Sep 15

Mark FisherMark Fisher (pictured), director of the Government Innovation Group and Office for Civil Society, based in the Cabinet Office, explains why all government departments since the end of June are offering a minimum of three days a year paid special leave for volunteering.

There is a great tradition in this country of people devoting their time to help good causes, community projects and those worse-off than themselves. Currently, nearly 70% of those aged 16 and over – that’s around 30 million people – volunteer. 

From around three million people regularly volunteering in the health and social care sector, to the 70,000 volunteer Games Makers – who, to many visitors, were the face of this country during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, bringing fun, energy and commitment to those events – volunteers show extraordinary selflessness to contribute to the life of communities across the country. 

We can say that this level of support makes the difference that allows organisations themselves, from charities to community groups, to make the difference they do. 

A natural extension of the commitment to public service 

Civil servants are already among the most dedicated of volunteers, giving generously of their time to countless good causes. For many, it is a natural extension of their commitment to public service. People like HMRC compliance planner Richard Hill, who was named Civil Service Volunteer of the Year for 2014 and has been working with the homeless community in the West Midlands for almost two decades. 

The government supports a range of social action campaigns that civil servants can get involved in and which are a fantastic way to give back. For example, the Cabinet Office is a founding partner of #GivingTuesday, the global day of giving which last year saw more than £2,500 donated every minute on Visa cards. 

The Civil Service Lifeboat Fund was established by civil servants in 1866 and is an official charity of the Civil Service. Since it began, 5,000 lives have been saved as a result of the money it has raised to buy lifeboats (52 to date), equipment, and training for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the charity that saves lives at sea. Volunteer fundraising committees across Whitehall are now supporting the effort to raise £1.1m to purchase a Shannon-class lifeboat to be stationed at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. 

Paid special leave 

As an employer, the Civil Service is leading the way in supporting this sort of commitment. Most Whitehall departments already offered paid special leave to do this. But as of the end of June, all departments offer a minimum of three days a year paid special leave for volunteering. Senior civil servants have it as one of their objectives to encourage every member of staff to take advantage of this. 

While supporting all degrees of voluntary activity, we want to encourage longer-term volunteering amongst civil servants. Volunteering is one of the best ways to gain experience and build your capabilities. It can be a chance to use skills and talents in a new environment, learn new ones, and broaden your horizons and enhance your career, while helping others in your community. It’s also proven that people who volunteer have significantly higher levels of life satisfaction than those who don’t. And we advise civil servants to make sure their personal development plans include any volunteering work they would like to do or have already done. 

This is part of the government’s broader ambition to help build a bigger stronger society, a world where people ask what they can do for their community, not only what their community can do for them. Encouraging and enabling social action, from volunteering to community action and giving money, is a key part of that. That’s why this government will introduce plans for a workplace entitlement to three days Volunteering Leave for employees in large companies and the public sector. 


We know that harnessing the skill and commitment of citizens can help improve outcomes, build more capable and resilient communities and complement our public services. Through the Centre for Social Action, we have invested in 215 projects to test and grow the role of social action in helping to tackle long-standing public service challenges, from helping young people to reach their potential, to supporting older people to age well. And during the last Parliament, our community programmes devolved power and resources so communities can take action on issues they care about. We have recruited and trained over 6,500 ‘community organisers’ and volunteers in deprived areas. By listening to their communities, they identify local leaders, projects and opportunities, and empower the local community to improve their local area. 

We’re looking forward to building on these programmes, supporting a new phase of the Centre for Social Action to support models that make a difference, rebalancing power away from central government and taking new steps to encourage volunteering and giving. 


Finding what’s available 

Getting started in volunteering needn’t be daunting. There are more than a million volunteering opportunities and civil servants (or anyone else) can find what’s available locally at – just one of many national online databases of volunteering opportunities that can help. 

We suggest that people pick something they’re passionate about – sport, for example – seven out of 10 local sports clubs say they need more volunteers. Join In is the go-to platform for local sports volunteer opportunities. 

You can think about being a charity trustee, overseeing the work of a local charity. You don’t have to be a senior civil servant and it can offer excellent experience of strategic leadership. You can find out more at the Charity Commission. Another option is the Dementia Friends movement, which many civil servants have already joined. 

Civil Service Local – located in nine different UK regions – helps connect local groups with civil servants looking to help out. Their blog regularly features opportunities and the team would be delighted to help civil servants find the right placement in their area. 

Last but not least, it’s important for civil servant volunteers to match their skills to what the charity or organisation they want to help requires. Accounting, communications and marketing skills are just some of those likely to be invaluable to charities who don’t have the resources to employ staff.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Tracey   19/09/2015 at 23:39

Hi I am a Civil Servant who is very interested in helping the refugees of the Syrian crisis. I want to know if it is possible for me to take paid leave to help in volunteering. I would do this for free but i have bills and a mortgage to pay for so i can not do it on my own. I don't know what or if i will be entitled to paid leave but would like to know as i want to help these poor people in some way if i can and hopefully make a difference to a few lives.

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