The impact of NCS will be felt in all parts of our society - by David Blunkett When I was 16 I used to visit an old lady called Mrs Plum once a week. When I came to leave the area, I visited her to say that I hoped I’d been some help over the last two years. Before I could, she said she hoped she’d been some help to me. I realised it was a two way street.
More than fifty years later, today’s teenagers are learning a similar lesson. When they come together to make their mark in their community, they’re not just giving back – they’re getting back too.
Despite the unfair stereotypes about young people that they are lazy and uncaring, the truth is quite different. Teenagers are actually volunteering more than any other age group, including the recently retired. And many sixteen year olds are choosing to spend the summer after their GCSEs not on their computers, but on National Citizen Service. In fact, it’s the fastest growing youth movement in our country for a century. From 158 in 2009 to over 75,000 this year, these young people have given millions of hours to their communities.
Today marks the release of the latest evaluations of NCS and they show how it doesn’t just benefit the community – it has long lasting benefits for the young people too. The evaluations don’t just look at the short term impact of NCS, they follow up a year after and find that many of the impacts endure. What are the findings?
First, evaluation shows that NCS helps young people make that difficult transition into the world of work. Employers these days are looking for more than just academic skills as important as these are – they want well rounded young people too. The teamwork, confidence and leadership skills that you learn on NCS mean that more than nine in ten felt they had learnt useful skills for the future and nearly three quarters felt more confident about getting a job.
Second, and just as important, NCS is helping create a generation that sees the importance of the ties that bind us one to another. As our country becomes more diverse, the risk is that we forget these ties and our diversity becomes a cause of division, rather than a source of strength. NCS brings people together from very different backgrounds and over eight in ten feel more positive about this difference as a result of NCS. And they’re forging enduring friendships: one year on 85% are still in touch with the new friends they made on NCS.
Third, this more cohesive group is brought together by a common concern for community. If you build your community together, you have a stake in it. Every young person on NCS designs and delivers a social action project to make their community a better place. One year on, the evaluation shows that NCS graduates are helping out an additional 6.9 hours every month as a result of the programme - this adds up to 8m hours of extra social action. This is an extraordinary fact that shows how a summer experience can turn into a lifetime of community engagement.
This lifetime of community engagement and citizenship is one of the causes that I have devoted my life as a public servant to, from citizenship ceremonies to citizenship in schools. As a Labour MP, I supported National Citizen Service and subsequently as a Board member of NCS Trust, because I believe that good ideas are an essential part of political engagement and making our democracy work, whatever our ideology or background.
NCS is now more than a good idea – it’s a youth movement that is developing into a normal part of growing up in our country. As this happens, we need to take advantage of the opportunities that this gives us as a society to tap into the energy of engaged citizens to forge a better future for our businesses and charities, our communities and our public services. As a Patron of City Year and a supporter of all the great organisations that work with young people, I look forward to helping make this happen in 2016.