At the start of September I spoke at the presentation of the Newtownabbey Volunteer Accolades. Newtownabbey Borough Council is one of a number of councils that organise events to recognise and celebate the contribution of volunteers in their council area. The following is an extract from my speech, in which I commended the outstanding work of local volunteers.
I'm particularly pleased to be here tonight as my Department is the lead department in the Northern Ireland Executive for volunteering.
In March 2012 the department published Northern Ireland's first ever Volunteering Strategy and Action Plan. The strategy is called Join in, get involved: Build a better future and it has been endorsed by the Executive.
The strategy seeks to create the conditions that will enable volunteering to flourish. It recognises that government, the private sector and the voluntary and community sector all have a role to play to support the growth of volunteering.
Our strategy, and by this I mean it belongs to everyone in Northern Ireland, is about helping people in their volunteering efforts. It's about getting more people to volunteer and it's about everyone recognising the tremendous and invaluable work volunteers do in our society.
It will help make it easier for people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved and become volunteers and will help volunteers to have an enjoyable and rewarding experience as they continue to make a real difference in the lives of people in their communities.
Since I became a minister and in fact for many years before that I have always been greatly impressed by the time and energy volunteers contribute to our community. Volunteers give thousands of hours of their free time each year. It is essential that we continue to nurture the capacity and capability that exists, making it easier for people to donate their time and help create the kind of society in which we all want to play a part.
While we recognise the contribution that volunteering makes to civil society we must also not forget the contribution it makes to those individuals who volunteer. Volunteering plays an important role in giving people a sense of purpose and fulfilment, the opportunity to build new friendships while playing an active role in their community. and the chance to do something worthwhile that they enjoy. Two thirds of volunteers say that volunteering gives them more confidence and a position in the community. Over three quarters say that it gives them a chance to do things they are good at and to meet people and make new friends. Most importantly 95% of volunteers say that they really enjoy volunteering and get a sense of satisfaction from it.
Whatever the motivation, thousands of people volunteer across Northern Ireland every day. Our entire society benefits from the work carried out by volunteers so it is in everyone's interest to support and develop volunteering.
Volunteering makes Northern Ireland a better place for all of us to live in. It helps people connect meaningfully with each other across our communities. It enables and empowers individuals and communities to help themselves tp tackle the issues that are important to them. It can help local communities regenerate and renew their neighbourhoods. Volunteers are a precious resource for both their organisation and our society.
Northern Ireland will host the prestigious World Police and Fire Games from 1-10 August next year and just like the Olympics, there will be many opportunities for people to be part of the occasion with the wide range of volunteering opportunities that will be on offer. It is anticipated that between 3,000 and 3,500 volunteers will be required to support the 2013 World Police and Fire Games. I would encourage you to join in and get involved.
Thank you to all volunteers for giving that most precious of gifts - your time!