Boris Johnson: volunteer and make a difference

Just last week we unveiled a fantastic new development behind King’s Cross – in an area that for most of our lives was a post-apocalyptic haunt of prostitutes and junkies, and that now hums with life; and we announced huge new developments in Vauxhall and at Canary Wharf, including a new tower even taller than the existing One Canada Square.

A new Garden Bridge is to be built in the heart of the city and an Olympicopolis is growing on the Stratford site. There are new hotel chains opening, new restaurants, new tech businesses starting, new university campuses, and in all this seething activity you will not be surprised to know that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs being created – and more to come.

And don’t think this success is good for London alone. It is London’s economy that drives the rest of the country. It is the gateway for investment in the whole of Britain, in every sector from finance to tech, to the arts and culture in which this country leads the world.

All of this presents a phenomenal opportunity for a young person – at least in theory. And so the biggest question for me, as Mayor of London, is what can we do to ensure that those jobs go to the young people who are born and who grow up in what is now becoming the world’s favourite city.

We have far too many young people in Britain who are not in education, training or employment. We have far too many kids who don’t have the basic qualifications for the world of work – who leave school without those essential skills in literacy and numeracy.

Shane Warne serves up an easy one to London mayor Boris Johnson during a Team London event last summer at the Oval in south London

But for many of those young people – at least according to employers – there is a further problem, and one that is not exactly about their qualifications. It is to do with their confidence, their self-esteem, their general belief that they can be winners in the place of work.

Time and again I have had conferences and round-tables with the big employers, and we have looked them in the eye, and asked them: why is it, frankly, that you so often seem to employ people from the accession countries of the EU, and why is it that so many young Londoners seem to miss out?

And they answer quite openly: it’s not so much to do with the pay differentials or the welfare system – though these can make a difference at the margin. It is about aptitude, or attitude, or work ethic – call it what you want. I remember vividly a conversation with one of the most prolific builders in the country, a man who employs tens of thousands of people.

I suppose I was a bit hectoring about the need to employ young people, and he gave good answers. He has helped launch a massive apprenticeship programme, by which we have enabled more than 130,000 young people to find a start in a place of work, with a plan to reach 250,000 by 2016. He takes his responsibilities immensely seriously, and tries to recruit British staff wherever he can.

But sometimes, he told me, he has found young people lacking a clear sense of what is expected of them in the workplace. Through no fault of their own, they sometimes don’t understand the importance of turning up on time, of being smart and presentable, of working in a team, or even flashing one of those indispensable smiles.

Well, we need to solve all that. We need to help our kids; we need to build their confidence and what you might call their all-round employability, and we need to do it fast – because the vacancies are there, and I want to see them go to people born and reared here.

There are all kinds of solutions for communities all across the country: better education, employer-based training, and so on. But there is one activity that can transform the outlook of a young person, and that can help to get them ready for work – and that is volunteering.

Get them on to a project that is fun, that has a goal, that involves team work and self-discipline. Get them to understand that fundamental truth that no amount of training will teach you: that success only comes to those who really want it, who aim for it not because some teacher is bossing them around, but because it is something they have set their heart on.

That is the beauty of volunteering – and that is the inspiration of the Step Up To Serve campaign launched last year by the Prince of Wales, which we in London are supporting with our Team London mission.

The idea is simple: to think of volunteering not as mere do-goodery, but as a route to work.

The overwhelming majority of employers get it. At least 73 per cent of them say they regard volunteering favourably as a qualification on one’s CV. It doesn’t matter what the project is – planting trees, ridding canals of shopping trolleys, teaching little kids to read – a social action programme can teach youngsters about critical workplace skills: delegation, communication, leadership, you name it.

Team London is working with organisations like Free The Children, who go into schools and show them how to get their pupils engaged in some social project; and there are very good results: big increases in the self-confidence of the kids and above all much greater clarity about what they want to achieve and how to do it.

I know that many businesses in London and across the country are already heavily engaged in volunteering programmes of all kinds. But in view of the problems we face in encouraging young people, and the opportunities that are going begging, I think it is time to take it up a gear.

It is fantastic that the Telegraph is leading this campaign. Here, you can read about the astonishing achievements of people like Camilla Yahaya, who arrived here only four years ago barely speaking a word of English, and who has set up her own social action project – Young Citizens – as well as getting outstanding results in her exams.

We need more young people to have the same kind of confidence, gumption and initiative as Camilla. But they will always need older people who have the imagination to inspire them.

We need businesses – and it could be you – to do some simple things to help make 2014 the year of volunteering:

We want you to give staff two days a year in which to volunteer – because so often the problem with the programmes for kids is that there aren’t enough adults to support them. There is a huge waiting list for the scouts, the guides and other youth groups, just because of a shortage of supervisors.

We want you to recognise that volunteering can be a qualification for employment.

We hope that you will build on the volunteering movement that had such an amazing push forward in the Olympic year. Sign up for Team London and see if your firm can be involved in any of our projects.

I am conscious as I write this that it is now exactly 100 years since the greatest campaign to recruit volunteers that this country has ever seen. When Kitchener pointed his finger square between the eyes of the British public, he was answered by more than two and a half million volunteers – and almost a million British troops went on to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

And the truly amazing thing is that the memory of that has done absolutely nothing – in the succeeding century – to quell the desire of British people to do something for their country and for their neighbourhood.

Millions across Britain volunteer every day. Our aim in Team London is to make it as easy as possible to volunteer, to take the hassle out of doing something good.

So let’s mobilise a new army of young people – not for battle, but for social action projects of all kinds, and so to set them on the path to the happiness and fulfilment that comes with the world of work.

You can search thousands of volunteering opportunities in London at, or across Britain at or

If you’re an employer looking for volunteering opportunities for your teams, or looking to form an exclusive partnership on a programme to build employability for the next generation, contact

Lend a hand – how you can get involved

We can claim, with some justification, to be a nation of volunteers, as London 2012 showed triumphantly to the world thanks to its Games Makers. These 70,000 purple-clad volunteers, some brandishing outsized bright pink hands, put in eight million hours of work to ensure the Olympics and Paralympics were a gold-winning global shop window on the best of British.

National figures published last year show that 44 per cent of adults have formally volunteered once in the previous 12 months, and 29 per cent once a month over that period. That amounts to 22.7 million people throughout Britain. And, as well as formal volunteering (defined as running or helping at an event, raising money, or taking part in sponsored activity), there are countless more giving their time and expertise informally to others.

So we already have plenty to build on, but we can also challenge ourselves to do so much more. That is the theme of The Telegraph’s Lend a Hand campaign, which will run in the paper throughout 2014.

While the figures for volunteering have been slowly creeping up of late, after a dip in 2010, there are still so many opportunities out there, so many organisations and individuals who could benefit, if all of us could spare a few hours of our time, enthusiasm and expertise.

Volunteering isn’t just about giving back to society. Of those who volunteer, 62 per cent say they do it because they “want to improve things” or “help others”.

But a slightly bigger number – 65 per cent – say that they derive “personal satisfaction” from seeing the difference their volunteering makes.

That is the message that comes over loud and clear from the individual stories of volunteers young and old in today’s Weekend. And we will carry on exploring it further in the weeks and months ahead – urging businesses to encourage and enable their employees to volunteer, highlighting areas where you could direct your skills, and showing what amazing results can be achieved if you give up a little bit of time.

We will be working with various partner organisations, including Team London, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Join In. And, most of all, we will be working with you, our readers, to inspire you to volunteer, and to celebrate the volunteering you are already undertaking.

Peter Stanford

Read more: Volunteering has let me give something back to London

Read more: Sebastian Coe: why everyone should lend a hand

3 thoughts on “Boris Johnson: volunteer and make a difference”

  1. Any such activities which avoid the dead hand of State often succeed. Just keep the jobsworths away….Well said, and well done,
    Sunday was a good cycling day..

  2. Dear Mr Johnson

    Re. Mail on Sunday 2 March.

    ‘Never let it be said your mother bred a jibber!’

    We cannot afford yet another parliament with an incompetent government that has no hands on experience of managing a business.

    I cannot name one minister in government or opposition who is, in my view, employable. Possible exception, Hague.

    I hate the phrase ‘with respect’ so I won’t use it.

    Just please get on with it.

    We need you in parliament leading the conservative or UKIP party to win the next general election.

    Regards Tony Moon.

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