This week the Welsh Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour are blogging about their visions for the voluntary sector in Wales. We’re concluding this series today with a blog by Plaid Cymru’s Peredur Owen Griffiths MS highlights the opportunity to build on the work the sector did during the battle against COVID-19.
One thing special about living in Wales is the abundant sense of community and belonging you find pretty much everywhere. As the son of a Welsh Presbyterian Church minister, I have lived in many different parts of the country during my life and this sense of community has been evident wherever I have been.
You will often find that the first question you are asked when meeting someone for the first time in Wales is not ‘what do you do for a living?’ but ‘where are you from?’ This innate desire to establish connections based upon a sense of place is one of the hallmarks of our country and of the people that live here.
Plaid Cymru’s traditions of being a grassroots party fits into this deep-rooted national characteristic. Without the wealthy backers of our political rivals, we rely heavily on the goodwill of our members to volunteer their time so that we deliver our messages and speak to people in our communities. That is something I never take for granted. This reliance on volunteers means our party truly appreciates the value and contribution that volunteers can make.
Our volunteering is not confined to party political interests, however. In more recent times, we have seen Plaid Cymru members organising volunteer efforts for flood relief in Rhondda Cynon Taf which saw food, clothes and cash collected and donated to those people devastated by Storm Dennis. Food waste schemes run by Plaid Cymru volunteers like this in the Rhondda and Bangor have also seen hundreds of tonnes of produce destined for landfill given to people in Wales, many of whom are in urgent need. Earlier this year, I was happy to be part of volunteer litter picking groups in Ebbw Vale, Brynmawr and Caerphilly where litter had become a blight on the face of the community. Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic saw volunteering go to a new level as people stepped up to shop for neighbours who had to self-isolate or were shielding.
When there is such willingness from communities to improve the lives of those around them, it is no surprise at the size of the voluntary sector in Wales. WCVA’s Voluntary Sector Data Hub states there to be more than 49,000 voluntary sector organisations in Wales. This provides a solid platform from which to support the work of both public and private sectors in Wales. However, I feel there is an opportunity to build on this and perhaps some work to be done to signpost would-be volunteers to local projects that they can possibly get involved in.
The detrimental austerity consensus that emanated from Westminster politics has changed public life in Wales in so many ways it is impossible to list them all here. On top of a generation of underfunding for Wales, the impact of Brexit and the loss of EU funding is yet to be fully felt. This is a chief and direct concern for the voluntary sector. It has to be strengthened and funded so it can help our communities and people face the challenges we face. If the wellbeing goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act are to be met, the voluntary sector has a key role to play – I see this role being played out in collaboration with the public sector. If we are to overcome the threats posed by austerity, coronavirus and Brexit, we all need to come together more than ever. One of the things the pandemic showed us was what solidarity among our people can achieve in the face of a huge and costly threat.
Volunteering is something that is in the DNA of this country and I’m proud of that. I’m confident that any vision Plaid Cymru has for Wales will ensure that local communities are empowered, and that citizens of our country can pay a full role in their communities and will be supported if they choose to do so.
We need to fully embrace co-production, moving beyond rhetoric… by Mark Isherwood MS