How Coronation's Big Help Out will boost volunteering efforts: Bishop Toby Howarth and Zaki Cooper

Have you heard the one about the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the Buddhist Monk? It sounds like the start of a joke, but it actually relates to an event which took place last month at The Passage homelessness charity in central London to draw attention to the Big Help Out, one of the official projects of the upcoming Coronation Weekend.

The Big Help Out is a huge public engagement campaign to promote, champion and showcase volunteering on Monday May 8.

Churches and other faith communities already play an outsized role in the country’s volunteering efforts and are set to be a pivotal part of the Big Help Out.

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The Big Help Out is trying to affect a step change in volunteering across the UK. In total, 28 million people volunteer every year in some way and at least 19 million do it every month. Whilst these are big figures, there are still many who don’t volunteer because they haven’t heard about opportunities to give help.

Bishop Toby Howarth is among those getting involved with the Big Help OutBishop Toby Howarth is among those getting involved with the Big Help Out
Bishop Toby Howarth is among those getting involved with the Big Help Out

The current climate is not easy for volunteering. There has been some decline in recent years, partly due to the cost of living crisis and also the aftermath of Covid.

The Big Help Out is working to solve this problem by making it easy for volunteers to recognise opportunities and get involved. It aims to get more people to consider volunteering, especially those from backgrounds who have never volunteered before.

This campaign is so important because, ultimately, volunteering has a triple benefit. It’s positive for the charities and beneficiaries who receive the support. Many of the 168,000 charities in England and Wales are heavily dependent on volunteers. It’s also good for the volunteers themselves.

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Research repeatedly shows that there are health and social benefits to giving your time to help others.

Finally, volunteering is also good for the fabric of society. It builds social cohesion and often helps to solve problems that the state can’t or won’t address.

The event at the Passage brought together the Archbishop of Canterbury with religious and community leaders from the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Buddhist communities. This was accompanied by statements of support from over 30 religious leaders from all over the UK.

When it comes to the Big Help Out’s objective to promote volunteering, it’s no wonder that many faith communities wish to be involved. We think there are three particular reasons for this. First, Christianity and other faith traditions promote, in their scriptures, kindness and service to others.

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Secondly, there is ample evidence to show that faith communities volunteer at higher rates compared to the rest of the population.

The third reason why the Big Help Out is so relevant to faith communities is due to the wider context; the King has a long-standing interest in multi-faith engagement and of course, the Coronation itself is a faith-based event.

For all these reasons, faith organisations look set to play a significant role in The Big Help Out.

The Trussell Trust in York will be holding a special event and Bradford Cathedral is doing a litter pick. This gives a flavour of just a few of the events that faith communities are organising. It’s not too late to organise something yourself.

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The Coronation will be a historic occasion. We have not had such an event for 70 years. Faith communities can be part of leaving an enduring and exciting legacy through encouraging even more volunteering.

The Rt Revd Dr Toby Howarth is Bishop of Bradford and Zaki Cooper is an inter-faith activist working on the Big Help Out.