I have an awful feeling that I am the only one who has not been practised! I have been enormously impressed by the speeches of the young people here today. I can think back to the first time I had to make a speech and I remember having some terrible problems. And of course there is nothing more difficult than speaking “off the cuff.”
I was particularly impressed with the last speaker who was awarded a Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award – I only managed a Silver! That was despite the fact that I thought I should have got a Gold. In fact in Australia I walked more than 70 miles in one weekend. I discovered at the end of it that my shirt was sticking to my back – with blood, from where my pack had rubbed! I still think I should have been awarded an honorary Gold!
Mr Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen, by now you are all, I am sure, looking forward to a good lunch. And the young people we have just heard from will have told you more, and more eloquently, of what we are hoping to achieve today that anything I can say. So I shall try not to compete for too long with pangs of hunger for your attention.
Today we are launching something new – a scheme of voluntary service for young people in which we hope they will learn to help others, to develop their own potential and establish a sense of belonging in their own communities. I should like to begin by telling you why I think such a scheme as a place – and what it can do for young people and for society at large.
In Britain, we have built a democratic society which has been, on the whole, a reasonable example of tolerance, respect for others and civilised values. It has even, despite the little local difficulties that you seem to meet, Mr Speaker, been noted for order. We retain – and need to defend – all those strengths. But for all that is right in our society, none of us can be unaware of areas of doubt and, as we have seen all too recently, areas of darkness.
No-one who sees the effort and ambition that are the basis of any successful society channelled by a few into a narrow and selfish materialism, could fail to be saddened that other more lasting values seem sometimes to have forgotten.
Equally, no-one who sees the energy and idealism that is common to the young diverted – even in a minority of cases – into paths of nihilism and violence can help wondering at how such human potential can be so misdirected.
It occurs to me that there may be something in the fabric of life that has gone missing so far as young people are concerned.
I believe that what may be missing into many young lives is a sense of community – a sense of what we share with others, what we owe to others, and what we can do for others – in short, a sense of belonging. Can we help to show more young people that their identity is not best expressed negatively by reacting against the world around them, but rather positively by working creatively with and through the community?
If we look at many of the societies which, in our sophistication, we call ‘primitive', we find that the passage from childhood to adulthood is frequently marked by specific rites. Every young person is welcomed into the adult world. Young adults are given a sense that they are full members of the community. They know that their views count, that they are respected as people who can create and achieve, and that they share in all the duties and responsibilities of the adult world. They are also often presented with a particular challenge which marks their entry into this adult world, and tests their fitness to be a part of it.
In Western societies there are few such rites in the passage to adulthood. We think we are too sophisticated. But that, I think is the error we make. We still need to recognise those aspects of the human psyche which we have not outgrown. We need to recognise the youthful urge for adventure and aggression and find better ways to channel it. Otherwise too much talent goes to waste.
If young people are to make their contribution to adult life, and to rise to its challenges, they need to be given the chance to develop their potential and the motivation to live and work as part of, not an appendage to, the community. The scheme we are launching today will, I hope, provide just that positive, but challenging opportunity.
Young people face many pressures today, as young people always have. They have far more varied paths through life, and temptations, set before them than any generation in the past. But the process of growing up remains as awkward and daunting as it always has been.
I certainly have no magic elixir to ease that process. Nor can we, or should we, set out to substitute new, deceptively appealing, roads through life in place of the difficult terrain we know we have to cross. I would like this initiative to help to reinforce a sense of community, but at the same time to add to the abilities, the effectiveness, and the self-confidence of those who take part.
I believe it can do so in three ways – by promoting the value of a pause for reflection, by building a sense of partnership, and by conveying better a sense of belonging.
For all of us at school or in training, at work or out of work, in new job or old – even in my well-known ivory tower which I inhabit with my team of gurus – the pace of life is intense.
Zooming along a motorway may be the swiftest way to get from A to B. But one short pause in a town long the road will tell you far more of value about the country you are travelling through than a week of fast driving. It is that principle of a pause to think and reflect, to look and learn, that I am suggesting.
Second to the principle of the pause is the principle of partnership. No one generation owns the world. We share a place and a time in it with others: those who have gone before us and the generations who are to come. Others made our world both morally and materially – for good and for ill. Many of the works and thoughts of those who lived and died thousands of years ago remain valid today. How sure can we be that our successors will say as much of our own achievements as the stewards and trustees of today's world?
When I look at life in our towns and country today, I find it sad that so many older people and younger people make their lives in almost separate cities, divided by habit, by outlook and even, sometimes, by fear. It is sad because when the old look at the young, and the young the old, they look at themselves. It is sad also that our concept of family has become so confined that we are struggling to defend its final bastion – the circle of the father and mother with young children.
Elsewhere in Europe the family circle is often wider and the pattern of partnership is still strong. I believe that we can learn a lot from societies where three of four different generations live or meet together day by day in family or friendship, and where the young are familiar with the old.
My third principle is the sense of place. Barriers are falling all over the world and with them some of the age-old taboos and suspicions. But diversity too has its value. Just as each person, so each nation and every community is as it is because of the experience of the past. By bringing together young people of many different backgrounds and outlooks, I hope to develop better understanding of the needs and viewpoints of others and also of the value of variety in our nation itself.
It occurred to me sometime ago that the united Kingdom is one of the few countries in Europe in which young people from different regions and differing backgrounds have had little opportunity to live and work together on a common project. Hence the idea of The Prince's Community Venture was developed back in 1985.
This was an experiment with different ways of filling the gap. The reaction at the outset was not – to put it mildly – encouraging. It was politely implied that I might be better employed harvesting raspberries! However, it was a bad raspberry season and I decided to take a hard practical look at what might be done.
What we offered in the Venture Scheme was the chance for young people to undertake one year of work in the community, to try other more adventurous activities, and to share life in a team with other young people away from home. It was tried in four very different areas with a wide cross-section of people.
As an experiment it needed to be properly evaluated. So I opened the venture to detailed scrutiny by academics, the Press, and by an independent panel chaired by Sir John Cassels, former head of the Manpower Services Commission and the National Economic Development Office.
Now it is not often that you can get the professors, the press, and the mandarins to agree. So I was surprised as I was delighted to find that they all agreed on the practical success of the pilot projects, and suggested new ideas for taking the initiative forward.
Most important of all, the participants themselves were genuinely enthusiastic. We seemed to have found a framework for an idea which young people themselves liked and were ready to carry forward.
There were, nonetheless, areas where change was needed. For example, we needed to make the scheme more accessible to those in work. And we needed to reach far more people than was possible through a year-long scheme. The Community Ventures were fine. But we needed something more.
I also realised, of course, that a more ambitious scheme could not, and should not, be managed by me or by any organisation of mine – that will doubtless come as a relief to many! My intention is to work with and through others. Let me set out five major characteristics that I have decided ought to shape this new scheme.
First of all, I want this to be an independent scheme. It is not a Government scheme. It is not a business of trade union initiative. It is not even a voluntary sector scheme. But all those bodies may – and, I hope, will – help.
It is also important that it involves no new organisation. We have enough of them in this country without me pitching in to create another. Apart from a tiny central secretariat, the scheme will operate locally through existing structures.
It is also crucial that, just as our programmes so far have been based on years of experience and research, this scheme too will receive careful evaluation. I make no claim that we have got everything right yet. We will monitor progress. We will run the scheme for an initial period of three years, and then take stock.
Fourth, I intend the scheme to be flexible enough to respond to the need of those who use it, and to evolve in the light if the experience it acquires. The programme will grow as far and as fast as young people want it to.
Finally, and this is essential to the sense of community, the scheme will be locally based. Programmes will be locally devised and locally delivered, providing practical ways for people to contribute to their communities, and to learn something of aspects of life previously beyond their experience. So far as possible they will aim to involve other local bodies in work for their own community.
The scheme will normally be full-time, lasting three to four months. But we have also listened to the wishes of employers and developed a part-time version giving experience of an equivalent length.
Participants will have the chance to take part in adventurous activity. Each team of young people will also undertake specific and identifiable voluntary tasks – for other people of community projects in need of support, or for practical environmental improvements. I hope also that we will be able to add a European dimension to many of our programmes. The further we move into the decade, the more important that will become.
We are aiming to attract young people of between 16 and 24 years of age. They may be looking for work or they may have spent some years in employment. They may be pursuing Government training courses, or they may have spent some years in employment. They may be pursuing Government training courses, or they may be students in further education on long vacation. They may have just left school wondering what to do next. It is most important that we should also reach those young people who perhaps wouldn't remotely dream that the scheme might be for them. This will be difficult. I am not underestimating that fact – but we will try hard, and we have a reasonable track record of success. A central concept of the programme is to place young people of different backgrounds and experience in partnership in a single team.
At the end of the day all those who take part will have the satisfaction of knowing that their team has achieved something tangible which, without them, might not have been possible. Each person, I hope, will end his or her spell with us convinced that their time and effort have been well spent and hopefully proud of an achievement which, who knows, they will one day point out with pride to their grandchildren – particularly if it has involved some specific project of conservation, improvement or restoration. The young people we have just seen in the Thames TV film converting an old barn to be used as a holiday home for disabled children is a perfect example. I am sure that you will all enjoy telling your grandchildren about experiences like that.
Launching any new venture poses problems. We have to look carefully at the context in which it is being introduced. For example, I am glad to say that young adult employment is now sharply in decline. Furthermore, that age-group in the population is also falling fast. Over the next ten years the number of young adults will continue to fall. There will be 17 per cent fewer people between 15 and 24 years old in the year 2000 than there are this year.
All this will intensify the conveyor belt effect on our young people. It will make even more competitive the atmosphere in which the scheme will come into being. We shall have to work to be noticed. And we shall have to prove and prove again the value of this concept to young people and to employers alike.
We should be frank also about one other challenge that we face. Recent studies have shown that 16 – 24 year olds are now among the least likely in the population to volunteer. Yet, all that I have seen on the evidence of our Ventures and of the Caister camp is that once they do volunteer, they grow to like it and never regret it. The message may get through by word of mouth – the challenge, of course, to us is to reach out and find them. My hope if tht the volunteer spirit, if inbuilt early, will last a lifetime.
One overriding concern was, as ever, money. I hope that the new local Training and Enterprise councils, local employers and local authorities will help – in cash and in kind – to make schemes in their area a reality. I am pleased that the Government has said that it will give us some help to get the scheme off the ground. The Home Secretary, as you heard, has kindly agreed to contribute £50,000 towards the cost of the scheme. In addition, the Government has accepted that the short term unemployed in the 18 to 24 age group may participate in the new scheme and receive training benefit. I now want to help with other groups facing specific technical difficulties, notably students, so that, in the end, all young people, including the poorest, will be able to participate.
I am told that every new scheme needs a name, I believe that the best name is a simple one. So it is logical that a scheme based on volunteering should be named – and I fear that with all this paraphernalia behind me there is no suspense to this – the “Volunteers”. The popular press have already adopted their own title for the scheme – it will be interesting to see which one sticks!
Today I am offering my Trust to lead the Volunteer effort and to provide the practical stimulus that it needs and also a substantial proportion of the funds. The success of the Volunteers will rest with many thousands of people. It rests with employers being ready to view time off for positive experience as an investment in their young employees. With trade unionists ready to see this as no substitute for jobs, but an opportunity for young people and a welcome source of extra help for things that so badly need doing for the community in general. With teachers ready to give a lead where that is needed. With local and voluntary groups ready to take this task on as well to add to their sterling service to the community. And perhaps, above all, with families and friends, ready to encourage, not to carp at, the intention to volunteer.
With the support of all concerned I am tempted to believe that this project will succeed. I hope you will join me in wishing all those young people who take part every satisfaction and reward from the challenges they will meet.