Announcement

First volunteering day marks the start of "A Year of Service"

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today joined faith leaders at a special volunteering event held by members of the National Spiritual Assembly…

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today joined faith leaders at a special volunteering event held by members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the UK to launch the start of A Year of Service.

A Year of Service is a unique programme where nine faith communities are leading a series of volunteering days throughout the year, encouraging people of all faiths and people of non-religious beliefs to come together to help improve their local neighbourhoods. This first event is being led by the Baha’i Faith, where representatives of the nine faith communities are joining young people wrapping donated gifts for a London homeless shelter.

As highlighted in the Government’s Creating the Conditions for Integration paper published last week, A Year of Service exemplifies the principle of selfless service to others and is an opportunity to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in a practical way - service being an important theme of Her Majesty’s long reign. Each of the days is focusing on a different social action project, such as community clean ups, planting trees in a local park, or cooking lunches for those in need.

The private sector is invited to get involved and business-led charity Business in the Community (BiTC) is encouraging businesses across the country to support A Year of Service.

Also announced today is a new category in the national Faith Through a Lens photography competition, which this year will feature photographs taken by a Year of Service volunteers, celebrating their achievements of volunteers and capturing the wide range of activities that will take place during the year.

Speaking ahead of the launch at the National Baha’i Centre, Eric Pickles said:

A Year of Service is a wonderful celebration of the practical contribution that faith groups make to enrich their neighbourhoods and improve the lives of those around them. We would be poorer by far without their contribution, whether that’s running the local youth club; offering help to the homeless; or providing meals to the vulnerable.

Churches, temples, mosques and synagogues are keen to reach out beyond their own walls. Inter-faith activity is thriving and I’d encourage everyone to get involved in an event this year and remember to take a photo.

Communities Minister Andrew Stunell will this evening join volunteers in delivering the donated gifts to a homeless shelter based in St Dionis’s Church, Parson’s Green, run by West London Churches Homeless Concern.

Andrew Stunell said:

Our faith groups are a huge force for good in building strong communities with thousands of unsung individuals donating significant amounts of their free time to improve the lives of those around them. These people are instrumental in getting others involved in local social action.

Volunteering days like today is when A Year of Service will really come into its own, bringing people together and also helping to improve the neighbourhoods they live in.

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the UK said:

A Year of Service is a wonderful initiative that promotes collaboration and a spirit of selfless service - two qualities greatly needed in today’s world. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the UK is deeply honoured to host the initiative’s launch event during the festival of Ayyam-i-Ha - a time of joy, giving and hospitality - and to join hands with Secretary of State Eric Pickles, religious leaders and many distinguished guests to offer service in the community. We are confident that through unified action at the grassroots we can build a better society, and welcome A Year of Service as an excellent opportunity to advance this process.

Nick Hurd Minister for Civil Society said:

Faith groups are a powerful tool to catalyse social action, which is why the Cabinet Office has provided grant funding to support A Year of Service. We all want a bigger, stronger society where people get involved and do their bit. There is already a huge amount of good community work going on up and down the country and I would urge people to get involved in the very first A Year of Service - a great way for people of all faiths and of non-religious beliefs to come together to help improve their community.

The website for A Year of Service provides details of each volunteering day (or days), ideas for activities, background on why volunteering is important to each faith and suggestions as to where people can get involved and go for advice.

Images

Images are available from the DCLG Flickr channel (external link).

Notes to editors

1. Further details on a Year of Service can be found at: www.ayearofservice.org.uk (external link).

2. A ‘Year of Service’ consists of 12 special days throughout 2012 - coinciding with a religious festival of a different faith or an existing volunteering Day, plus a National Celebration in central London on 26 and 27 November during Inter Faith Week. Each special day will focussing on a particular theme and each faith in turn are holding volunteering activities involving everyone in their community. A ‘Year of Service’ project might be a church that not only encourages its own congregation to contribute food during Harvest Festival, but also invites the local mosque and a Sikh Gurdwara to join in. In a business, a staff Buddhist network could lead employees in projects to improve their local environment.

3. The project reflects and involves through a Reference Group the major faith communities: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian faiths.

4. The Baha’i Faith is comparatively new: its Founder, Baha’u’llah, lived in Iran in the 19th century. It teaches the oneness of religion and promotes the unity of all people, and is prominent in social and economic development efforts worldwide, in such areas as health, literacy, and human rights education. The community in the UK numbers at least 6,000, and is actively involved in inter faith dialogue, social action, and educational processes that seek to raise the capacity of people from all backgrounds to contribute towards the betterment of society. Ayyam-i-Ha is a time of celebration, hospitality, charity, worship, gift-giving, and spiritual preparation for fasting in the Baha’i community. It lasts from 26 February to 1 March - four days, or five days in a leap year - and aligns the Baha’i calendar of 19 months, each of 19 days, with the solar calendar. More information on the Baha’i Faith in the UK can be found at: www.bahai.org.uk (external link).

5. The Faith through a Lens competition is open to people aged 16 or over, who are resident in the UK and are amateur photographers. Further details can be found at: www.faiththroughalens.co.uk (external link). Winners of the A Year of Service category will be announced at the National Celebration for A Year of Service in November 2012.

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