I have had it repeated to me many times on the doorstep, normally from older men: we need to bring back National Service. I agree with the sentiment, even if I don’t think young men should be put through compulsory military training any more. The fact is that most of us come out of school pretty green and anything that helps develop maturity, resilience and character is a good thing.
Which is why National Citizens Service is so special. A personal initiative of the prime minister, NCS has been going for a few years now and is gaining in reputation, popularity and strength. You can see why: it gives young people a chance to do something very different – a community project, volunteering, team working – with people that they have not met before or worked with. It is challenging, exciting and at the end of it, most teams have something tangible to show for their summer’s efforts.
Just over the last couple of years I have seen the calibre of projects increase. Even so, nothing I have seen so far matched the dream of this year’s Team 12, led by Diana Ramalho, Laura Bridges and Julia Rusek, who came to see me to explain what they wanted to do.
Moved by the effect the loss of a child has on a family, Diana, Laura and Julia wanted to create a garden in Holywells Park that would be a place where families could remember their little loved ones, leave a permanent memorial and be a gathering place where people who shared so great a loss could be together and support each other.
What was so impressive is what they had already achieved before they came to see me: a space in Holywells Park, and corporate sponsorship and a fundraising plan to help pay for the beautiful space they had conceived. They have called it the Magic Garden Project and I am sure that for families, it will be precisely that.
The legacy of Team 12’s efforts will be greater than this Magic Garden, however: there will be a dozen or so young men and women with experience and confidence in fundraising and project management that most people in their forties do not possess. That is something that National Service never provided and which NCS is doing for young people across Britain. It’s a great project and it is yielding results not just for the individuals involved but for the communities they live in and sought to serve.
The loss of a child has been very much at the forefront of our minds in the last week. As a father of a little boy, just on the verge of being able to walk, my stomach turned with particular force on seeing the harrowing pictures of little Aylan face down in the surf. His is a tragedy of millions, forced from their homes in a war on our doorstep. This is no far and distant land and we are seeing the effects now not just in Calais but on the European beaches where British people have been spending their summer holidays.
We must be clear about the scale of response that is required. We cannot just help those most vulnerable who need a home: it is imperative that we do what we can to crush the evil that is forcing them out of their country in the first place. Even if it were the right thing to walk on by – and it is not – it is in our own interests to do much more.
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