SINCE national service ended in 1960, the idea of reintroducing a form of compulsory military service or a national volunteering scheme for young people has never quite gone away.
What no one could have expected was that thousands of teenagers would volunteer to give up their summer holidays to help raise money for good causes.
But that is what has happened since the National Citizen Service (NCS) was set up in 2011 with cross-party support in Parliament.
Oxfordshire NCS team leader Simon West (centre) with volunteers
The scheme, which comes into its own during school holidays, prides itself on bringing together young people from diverse backgrounds and giving them new skills, as well as helping local charities.
Groups of teenagers from different parts of Oxfordshire and different schools are given the chance to spend two weeks camping and taking part in adventurous activities like rock climbing and canoeing.
They then spend the next fortnight picking a charity to raise funds for and planning how they will raise the money before going out on the fundraising trail.
Oxfordshire NCS team leader Simon West says the diversity of participants is one of the key elements of the scheme.
He said: “That is one of the main strands. It is great to get 16 and 17-year-olds together and mixing because they maybe don’t have the same opinions as their parents when it comes to stuff like that.
“It’s funny actually because when the kids all go off on the bus you can sometimes see the parents eyeing each other up a bit, but the kids all get along really well.
“It’s a really important way of building relationships and getting to know each other.”
Last year 30,000 teens from across England and Northern Ireland got involved and 90,000 spaces were made available for this year’s intake.
In Oxfordshire the scheme is run by the county council and young people take part in groups organised around the youth hubs which operate across the county.
This year’s summer volunteers completed the scheme and graduated last Friday ahead of returning to school this week.
Heidi Wells, the leader of the East Oxford team, said the scheme was a brilliant way to get young people involved in their community.
She said: “It’s about challenging them, a lot of the youngsters come in at first and they don’t know anyone.
“It’s amazing to see how they have developed as a team and started coming out of their shells.
“On the first week they go on a residential course doing various activities, and in the second week they camped at Hill End near Oxford; it’s all about improving their teamwork and getting to know each other.
“Then they had a week of planning, deciding which charity they would raise money for and how they would raise that money.
“In the fourth week they decided they were going to do various things such as a cake sale and street collection.
“They end up raising money for the charity and meeting and mixing with kids from across the Oxfordshire County Council area.
“It’s amazing how these young people have achieved what they have.
“To give up their spare time in their summer holidays, it’s not easy but they’ve done it and achieved so much.”
The Oxfordshire groups raised £2,439 for Oxford Homeless Pathways and cancer charity Maggie’s Centres.
They also contributed £2,500 in volunteering hours based on working for minimum wage by collecting money on the streets of Oxford and in supermarkets like Tesco, holding cake sales and working in charity shops.
Mr West said the scheme combined the best of leisure and work for young people.
He said: “The idea is that young people put themselves forward for one week’s adventure activity, but that work really benefits them.
“It is designed for them to get to know each other and then they go on a week’s camping. At the end of the four weeks when they graduate there’s a real sense of achievement there for them and they get a certificate signed by the Prime Minister.
“It’s good for the kids because they get to go and have fun and they come back with a new set of skills which they can put on their CV and which benefits them in general.
“But it’s also good for communities and good for voluntary groups because they’re getting some volunteers and the money the kids make goes towards them.”
'It inspired me to help'
JESSICA Allsworth is 16 and lives in Rose Hill, Oxford.
She is a pupil at Oxford Academy and got involved because she wanted to do something productive with her summer and meet people from different backgrounds.
She said: “I usually just sit down and waste my summer away, and when the NCS came into school they showed us videos of really adventurous activities like rock climbing and camping, so I thought I would get out of my comfort zone.
“I went with two of my friends and at first we just hung around together and then we started to mingle together and we made friends.
“I found it really hard going into people’s businesses to ask for money for charity but it got better as the week went on – I became more confident.
Miss Allsworth said she would never have had the confidence to approach local businesses to ask for help for charity if she had not taken part in the scheme.
She said: “Before I did the NCS I wasn’t very confident meeting people I didn’t know.
“I loved it and I would definitely do it again. It has inspired me to help the community.
“At the end I felt really proud but at the same time it was really hard to let it go.
“I would love to be there and around those people again.
“I have made amazing friendships and I would recommend it to anyone.”
'I learned how to treat other people'
ASIMA Qayyum is 17 years old and lives in Cowley. She is a pupil at Oxford Spires Academy and has just gone into her final year.
She is studying history, politics, economics and creative writing and hopes to go to university next year.
She signed up to the NCS to get some new skills and add to her CV.
She said: “If I hadn’t done it I definitely would have done some sort of work experience or volunteering over the summer; I wanted to do something productive with my time.
“I decided to do the National Citizen Service to get some new skills before I move on to university at the end of this school year.
“The first week we went to Wales, at Kilvrough near Swansea, and then we went camping at Hill End. It was really interesting because we were all roughly the same age but we are from different areas and different schools and it is good to be with other people and live together and get along.
“Being together for four weeks we had to get to know each other and work as a team and we raised £540 for Maggie’s.
“I learned about how to treat other people, how to be grateful and how to work with them.
“I think most of the people have more confidence now than before.
“We had to have lots of confidence to raise money, like the confidence to go up to people, to ask for help and to be positive even if they didn’t want to give us help.”
“I made lots of strong friendships which I hope will last forever.”
'I volunteered to give something to community'
SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD Ellen Arthur is from Abingdon and is a pupil at City of Oxford College.
She suffers from profound hearing loss and signed up because she said she wanted to give something back to the community.
She said: “I really enjoyed doing both sides because I love doing challenging and physical activities but I also love giving back to the community and helping in any way I can because I have profound hearing loss.
“It has given me respect for people who are struggling and need a bit more support.”
She said she had not considered doing anything different with her summer but got involved when NCS advertised at her school.
She said: “It seemed an interesting thing to find out more about. The first two weeks were challenging, pushing us out of our comfort zones, whereas the second two weeks were more relaxed and we worked more together.
“The second part was easier because we knew each other better and knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“But as the days went on we got to know each other better and become friends.
“I learned more skills and found out more about myself and who I am. I also met loads of people from different backgrounds.
“I feel more confident and have more skills to use in the future.”
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