Labour’s policy, unveiled on 11 April, of offering free bus passes to young people aged under 25 has been described as modest. It’s part of the party’s wider policy of getting more local bus services back into direct council control. But one sector is jumping for joy at the possibility of even that modest contribution towards young people’s travel. Charities that work with young volunteers believe the move would help them find and retain more people.
Caley Eldred, director of development for City Year UK, a charity that places young volunteer mentors in primary schools to support pupils from disadvantaged communities, says the young people they work with make a huge commitment. They volunteer full-time for a whole year and Eldred says that while the charity supports them financially as much as it can with travel and daily costs, free bus travel would enable it to invest even more in its volunteers’ professional and personal development.
“Travel costs, particularly in the south-east, are huge, and our dedicated volunteer mentors often travel long distances by train, bus, tube and tram to get to the schools and pupils they serve,” says Eldred. “We want to see such proposals expanded to include more forms of transport, improving accessibility for all young people.
One of the charity’s volunteers is 18-year-old Nicole Alderson, who has been volunteering at a primary school near Salford since finishing her A-levels last year, and who has to travel across Manchester every weekday to be at school for 8am.
“If there’s not much traffic, the journey takes about an hour and a half,” says Alderson. “I have to get a bus into the town centre and then a bus up to the school, which is past Salford.”
As Alderson is not a student, she can’t get a concession, and her bus fares cost £18 every week. City Year reimburse the cost, but, as she explains, that means having to keep every bus receipt and claiming them back. “If you lose a receipt, you don’t get paid.”
What does she think of Labour’s proposal? “That would make my life so, so much easier,” she says. “It’s not just getting to school. I don’t drive, so this is my only means of transport when I’m just travelling around.”
For Alderson, volunteering full-time in a school has been a real turning point. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after A-levels. “I knew I wanted to work in education, but I was dead scared to go straight to uni in case I didn’t like it,” she explains. Her college librarian showed her City Year’s website and she signed up for the year-long volunteering scheme.
“City Year focused on education inequality and tackles that through education,” says Alderson. “There’s also a focus on social mobility, through us, the mentors. I help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Of course there are teachers and teaching assistants, but we bridge the gap, help children open up.”
Alderson says she loves the scheme. “I’ve never done anything in my life like it, and it’s not just about helping the children. For young people, it helps us with our confidence and leadership skills, and looks great on our CV.”
In September, Alderson is heading to Salford University to study theatre and performance. “Then I want to do a teaching degree,” she says. “Volunteering has helped me be sure about what I want to do. But it’s not just the work in school. We also get training from City Year, with workshops, and stuff like CVs. It’s loads of different things that will help us. So we’re not just given experience in school, but life skills and how to apply for jobs. It has really helped – and it has helped me grow as a person. It fills my heart with joy.”
Looking for a role in the not-for-profit sector, or need to recruit staff? Take a look at Guardian Jobs