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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.4 Youth volunteering at national level

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 12/08/2020 - 12:03

On this page
  1. National Programme for Youth Volunteering
  2. Funding
  3. Characteristics of youth volunteering
  4. Support to young volunteers
  5. Quality Assurance
  6. Target groups

National Programme for Youth Volunteering


There are a number of national programmes for youth volunteering; both the Northern Ireland National Citizen Service and the campaign for youth social action are described below.

Northern Ireland National Citizen Service

The Northern Ireland National Citizens Service (NI NCS) is a government backed initiative for youth volunteering. It brings together young people aged 15 to 17 from different backgrounds to help them develop greater confidence, self-aware-awareness and responsibility with a view to creating a more cohesive, responsible and engaged society.

The NI NCS consortium is led by Co-operation Ireland, an all-Ireland peace-building charity. Local delivery partners are:

NI NCS takes place in the autumn and over the school holidays in summer. Participants are placed in groups of 12 to 15 young people from different backgrounds. Summer programmes last for approximately four weeks and have three phases:

  • adventure – young people spend a week taking part in outward bound activities
  • skills – young people spend a week away from home learning to be self-sufficient, develop new skills and learn about the needs of their local community
  • social action – the group decides on, and implements, a social action programme (30 hours of volunteering) which will make a mark on their local community.

Due to the length of school holidays, a more condensed programme takes place in autumn, with the adventure and skills phases delivered back to back over one full-time week. Young people then develop their social action project part-time over a number of weekends.

The programme ends with a celebration and graduation event for participants and their guests. Participants receive a certificate to recognise their participation in NCS.

It is hoped that participation in NI NCS will lead to young people applying the values and ethos of the scheme throughout life. The specification for the tendering exercise for the NI delivery partner makes specific mention of how potential providers should connect NI NCS delivery with existing opportunities for ongoing support, mentoring and community involvement for young people and create a NI NCS graduate network.

Participants pay a maximum of £50 for a place. Bursaries are available for those unable to meet the cost and support is provided for students with additional needs.

Due to restrictions in place for COVID-19, NCS NI is not running in summer 2020. 

Note: The NCS is a UK Government programme. In England, the programme is the responsibility of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (see the England description for further information).

Campaign for youth social action

#iwill is the UK-wide national campaign for youth social action. It is supported by HRH The Prince of Wales and aims to make social action part of life for as many 10- to 20-year-olds as possible by the year 2020.

In Northern Ireland,  #iwill is coordinated by the charity Step Up to Serve. The Campaign for Youth Social Action was initiated following the 2012 review into youth social action. The Prime Minister at the time commissioned an independent review of the idea of creating a Decade of Social Action for 10- to 20-year- olds. In Northern Ireland, the campaign is delivered by Volunteer Now.

Through collaboration and partnership  the campaign 'spreads the word' about the benefits of youth social action, working to embed it in the journey of young people and creating fresh opportunities for their participation. #iwill asks for pledges of support from education providers, employers, business leaders, the voluntary sector and public bodies to support its work.  Details of this are set out in its pledge guidance document.

Millenium Volunteers

Millennium Volunteers is still running in Northern Ireland, for those aged 14-25 years old. The Youth Council for Northern Ireland fund the programme with the support of the Department of Education. The Millennium Volunteers programme is built on 9 key principles that make the programme distinctive and they are:

  • Sustained personal commitment
  • Community benefit
  • Voluntary Participation
  • Inclusiveness
  • Ownership by young people
  • Variety
  • Partnership
  • Quality
  • Recognition


Note: In addition to these main programmes, many young people in Northern Ireland are involved in formal and informal volunteering through their school, local youth groups or church. Such activities include:

  • homework clubs
  • church activities
  • sports clubs
  • visiting local care homes
  • scouts / guides
  • charity shops
  • youth clubs
  • peer mentoring.


The Department for Communities funds delivery of the National Citizen Service. 



Characteristics of youth volunteering

Statistics on volunteering in Northern Ireland

The Volunteering in Northern Ireland Research Report has been published since 2014 by the Department for Social Development (since May 2016, the Department for Communities). It contains statistics on volunteering in Northern Ireland. The main themes explored in the survey include levels of volunteering, support for volunteers and reasons for not undertaking volunteering roles. The 2018-19 report states that 35% of 16-24 year olds volunteered in Northern Ireland, and 20% of 25-34 year olds.  

Social action across the UK

The Cabinet commissions Ipsos MORI to carry out the annual Youth Social Action survey to measure the proportion of 10-20 year olds taking part in social action across the UK.

Results of the 2018 survey published in March 2019 show that a gradual decrease over the timespan of the research in the proportion of young people taking part in social action frequently and a shift in the duration of time spent on social action activities, from longer acts of social action to shorter ones. Rates of participation in specific types of social action in 20187 are as follows:

  • Fundraising / sponsored event - 43 per cent
  • Gave time to charity / cause - 2630 per cent
  • Supported people -  23 per cent
  • Tutored, coached, mentored someone – 178 per cent
  • Helped improve local areas – 165 per cent
  • Campaigned for something - 8 per cent. 

Generally, targets for young people's or particular groups of young people's participation are not set.  Where they are, for the National Citizens Service, they are described within the programme information above. 


Support to young volunteers

The Government is keen to reduce barriers to participation in the National Citizen Service (NCS) and therefore provides bursaries for those unable to meet the cost.

Young volunteers are not entitled to any special social security provisions. Benefits may still be payable while volunteering –for example, where the only form of payment received by the individual is in the form of travel expenses. More detail on volunteers’ entitlements is available from the GOV.UK website.


Quality Assurance

There are no regulations on standards of quality in youth volunteering programmes. Systems for the evaluation of youth volunteering projects are generally included within programmes. 

The Youth Work Strategy, Priorities for Youth included the aim that the Education Authority, which is responsible for ensuring the efficient running and provision of primary and secondary education services and youth services, would ‘support and encourage the development of robust and proportionate quality assurance systems in all parts of the youth service’.

The Regional Youth Development Plan 2017-2020 (see 'Responsible authority for the implementation of the youth strategy' in the article 'National Youth Strategy' ) contains some key actions for quality assurance. 

Quality standards are also built into contracts with delivery organisations. Organisations in receipt of government funding are expected to provide value for money.

The Department for Communities has produced a series of guidance documents on working with the voluntary and community sector organisations. This includes guidance on a wide range of issues covering:

  • corporate governance
  • financial reporting
  • the public audit process
  • reducing bureaucracy in grant funding
  • financial systems and controls
  • fraud. 

Full details and links to the relevant documents are available on the Department’s website. 

The Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) supports the Northern Ireland Assembly in its task of holding central and local government departments and their agencies to account for their use of public money.

The National Citizen Service Trust and other programme providers place a great deal of emphasis on evaluating the impact of the programme. The Department for Communities expects that the process of ‘guided reflection’ will be an important part of supporting participants' personal and social development during NI NCS.

The young participants will be encouraged to think about how they deal with people of different ages in the community and they will be helped to present themselves more effectively. Each team of volunteers meets at the end of every session to discuss what they have learned from their experiences, to reflect, and to evaluate their performance as a team.



Target groups

As there is no stand-alone law or regulation on youth volunteering, there is no formal target group. The age range and audience for some of the key programmes is set out below.   

The National Citizen Service Northern Ireland (NCS NI) is the national programme for youth volunteering. It is a government-backed initiative that brings together young people aged 15 to 17 from different backgrounds to help them develop greater confidence, self-awareness and responsibility with a view to creating a more cohesive, responsible and engaged society.  It is aimed at young people from all social, cultural and religious backgrounds, so that it can create a balanced social mix of young people. In Northern Ireland, there is a strong cross-community aspect to the programme so that young people are afforded the opportunity to meet in one another and mix on a cross-community basis and plan to deliver beneficial community projects in one another's areas.

Government funding aims to ensure that cost is not a barrier to participation. Young people with additional needs are also supported so that they can participate in the programme.

The #iwill campaign is aimed all 10- to 20-year-olds whatever their social background.

The section of the Volunteer Now website which provides details of volunteering opportunities for young people, is aimed at those under 30.