Letters - In defence of the volunteer

Richard Sennett (Essay, 27 January) argues that volunteering is a poor way to bind strangers and deal with social complexities, and that the very celebrating of volunteering denigrates (paid) public service. But volunteering was never supposed to be a complete social panacea; and nor was the employment of professionals. The two are different but complementary. Volunteering does, however, involve people giving their time to help children learn to read in schools, to be magistrates and to mentor young offenders, thus adding value to their own public services and making up part of the armoury that improves society.

Volunteers are also free to speak out when the state system fails. Research and statistics gathered by Citizens Advice Bureau volunteers have been powerful agents for change.

Elisabeth Hoodless
Executive director Community Service Volunteers
London N1

This article first appeared in the 03 February 2003 issue of the New Statesman, Terrorism: the price we pay for poverty