Charles asks for 25,000 volunteers

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The Independent Online
The Prince of Wales yesterday pleaded for all young people to be offered community service.

He was unveiling a plan to increase the number of volunteers taking part in his Prince's Trust from 4,000 to 25,000 a year. In a gesture of unusual unanimity, the Prince was flanked by the leaders of all three main political parties at St James's Palace as he outlined his vision to reach a potentially lost generation with his award-winning scheme.

He told his audience: "I believe all young people, employed and unemployed, from every sort of background and culture, should have the opportunity to work in a team for a sustained period, serving their community."

Around 4,000 people, aged 16 to 25, take part in the Prince's Trust Volunteers, which encompasses a range of activities from canal-clearing to caring for the disabled. By the millennium, the Trust hopes to provide places for 25,000 young people a year, three-quarters of them unemployed.

Leading firms such as Marks & Spencer, NatWest, Sainsbury's and BT, have already said that they will send trainees on the projects.

The Prince said the six-year-old scheme had won a National Training Award because it had succeeded in three things. It had helped the jobless to find work; the quality of the programmes was high, so employers sent their trainees to them; and community groups found them valuable.

Presidents Jacques Chirac of France and Bill Clinton of the United States have expressed interests in the projects, he said, but it needed to expand.

"Every country is concerned about the number of its young people who do not obtain from formal education a range of skills which are needed in a modern society. This is not just a problem for a tiny minority."

He urged schools to become involved in community work, and said that his organisation was filling a gap in society.

"For adults, particularly those whose lives are not rich in opportunity, we make little provision," he said.

The Government currently pays pounds 1,000 towards each place given to an unemployed person.

But in a possible sideswipe at spending cuts, the Prince said that he hoped the project would continue to be affordable, "even to the sternest Treasury mind."

The Prime Minister, John Major, commented: "It is not what any of us seeks out of society that counts, it is what we put back into it."

The leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair, said: "New Labour has already put forward its proposals for a new deal for young people - offering rights and demanding responsibilities in return."

The leader of the Liberal- Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, added: "Community volunteering has a major part to play in breaking down social barriers, involving young people in public service and helping them develop social skills."

Two-thirds of the volunteers with the Prince's Trust's find jobs, or full time training, within three months of finishing the course.

The Trust's officials say that they believe they are helping to set the political agenda. They point to the Labour Party's Citizens Service Plan, which aims to put 150,000 youngster in voluntary work, and the Government's own Make a Difference project, in the voluntary sector.