An initiative that encourages people to give just one hour a month to help others has been adopted by 70 communes throughout France.
The scheme, called l’Heure Civique, was launched by Atanase Périfan to maintain the surge of interest in volunteering he noticed during lockdowns.
It has so far been taken up in four departments – Loiret, Charente-Maritime, Mayenne and Somme – where local authorities have set up a website platform for people to sign up.
Different opportunities are available
Volunteers can participate in either a group activity, such as cleaning rubbish from a beach, or choose to help an individual in need.
The latter could involve shopping for an elderly person, taking someone to the doctor, helping with homework, spending time with someone who is on their own, teaching internet skills, or DIY help.
Local mayors will identify people who need help and match the volunteer to the task in hand.
Anyone who signs up will be required to take part in a short telephone or video interview to outline their availability and the ways in which they are willing to help.
Mr Périfan is also behind the annual Fête des Voisins, which encourages neighbours to get to know each other.
Covid-19 lockdowns created a community spirit
He told The Connexion that during confinement, when his association gave advice on how to set up a network of help among neighbours, there was a surge of people signing up.
In just five days, 100,000 people downloaded the group’s coronavirus kit.
“Now that impetus has faded and this is a way to relaunch the spirit of helping others,” he said.
“People do not want a long-term commitment, so this is a simple way for everyone to get involved.
“I have just come from a meeting with a group of mayors and they are very keen on the idea. Already, several authorities and individuals have signed up.
“It is something that is good for everyone – for those who give, as well as for those who are on the receiving end.”
Just one hour can make a difference
Olivier Herlin is a management consultant who recently moved to Surgères, one of the communes that has signed up in Charente-Maritime, and was one of the first volunteers to be called on.
“It was very simple,” he said.
“A retired man who lives just a few streets away had a blocked gutter and, as he has no ladder and gets vertigo, he was grateful I could help out.
“I quickly found the problem, which was a fabric ball, and removed it. The task took just a few minutes, not even an hour. We started chatting, and I then invited him and his wife around for coffee.
“It was a very good way to meet someone new.” He says he signed up after reading an article about the initiative in his local newspaper. It fulfilled one of his New Year resolutions to help someone out for an hour a month.
“It is a very attractive idea because many of us want to help out, but do not want to be too tied up.
“Here, there are no obligations and people feel reassured because it is organised by the mairie.
“Another important aspect is that it helps us get over the reluctance many of us have over meeting our neighbours, and it is important we get to know each other.
“I hope that mairies throughout the country will take on the idea.”
More information is at lheurecivique.fr