How to give one hour a month to your local community in France

Volunteers can help with activities ranging from gardening for a neighbour to helping out at a care home

An English couple volunteer at a retirement home in Mayenne teaching them how to make scones

Organisers of a scheme called L’Heure Civique are urging people to donate 60 minutes a month to help people in their town or village.

The time could be spent helping a disabled neighbour with housework, shopping or gardening, visiting the local Ehpad (retirement home) for an activity with residents, helping to organise a local event or giving a hand to local charitable associations. 

“Anyone can give one hour a month, there are no commitments and people can choose what sort of help they are interested in giving,” Atanase Périfan, founder of L’Heure Civique, told The Connexion

There are no conditions for taking part in L’Heure Civique, nor French language requirements.

Recipe for success

At a retirement home in Mayenne in north-west France, an English couple have been spending their hour teaching residents the recipe for English scones, alongside volunteer schoolchildren. 

“We came to get involved with the local residents,” said the Englishman, who is not named, on a promotional video. “It has been excellent. We have had help from lots of schoolchildren and the residents, and we have had a great time.”

Around 50% of volunteers sign up for the initiative in order to meet new people, said Mr Périfan. It also gives them a purpose, he added. 

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“There is a strong social aspect that is central to what we do. L’Heure Civique is a fantastic way for people to integrate more into their local community.”


People can sign up either online through the Heure Civique website, or by contacting a participating mairie directly. 

The mairie will then make contact to ask what kind of volunteering you would like to be involved with.

There are two main types: collective – such as cleaning up part of a neighbourhood, blocking off roads for a local race and helping with increased demand at the Restos du Cœur, for example – or interpersonal, such as driving an elderly person to their doctor’s appointment or a young person to an interview. 

“We have not reinvented volunteering,” said Mr Périfan. “Everything is simple and straightforward. The point is to encourage people to volunteer, just for an hour a month, and see how it feels.” 

Huge initial uptake

The first mairie to implement L’Heure Civique was the 17th arrondissement in Paris. It now includes more than 150 mairies across four departments in France and upwards of 13,000 volunteers. The concept was launched nationally in March, so these numbers are likely to rise rapidly. 

“We now have 2,000 volunteers in the 17th arrondissement,” Geoffroy Boulard, maire of the 17th arrondissement and co-founder of L’Heure Civique, told The Connexion

“We launched the scheme in 2021 to encourage the generosity that lives in all of us and it has been a success. It encourages a more united, civilised and optimistic world.” 

Those involved with the scheme are keen to point out that people are volontaires rather than bénévoles. These two terms both mean ‘volunteer’ but there is a distinction in French that does not really exist in English. 

This is because volontaire makes it clearer that there are no commitments or obligations and makes it seem less daunting.

It also differentiates it from charity work – although there is overlap between the two. 

In fact, a volunteer for L’Heure Civique was chosen to be president of an association through his participation.

However, being partnered with mairies means that the scheme is separate from charity work. “This is a part of public policy. We have a great social model that has been weakened by financial problems and an ageing population,” said Mr Périfan 

“I believe the government does not make enough use of an untapped, non-polluting and infinitely renewable resource in France: the solidarity and generosity of its residents.”

The volunteers tend to really enjoy it: “Everyone starts with one hour a month but they end up wanting to do more. For a lot of people, it is their adrenaline rush,” said Mr Périfan.

Volunteers also benefit

Giving people a sense of usefulness and a purpose is another underrated aspect. 

Mr Périfan told us the story of a man who had a brain tumour. For a long time, he felt like a burden to his family and society, unable to work or contribute due to his illness. 

Now, he takes local schoolchildren to the swimming pool as they need adults to accompany them. “Thanks to L’Heure Civique, he feels useful again and he was able to come off antidepressants. He told me that it gave him his life back,” said Mr Périfan. 

He himself volunteers: “It is a pleasure to volunteer. I wake up very tired in the morning but also very happy and I have never met such beautiful people,” he said.

The idea was born during the pandemic. “We noticed that people were keen to help out their local community and show some solidarity to fellow human beings,” Mr Boulard explained. 

“We were looking for a way to capture and continue this solidarity and connect people with the world around them.” 

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There is often talk of a ‘crise du bénévolat’, and Mr Périfan and Mr Boulard have both noticed how difficult it can be to mobilise the population. 

They hope that the flexible, welcoming nature of the scheme will convince people to help out in their local communities. 

“It is important for people to chip in, because you cannot do everything for people. They need to contribute too,” said Mr Périfan. “L’Heure Civique boils down to the fact that helping others is useful and it feels great!”