When I look back over six years as Prime Minister, one of my proudest achievements is the creation of National Citizen Service.
I often get stopped in the street by parents who tell me what a difference NCS has made in the lives of their children; and I regularly receive letters from young people who have so enjoyed taking part themselves.
From the pilot projects that I began as Leader of the Opposition to the full-scale programme that we have today, more than 275,000 young people have now taken part in what has become the fastest growing youth movement of its kind anywhere in the world.
The idea is simple: 16 and 17 year olds from across the country come together for around four weeks, usually in the summer.
First, they complete an outdoor challenge – usually staying away from home – that takes them outside their comfort zone and makes them work in teams.
Then they live together back in their local area, learning from local businesses and community leaders and developing vital skills for working life, from preparing a budget to delivering a presentation.
Finally, they make their own mark by planning and delivering a voluntary social action project that gives something back to their community.
In each of these areas, the results are really quite astounding. NCS is building bridges across social divides, enabling young people to realise that wherever they come from and whatever their faith, background or sexuality, there is so much more that unites them than divides them.
Lifelong friendships are being built, and long-held prejudices dissolved as a result of living together and learning together on NCS.
Throughout it all, our young people are building the soft skills, the resilience, the self-confidence and the creativity that can help them get on in life. These are vital life skills – and they shouldn’t be the preserve of a privileged few.
Young people taking part in NCS are making a real difference in their communities too, spending more than eight million hours on community projects that they themselves have initiated, from visiting care homes to campaigning for mental health charities.
Overall, NCS is a fantastic example of the positive and inspirational role young people can play in our modern, vibrant society. It is the Big Society in action.
NCS is supported by government funding, which means that young people pay no more than £50 to take part, with bursaries available for those who are not able to afford this.
So I am delighted that Theresa May is continuing the vital work to support NCS and that today the Government is introducing the National Citizen Service Bill. With cross-party support, this will create a Royal Charter to secure the NCS Trust as a permanent national institution that can ultimately offer a place on NCS to every 16 and 17 year old in our country.
That should be our goal – not necessarily a compulsory programme, but one that is universally available and becomes a normal part of growing up for every 16 and 17 year old in the country, with everyone taking part.
But making NCS a true rite of passage for every young person in our country requires more than political leadership. It requires leadership from every part of our society.
From industry to the arts, from sport to the media, from local communities to the wider public sector, we need everyone involved in a national mission to make NCS a normal part of growing up that can give every generation a greater sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.
I am delighted that my first role in my life after politics is to continue my association with this fantastic programme by becoming Chairman of NCS Patrons, bringing together a senior cross-party and cross-sector group of patrons and ambassadors who can help NCS to reach more young people.
By bringing together expertise from every part of society we can embed NCS in the fabric of our country. We can support NCS Trust and its network of charities that do such an incredible job in making NCS happen. And we can continue to build this special movement – empowering our young people to be united in their diversity, with the skills to get on in life and the compassion to support each other.
That is the vision for NCS that I had all those years ago when I first thought about developing the programme; and together we now have the opportunity to make it a reality for generations to come.