Blog

An informal conversation and guide to the sometimes confusing world of volunteering.

Being a TimeBank trustee has been a life-changing experience

I was inspired to become a TimeBank trustee as I had recently left a charity role and moved back into the private sector.  I didn’t want to lose touch with the magnificent work undertaken across the not for profit sector. And having completed an MSc in Charity Marketing and Fundraising I wanted to be able to continue to utilise my learning.

Researching TimeBank’s work in my preparation for applying for the role, I quickly empathised with its mission and values. I have now been a trustee at TimeBank since 2015 and during that time empathy has turned into passion.

What do I get out of it?

Being a trustee at TimeBank inspires me to keep living life brightly and full of positivity. It’s a truly life changing experience and I hope I can continue to be involved with TimeBank in one way or another for the rest of my life.  It ensures that I have to push the boundaries, be involved in situations outside of my comfort zone and be positive and confident at times when my life has been fraught with challenges and difficulties.

What does it entail?

The role of the trustee is to ensure TimeBank has a clear strategy and that its work and goals are in line with its vision, making sure the needs of the beneficiaries are always put first.  Trustees are the bastion of the charity’s assets – both physical assets, and intangible ones, such as its reputation. TimeBank’s trustees, staff and volunteers are an amazing group of people who share a common goal and shared purpose.  As a very cohesive group, in the face of funding challenges, the trustees supported the CEO and staff to ride the storm, move forward and in due course celebrate triumphs.

The most important commitment a trustee has to give is time and a real understanding of TimeBank’s work. The time element is not onerous - four Board meetings a year, which are always effectively managed and fun to be involved in. There are other exciting opportunities such as away days, interviewing, sub committees and events like the recent launch of the impact report at the House of Commons.  

What difference you can make as a trustee

The difference you can make as a TimeBank trustee is for me the most satisfying part of all. Being involved in an organisation that enables an outstanding volunteering experience by utilising people’s skills to tackle social problems teaches you things about yourself that you probably never knew. Knowing that I have been part of enabling that impact, is priceless.

Why not join us as a TimeBank trustee and help us build our volunteer projects that tackle some of the most complex social issues in our society.Take a look here for more information.

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What it means to be a charity trustee

I’ve been a volunteer most of my adult life. As a teenager I got deeply involved in a Jewish youth group and threw myself into planning and running educational programmes before serving on the organisation’s national committee, editing its newsletter, staffing seminars and setting up and running its first ever summer camp.

In adult life this has continued to be important to me: I volunteer regularly, leading services and teaching at my local synagogue and, when my son started school, I volunteered as a class rep on the PTA.

I’m also involved in an organisation called Citizens UK, the country’s largest broad-based community organising network which brings together churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, students unions and more to work on grass-roots driven campaigns on issues like the Living Wage, housing, mental heath provision and refugee rights.

One of the most important lessons of community organising is that people are motivated not by principles but by broad self interest. This does not mean selfishness – it means we are driven by issues that genuinely touch our lives. No wonder so many cancer survivors are involved with cancer charities, parents of young people affected by violence campaign against knife crime, and members of the Jewish community, most of whose ancestors were immigrants, care passionately about refugee issues. It certainly applies to me: my volunteering has been driven by my passion for education, my commitment to my religious tradition, and concern for my children’s wellbeing.

But recently my volunteering has taken a different turn. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to serve as a trustee of London Citizens (the precursor to Citizens UK) and, most recently, as a trustee of TimeBank. Being a trustee or non-executive board member feels very different from regular volunteering. It’s not about mucking in and getting your hands dirty and it’s not about a front-line role or directly pushing forward the projects you’re involved with. That’s what professional staff (and other volunteers) are for.

But I’ve come to realise that being a trustee can be deeply satisfying. It allows me to use the skills and experience I’ve developed in my professional life as a charity chief executive and bring them to bear for the benefit of another organisation. I recently heard a charity leader complaining that he couldn’t find anyone to take on the role of treasurer within his organisation because several finance professionals he knew, while keen to get involved, didn’t want to spend their free time doing the same thing they do at work. I feel the opposite: there’s nothing more satisfying than using my professional skills to support something I believe in – and I’m sure that if I worked in the private sector the opportunity to serve as a trustee would be even more meaningful to me.

At the same time, being a trustee is a wonderful contrast to the pressures of a day job. It’s a privilege to be able to engage with amazing professionals who are driving change and bringing benefit to thousands of people, and to support them by taking a step back, asking the right questions, and being a critical friend. It’s something I would enthusiastically recommend.

If Matt's blog has inspired you to become a charity trustee, why not join us at TimeBank and help us build our volunteer projects that tackle some of the most complex social issues in our society.Take a look here for more information.

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It's been a great summer for employee volunteering - and now we're thinking about Christmas!

What an amazing summer it’s been! We’ve had over 400 volunteers from local companies out helping their local communities. We’ve created a Special Educational Needs garden for a group of schools in Chessington, helped stock the shelves of foodbanks across London, built planters and garden furniture for community gardens and scythed a wildflower meadow in the soaring 30 degree heat!

Now that the summer sun is starting to fade it doesn’t mean we’ll be slowing down. As the season starts to change and the leaves begin to fall we need volunteers more than ever. Our community partners are looking for companies to provide volunteers in the run up to Christmas to create emergency hampers for those most in need, to help decorate schools and community spaces and to bring some festive cheer to those who may not have a family to spend Christmas with.

Are you currently making plans for your staff Christmas party? Why not come and volunteer before you head off to the pub! Here at TimeBank we volunteer as a team every Christmas, it’s a wonderful way of bringing our teams from different offices together and learning more about colleagues who we may not get to work with very often.  After our volunteering we head to a local restaurant to celebrate and leave the day with a sense of accomplishment having had a great time and worked together to make a real impact in the community.

The sooner you get in touch, the more time we have to find an opportunity that works perfectly for you and your team. To find out more you can reach us on 0207 111 0721 or email employeevolunteering@timebank.org.uk

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Making a difference ...

Coming to the end of my time at university, I, like a lot of students, want to pursue a career that will not only support me financially, but also‘make the world a better place’, and thus ‘make a difference’.

During my work experience at TimeBank and while accompanying my colleagues Cara-Jan, Calley and Mark on numerous Employee Volunteering days, at food banks and care homes, I have learnt that ‘making a difference’ isn’t easy. Hearing stories about veterans, nurses and homeless people attending crisis food banks so they have enough food to survive is shocking.  

Nonetheless, tackling social issues and thus ‘making a difference’ doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t mean you have to solve world hunger or cure cancer. Sometimes the best thing we can do is go to a care home and speak to a resident. That resident might suffer from numerous illnesses. As a result they might not remember you ever speaking to them. Yet, smiling and interacting with them in that moment will remind them how it feels to grin and laugh, as well as having a stranger take an interest in their life. That is ‘making a difference’… to them.

Now, what does it take to work in the charity sector? What does it mean to work for TimeBank? It’s understanding that you can’t do everything. It’s accepting the things that aren’t in your control. But most importantly, it’s facing tough problems head on, something a lot of people are simply too afraid to do. It involves organising days for volunteers to help at food banks, giving people the opportunity to learn English so they can integrate in society rather than allowing them to feel isolated or finding a mentor for a refugee to let them know that they aren’t alone. ‘Making a difference’ is doing everything you can. And that is what TimeBank does, because at the end of the day that’s all anyone can do. 

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I now have direction in life and know I can move forward

Here Scott, an army veteran, tells a very candid story about struggling to move on in his life, putting trust in others and finding new ways to make positive changes.

‘My marriage broke up in September 2017 and I had to move into my parents’ house, as I had nowhere to live. I looked at renting and Soldiers off the Street and SSAFA helped with the cost of moving. However, transition to a new home was difficult and I felt suicidal, so looked for help from my GP. I felt so out of my depth, but Housing Options Scotland helped and referred me to TimeBank's Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project to help with my anxieties.

I met with Ali a few times and she gave me hope. She explained that a volunteer mentor could help me set goals to make positive life changes. I finally felt that I could be supported by an organisation that cared and listened to my needs.

Ali matched me with mentor Susan and we got on brilliantly straight away. She has helped me in so many ways, I have a new sense of self belief, confidence in my personal life and I am keen to take part in new courses and activities. Susan has even helped me with budgeting and making the most of my low income.

Trust is really difficult for me, however, I've known Susan for seven months now, meeting once every fortnight and she has gone above and beyond what I think a mentor's role is, so much so that she feels more like a sister to me. This is the type of friendship that I longed for. Susan has more than earned my trust by being there. I now have more self-worth and I know there is so much more to life than being lonely and isolated. 

My family have noticed a change in me for the better, I'm a lot happier more of the time, I care more about my appearance and I have pride in myself. I know that Susan is at the end of the phone if I need to chat – and that is priceless. She has a genuine interest in what I have to say. I now have direction in life and know I can move forward. I am now able to form new relationships, I'm saving for a holiday and looking into voluntary work. Without the support of the Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project I wouldn't be the person I am today. I strongly recommend this project to other veterans who are looking to move on.’

If you would like to find out more about Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine and how we can help, take a look here. You can call Ali on 07437 437 867 or email ali@timebank.org.uk

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I’m so lucky to be doing a job I love

I’ve been the project co-ordinator on our Time Together project, which recruits and trains volunteers as mentors to support refugees and asylum seekers in the West Midlands, coming up to 12 months now and the project has another 12 months to go until completion.  Nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming sense of job satisfaction I feel – I’m immensely lucky to be doing a job I love. 

Why do I love my job?  Mainly it’s the fantastic people who participate and volunteer on Time Together.  Both our volunteers and participants need to be committed to having an open mind, respect each another and be willing to meet up five hours a month for six months.  How our matched partners spend their time with each other is really up to them, although we encourage our mentees to think about areas of their lives they might like to improve, their hopes and aspirations.  Our volunteers are there to help empower participants to achieve and progress within the six-month timeframe. 

All our volunteers complete a full day of training and are DBS checked before being matched to their partner.  We have strict boundaries and safeguarding policies in place to protect both parties throughout the process.  Sometimes at the first match meeting things can be a little socially awkward.  However I’m there to break the ice and get the conversation flowing before I leave them to get know each other.  After that first meeting I call both parties to see how things went and make sure their next meeting is set up, and it’s usually not long before our volunteers and participants build a strong bond. A vitally important aspect of the project is regular communication between the volunteer, participant and the project co-ordinator. 

It is the project co-ordinator’s job to support and guide volunteers through the process and any difficult situations and challenges they may face and I receive regular updates on how the mentoring relationship is going.

Two-thirds of the way through I attend a mentoring session to remind our pairs that the end of the six-month relationship is on the horizon.  It is at this point that I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside.  The bonds formed between our volunteers and participants are incredibly heart-warming to see.  When it comes to the final mentoring session at the end of the six months it really is remarkable to see the positive difference the mentoring sessions have made to lives of our participants and also how much our volunteers gain from the experience too.  That’s one of the reasons why six of our volunteers are mentoring a second time around.

One of those volunteers, Sue, says: "I would recommend and do recommend Time Together to friends to volunteer on this project.  It enables both mentee and mentor to share experiences and listen to issues that are concerning my mentee.  The refresher training course was extremely valuable not only for content but meeting other mentors". 

We are currently recruiting volunteer mentors across West Midlands in Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Tipton and Walsall.  If you would like to know more and get involved in Time Together, do get in touch with Siân on 07842 811 459 or email sian@timebank.org.uk

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Why is it so hard to start volunteering?

I hear this all the time, and trust me, I understand. I work for a volunteering charity and spend half of my life talking about volunteering, yet I still struggle to find an opportunity that works with my schedule and complements my skills and interests.

From the perspective of the potential volunteer, I recognise the frustration of wanting to help but being unable to find suitable opportunities, getting put on waiting lists or not even getting a response from some charities at all.

But as a volunteer co-ordinator, I see it from the other side. The project that I work on, Talking Together, requires volunteers who can teach English classes during the working day. This suits the needs of our learners and if we ran evening and weekend classes, they would not be able to attend.  We also tend to run classes in school terms so there are none over the summer and we usually only take volunteer applications at certain times of year depending on need.

I know this means that many amazing potential volunteers can’t get involved, but we can only look for volunteers who can do the role we need them to do. This applies to many other charities which need volunteers to assist with specific projects and so will require volunteers with specific time available and particular skill sets.  

I don’t want to make excuses for charities not replying to emails or answering calls. Here at TimeBank we always try to get back to potential volunteers as quickly as we can!  However, limited time and resources means that often the person you need to speak to about an opportunity isn’t available. This means the response may take a little longer than you’d expect, and you may have to wait a little while for the recruitment window to open.

But having said all of this, I assure you there are plenty of organisations out there looking for volunteers just like you!  There are many websites that charities use to advertise, including Do-It, Team London and Charity Job. It's also worth following charities that you're interested in on social media as many charities post volunteer opportunities there.

If your work schedule makes volunteering seem impossible, find out if your company offers volunteering leave as this could be a way to increase the amount of time you have available. Or think about corporate volunteering, when you can volunteer with your colleagues for a day.

Some opportunities naturally work really well for those in full time work: volunteering on one of our mentoring projects to support refugees or veterans, or being a charity trustee, for example. Many charities are looking for talented trustees from a variety of backgrounds and the time commitment for this usually suits those with a 9-5 job.

While it can take more time than you would think to find a volunteering opportunity that works for you, the end result could be volunteering for an organisation you feel passionate about, doing something that you enjoy. And who knows what else volunteering could bring to your life? TimeBank volunteers have gained new skills, changed careers and made friends as a result of their volunteering. So a good opportunity is worth the wait!

 

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Integration is a two-way street

I am always inspired when meeting TimeBank volunteers by how much they are willing to venture out of their comfort zone; taking on the role of mentor or English teacher and allowing the experience of volunteering to shape their own lives and attitudes.

Talking Together is all about providing women who can’t speak the language with free and accessible, volunteer-led English language classes. At the heart of this project is the desire to see learners more empowered and communities better integrated, which can only be achieved by increasing learners’ confidence to apply their new language skills and step outside their comfort zone.

That’s why we encourage many of our volunteer teachers to literally go the extra mile (or five), taking learners on a local trip, where they can experience using their English in real life situations that the classroom has prepared them for.

One volunteer, Penny, said she was surprised to find that some of her learners had never been to the city centre or seen the library, museums, canals and markets. As someone who had recently moved to Birmingham herself these had been some of the first places on her list to explore. So she organised a trip at the end of the Talking Together course to include all the free tourist attractions Birmingham has to offer.

Penny says: “When I was talking to my students about our coming trip I realised that some had never been on a bus before and felt nervous about the prospect. The thing was that I felt nervous too - being new to the city I hadn’t worked out all the bus routes and wasn’t sure about the fares. I let my students know that this was new to me as well and we all felt a lot more confident once we’d made the trip into town together. Some of the students who hadn’t used the bus before felt they would do so in the future - and I use the bus much more now as well.

I’ve found my students have very different experiences of the city centre. Some go in regularly (much more often than I do) to buy fresh food from the market and some to window shop. Others might have only been in once, or maybe never. For those students who don’t know it, it’s a real adventure and they’ve all said it’s been a really good experience.  And for those who go to the market it’s been eye-opening to go to the library or the museum or see the canals for the first time.  Many of the students have said they’ll now take their families to these places and I know some students have got all their family members to join the library.”

Penny has since taught many other Talking Together courses and each time ends her course with a trip to the city centre. But on my next visit to her class, her lesson took a twist and she asked learners to help her prepare for a trip to Sparkhill.

Penny had realised there were parts of the city she did not venture to, through fear of the unknown. Parts of the city that were only a mile down the road but she didn’t know how to orientate herself; whether she might need to ask for directions or how she could ask about the different foods in Bangladeshi and Pakistani shops. How was she surprised that learners hadn’t entered new and unknown spaces when she herself lived a mile away from areas still unexplored?

She says: “Taking students into town also made me think about why it was that I hadn’t been to some parts of the city - and it was for  much of the same reasons why some of my students hadn’t been to the town centre. I was surprised they’d never explored the canals and they were surprised to hear I’d never gone shopping somewhere like Ladypool Road. So I asked for their advice about where to go, and then went; and had a really enjoyable time. Amazing clothes shops, fab sweet shops and supermarkets. It was brilliant and so next time I took my family and we will go regularly.

Teaching the English classes has meant that I’ve needed to learn more about the city for my teaching and it’s also meant I’ve learned about the city from my students. It’s been a great way of getting to know Birmingham and feeling part of it.”

Integration is truly a two-way street; our Talking Together volunteers are not just imparting their knowledge to help others learn a language, they are learning from our learners, encountering people and cultures they may never have crossed paths with otherwise and discovering parts of the city they had called home for so long. What a difference a mile can make.

If you'd like to know more about our Talking Together project, take a look here.

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