Blog

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

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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Work experience with TimeBank has inspired me, challenged me and introduced me to some fantastic people

For the past week I’ve had the privilege to have done work experience with TimeBank and have learnt so much about all the amazing work it does for communities across the UK.

I’ve been lucky to have met so many fantastic members of the team by doing 1:1 sessions every day to talk about their roles at TimeBank, ranging from helping people to connect to their communities, to teaching English to women across the UK who speak little or no English. Also, partnering volunteers with refugees who seek help with finding work as well as adapting to a new culture.

My favourite part of my small role at TimeBank was visiting Lumpy Hill Adventure Playground with Cara-Jan who is the employee volunteering project co-ordinator but also has been my wonderful mentor throughout the week. During the day I helped sand down and repaint one of Lumpy Hill’s climbing frames alongside staff from The Telegraph who volunteered that day. It felt so rewarding helping out and being part of something so special as well as seeing the volunteers come to life when they realised the difference they had made. Overall, it was fun day and together we all left feeling positive and connected as a team having made a real difference and I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends and family about what we achieved.

In the past week I have also managed to send emails out to foodbanks, schools, community centres and playgroups which might benefit from an employee volunteering team and managed to be successful and get a few replies! Cara-Jan and I then went on a site visit in East Acton to one of the community centres I had contacted which I was really proud of. It made me realise that even with a small team, the massive impact they have on helping other people is phenomenal.    

I also went to a Knowledge Quarter Centre with Mark who is the fundraising and business development coordinator to meet a range of companies and charities to see if we could get them involved in our employee volunteering days. It was my first time networking and it was quite scary being the youngest person there but it was a great chance to tell people about what TimeBank does and the support it provides to thousands of people across the UK.

It has been such an enjoyable experience. I have learnt so much in such a small space of time and seen for myself the good that TimeBank does for local communities. It has motivated me even more to get involved in volunteering in the near future. I’d say being part of TimeBank has inspired me, challenged me, and introduced me to some really fantastic people I’d otherwise never have met. As a student and as somebody relatively new to volunteering it provided a brilliant opportunity for me to understand the importance of helping people in need and it’s been a pleasure being a part of it all! 

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Saying thank you is the simplest thing in the world but it makes all the difference

At the Board away day a couple of months ago I mentioned that I was coming up to my 10th anniversary at TimeBank - it was during a regular and responsible governance conversation about succession planning both for the Board and CEO role. It was in my diary and I’m rather conscious of it because devoting a decade of your life to an organisation is a big commitment.  

But TimeBank has sucked me in and because of the rollercoaster that is the funding climate, Government decisions and the need for charities to adapt and change, it has never quite seemed the right time to go – plus of course with change comes interest and enthusiasm to survive, to thrive, to grow in a new way to try new things – in essence it’s not been a dull 10 years!

The TimeBank I inherited 10 years ago was a very different organisation to the one I now run – the political and economic climate was very, very different in the balmy days of New Labour, Government grants, being able to try new things and change lives without really worrying. But it was also an organisation that had evolved from its inception in 2000 and the time was right to hone down our eclectic portfolio of activity and diversify our fundraising.  

And then came the announcement of the Big Society and all the volunteering charities rubbed their hands in glee – surely in order to deliver that, we would be safe from cuts.  How wrong we were, how ironic it was and how angry I remain today – not that cuts happened, because everyone suffered, but that Government doesn’t see the impact of its decision making. Telling a charity that is 95% Government-funded that its funding will end is devastating. Doing it three weeks before the new financial year is crippling and it ripped the heart out of our organisation.

That is when you truly strategise of course - are we doing something differently to others, are we doing it better, should we close, should we merge? We decided we were doing two things better and differently – volunteer mentoring tackling a variety of complex social issues and employee volunteering.

2013 saw our next big change as we bid for and won a £1.12m contract from Government to deliver volunteer led English language classes. It enabled us to regrow and plan – until in 2015 delays in decision making by funders and Government wavering left TimeBank once again on the brink. But we powered through and that is a reflection on the incredibly dedicated and passionate staff we have and our Board’s willingness to take significant but calculated risks – all of which I believe was possible because of open, honest dialogue and trust.

And so to today – we are in a real position of strength and if I look around me there are few volunteering charities that can say that what a difference a decade makes! We have rebuilt our reserves; invested in new posts to aid our fundraising and business development; we are looking at innovative and creative new projects and we are still delivering our now highly regarded English language classes – what next I wonder every day as I walk to the tube?!

So back to the Board - our meeting was a week before ‘the day’ and if I’m honest I was trying to power through it because it had inconveniently fallen on the day of an England match in the World Cup and anyone who has read my blogs over the last decade will know I’m a massive football fan! So when my Chair announced he had something to bring up under AOB my heart sank! And then he started talking about me – my dedication, my drive, my decade and produced gifts that the Board had bought me –incredibly thoughtful and beautiful gifts. A brooch with the famous quote from Millicent Fawcett, who tirelessly campaigned for women’s right to vote: ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’ and a stunning Paul Smith scarf as well as a bespoke card made up of TimeBank photos and signed by everyone. I momentarily forgot all about football and was absolutely overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you leave an organisation when you realise how much people thought of you and it makes you sad to be leaving, but this, this came whilst I was here. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a fellow CEO a few weeks ago who’s moving on to a different role. She said: ‘Everyone is saying such amazing things about me – I just wish they’d said it three years ago!’

And I guess that’s my point. Saying thank you, making people feel good, driving the organisation in good times and bad is the CEO’s role but very rarely does anyone recognise that or make you feel valued and special at the time. I am extraordinarily lucky to have a Board that did just that – so it doesn’t matter whether I stay for another 10 years or another 10 days, I will be walking just a little bit taller and if it is possible feeling even more passionate about TimeBank and the work that we do. Saying thank you is the simplest thing in the world but it makes an immeasurable difference. 

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