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Blog | TimeBank

Blog

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

Leaving your comfort zone

What makes a person step outside their comfort zone and do something which surprises even them?  Had you bumped into me on Saturday May 5, you would have been able to ask me this very question.  On that beautiful spring morning, I found myself standing, quaking with fear, in the reception of the BBC building on Portland Place. 

I have often passed this famous landmark.  However, I never thought for one moment that I would ever go through its doors, let alone be invited on ‘The Robert Elms Show’ on BBC Radio London to talk about my volunteering experience. 

As I stood there waiting to be collected, one thought kept running through my mind – “why on earth did I agree to this?!”  Although of course the wording was a great deal stronger!  The truth is that I have never been good at public speaking and have had a lifetime battle with shyness, so agreeing to do the interview was a big deal.  As it happened, there was no need to be anxious because Robert Elms was the perfect interviewer – professional, friendly, interesting and funny.  He very quickly put me at ease and the interview proceeded smoothly and was tremendous fun.  I walked out of the studio, went for coffee and had a good laugh about how nervous I had been.  

In my volunteering for TimeBank’s project, Talking Together, I regularly come across people making this same giant leap out of their own comfort zone.  Let me give you some background in case you haven’t heard about Talking Together.  Talking Together is a really exciting initiative that trains volunteers to teach English to women who are marginalised because they don't speak the language.  Many are unable to do everyday things we take very much for granted: describe their symptoms to a doctor, use public transport, or speak to their children’s school teachers. 

The project is based on a simple concept: if you train a volunteer to teach informal, basic, spoken English, you can then place that volunteer with a class of non-English speakers.  Each volunteer has the potential to offer teaching support to many women and to make a big difference to their lives by helping them to integrate more fully into the community.  I am one of Talking Together’s team of committed English language teachers and I love working on this project because it is so much fun.  I am given tremendous support by the TimeBank Project Co-ordinator, Calley, and by other volunteers who come to assist with the larger classes.  Therefore, I would like to mention Kelly, Hannah, Ade and Caroline, who have all been central to making the classes a great success.

As Talking Together is all about empowering women, I want to tell you a bit about the women themselves.  In my two years of volunteering, I have had the chance to meet and teach so many friendly and interesting women from all over the world.  Classes have the most wonderfully diverse mix of cultures, personalities and ages (18 to 86 plus several babies!), which makes teaching so interesting and exciting. 

However, there is one thing that nearly all the women have in common: an acute shyness about speaking English, often due to a fear of making mistakes and looking foolish.  I have watched so many women walk in to their first lesson and they nearly always have the same fixed, tense expression on their faces.  Therefore, my aim from the very beginning is to make every woman feel valued and supported.  I hope that by creating a safe space, they will feel confident enough to practice their English with me, and will then, as they progress, feel confident enough to go out and speak at the shops, at the Health or Job Centre – or even make that all-important call to the emergency services.

I really admire them for making the decision to start learning English and for being courageous enough to walk through the classroom door.  I have been so impressed by how committed the women are to learning to speak English, how seriously they take the lessons and how pleased they are to be part of the class.  Their hard work and enthusiasm makes teaching them such a pleasure.  A perfect example of this enthusiasm is that the women at one of my centres asked for an extra weekly lesson, just to focus on reading and writing.

So, to go full circle, when I was asked to talk on the radio, I weighed up the possibility of potential embarrassment versus the opportunity to discuss something that I feel incredibly passionate about.  I knew almost immediately that I would accept because I don’t think I could have faced the women in my class again if I had not followed my own advice: ‘go on, be brave, don’t worry if you don’t get it right, don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, just have a go’.  I care about all the women in my class.  I am so pleased that they happened to walk through my door and am so proud of them for taking that first step.  There have been so many special moments in the past two years, but my favourite is always witnessing each class make the magical transformation from strangers to classmates.  I am convinced that all the women have so much to gain by integrating into the community, but more importantly they also have so much to offer. 

My initial decision to volunteer with Talking Together was a great first step for me.  I feel incredibly lucky to have had the privilege of being involved in other people’s lives and winning their trustI can honestly say that I have gained more than I have given, so if anyone reading this is thinking about volunteering, I would really encourage you to go ahead and do it.  Who knows, it may take you outside of your comfort zone too.  

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

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No two days are the same as a Talking Together project co-ordinator!

It's been six months since I joined the TimeBank team as a project co-ordinator on our Talking Together project, which teaches basic English to women in informal community settings. During this time my role has been more varied than I could ever have  imagined so I'd like to share my top five highlights:

Celebration classes

As each Talking Together course comes to an end we celebrate the achievements of our learners with certificates and a celebration class where learners often bring in homecooked food to share with the group. It's always a highlight to see the progression in language and confidence that our learners have made in only six  weeks and to see how different groups start to integrate. I love to hear about what their next steps will be and where they plan to progress to. I always leave incredibly full of motivation, not to mention delicious biryani and samosas!

Meeting with volunteers

The project could not run without our volunteers and meeting up with them to hear about their motives to teach English in their communities is always inspiring. We have a hugely diverse cohort of volunteers from students to retirees and from those who grew up in the communities we serve to those who have recently moved from Australia! Hearing about their experiences of volunteering with us is hugely satisfying and reminds me of the value of volunteering for everyone involved. The humility they show while changing lives is extraordinary. 

The Impact Report launch

This March, we launched our Impact Report. This was a highlight for me as it allowed me to take a step back away from Talking Together and hear about the ways in which all of TimeBank's volunteer led projects change lives nationwide. Everyone experiences our projects in different ways, whether as a mentor, a beneficiary or a partner, and each story is unique. Being able to hear about TimeBank's impact and celebrate everyone we work with was really powerful.

Delivery Partner events

Working with delivery partners, I am often invited to take part in their community events. This allows me to see the work that grassroots organisations do within our communities that often goes unrecognised. From childcare, to counselling, to beauty therapy and employment advice, our delivery partners are the heart and lifeline to many vulnerable people. To be able to help these organisations keep going, through capacity building and funding, is hugely important to me and being invited to support and celebrate with them is an honour.

Staff volunteering

It's important to practice what we preach and so the staff at TimeBank get together twice a year to volunteer for a day. Last Christmas, the team got together in London and volunteered at a Ronald McDonald Home to make tasty treats for families who have sick children in hospital for an extended period. It was such a rewarding day to be in the shoes of a volunteer and be able to offer some comfort to families going through a tough time.

No two days are the same as a project co-ordinator and I always look forward to enjoying new experiences and hearing unique stories – I look forward to sharing even more highlights with you in six months time! For more regular updates on what I'm getting up to do follow me on Twitter @DaisyMayx and take a look at @TimeBank too.

And If you'd like to know more about the way Talking Together is transforming women's lives, do take a look here.

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I want to pass on the kindness I received to the next generation of newly arrived individuals and families

It’s just a month ago that I was at the launch of the TimeBank Impact Report at the Palace of Westminster. At that meeting I was asked to talk about why I volunteer to mentor refugees and asylum seekers and it’s a really tricky question to answer.  

But it is a question that has been asked of me by many people- friends, former work colleagues, neighbours and occasionally strangers. Often the question is a well-meaning enquiry, sometimes of genuine interest and just occasionally it is asked in such a way that feels like a not very friendly challenge.  

To answer it I have to go back to 1959 when we arrived as a family in UK, with five of us in bed and breakfast accommodation in Blackpool, sharing a bathroom with many other families, with only a basic grasp of English and little understanding of the culture and ways of life in the North West of England.  

Speaking German, or heavily accented English, was often met with indifference, for which we were very grateful. Sometimes we were met with hostility, and on occasion, aggression - a lot harder to accept passively but which we did. Life was complicated and we made many errors of judgement because of our lack of knowledge. Queuing at the tram stop was an eye opener and we quickly learned the etiquette of lining up but not without drawing hostile looks and comments during the process.  

However, the things that stick in my mind are those individuals who, without patronising or judging us, offered advice, let it be known that “it is done like this in Blackpool”, who offered a smile, a warm welcome, a silent acknowledgement that we were different and didn’t know any better and took it as their responsibility to show us how to do things (properly!).   

These individuals were rays of sunlight in a wintery Blackpool, and helped us to understand our new home, enabled us to start to build an understanding of what to do, how to behave and what to say. It was the foundation of that “cultural capital” that formed the basis of our future growth and development and informed our career paths and where we chose to work.  

My sister and I both went on to be successful at school (she more than I), becoming school teachers and head teachers. I even worked at the DfE in 2001, on the child poverty agenda, and I often reflected on the journey from those early days in bed and breakfast accommodation to Whitehall. I can only be grateful to those people of Blackpool who were, unknowingly, setting me on that amazing trajectory. Thanks to them, I have built a cultural capital that far exceeds my and my family’s needs, and it is time for it to be shared. 

Now that I have retired, I want to pass on those kindnesses of 1959 to the next generation of newly arrived individuals and families. To smile and encourage, to point out that there are many ways of fitting into our communities and sometimes it easier to know how to go about that.

So I joined TimeBank’s Time Together project, which recruits and trains volunteers to mentor refugees and asylum seekers. 

The volunteering is an opportunity to make use of the networks and connections that have been built up over the years and sometimes it is just about having 45 minutes to sit, have a cup of coffee, chat and listen, to share a joke, or a story, to remember about the days before arrival in the UK, and set goals for the future. It gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment and every week I look forward to meeting up.  

I have learned new skills and developed new insights into the lives of asylum seekers and refugees. It has made me more active and it engages me with a wider group of people. 

Feedback from the guy I have been mentoring tells me that it has made a difference to him - he talks about being better informed, of being more confident, and more able to address the issues of isolation that many asylum seekers and refugees experience. Now that he has gained the right to remain, he is also considering mentoring an asylum seeker and I am waiting for my next assignment. Perhaps, on a good day, I am helping to make the UK a better place for small groups of individuals. Not a bad return for my investment of one hour a week.

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

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How I found myself talking about being a volunteer mentor to a packed audience at Westminster

Michael is a volunteer mentor on our Time Together project, which supports refugees and asylum seekers in the Midlands, helping them integrate into British life. Here he describes how he came to be talking about the project to a packed audience at Westminster.

A month ago I was contacted by TimeBank to talk about my first year as a volunteer, mentoring an asylum seeker in the West Midlands. Yes, of course I can, and can the mentee come with me? So we found ourselves at the Palace of Westminster at the launch of TimeBank’s impact report, and I was standing up in front of about 60 distinguished guests including trustees of TimeBank, at least one member of the House of Commons and one titled personage as well as potential volunteers and business leaders.  

I was the third of three speakers to present to the audience, who were sitting in serried rows as well as having to stand at the back and sides of the room and my nerves were a-jangling. 

I am always conscious of how I am perceived by the audience- white, middle class, bald old guy with glasses, retired, but what I wanted to get across was that each of us have a back story, that stretches way back into childhood, and which continues to inform our actions on a day to day basis. 

My success in my chosen profession has been informed and shaped by my early experiences as a new arrival in the UK, speaking little English. This informed my decision to volunteer to mentor an asylum seeker.  

Mentoring is one of the ways in which we ask the mentee to consider the short term goals they want to achieve and think about how they can be achieved, but importantly mentors can share the cultural capital they have acquired over the years, to help new arrivals know more about life in the UK, to settle in.   

It also offers a listening and confidential ear, giving time and space to the mentee that enables them to ask questions and find answers about life in the wider community, all without feeling foolish. Mentoring aims to build confidence and build capacity but also construct networks and access services that perhaps we take for granted. It enables the mentee to make use of the contacts that mentors have built up over the course of their lives and identify their own way forward. In some ways mentoring is a bit like being a good parent, but to an adult and not a child - setting boundaries and expectations, questioning, posing alternatives but always thinking about enabling the mentee to move forward.  

Undertaking the role demands a time commitment of 1-1.5 hours per week. The training by TimeBank was essential to learn about the limitations of the role and responsibilities, and the team’s support provided advice and guidance along the mentoring journey. 

I am now looking forward to becoming a “serial” mentor, and working with another asylum seeker after Easter. I will keep you updated.

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

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Changing lives through volunteering

I recently had the privilege of launching the TimeBank impact report – ‘Changing lives through volunteering’.  Whilst we have been busy making an impact we haven’t put together the story of it for a few years so it was a real treat to watch it come together and realise just how much we have achieved for people from a wide range of socially disadvantaged groups with our phenomenal volunteers leading the way. I am very proud of TimeBank every day but when we do something like this it reminds me why.

Sir Kevin Barron MP kindly hosted our launch at an event in the House of Commons and opened by underlining the importance of volunteering: “Volunteers are an amazing force, many of the services we take for granted simply would not happen without them.

And after I’d outlined the breadth and depth of our work over the last few years highlighting just a few statistics: 3,800 women taught English by 357 volunteers at 549 classes – 300 veterans mentored back into civilian life - 85 businesses enabling 4,600 staff to volunteer in their local communities – there’s lots more (it was a 10 minute speech!!) But you can read the impact report yourself here. TimeBank certainly punches well above its weight.

We then heard from our speakers about the impact that volunteering is having across a wide variety of different beneficiary groups.

Khudeja Amer-Sharif, one of our Talking Together partners from the Shama Women’s Centre in Leicester, said: “The Talking Together programme has been the first step for many women towards active integration, helping them overcome language barriers, improve their confidence so that they contribute to local life which we take for granted. It has provided them with a sense of belonging and empowered them to go on to do further learning and employment. It has given volunteers the opportunity to develop their confidence, skills and motivated many to go onto a career in teaching. It has not only impacted on the women who attended the programme, but more widely on families and communities, promoting greater integration”.

Phil Hammond from the Telegraph Media Group cited three benefits of Telegraph staff volunteering through the TimeBank employee volunteering programme: “Positive outcomes for the beneficiaries; staff develop leadership, decision-making & negotiation skills (as well as boosting morale); and it promotes the brand. Everybody benefits.”

Finally, a mentor, Michael Baxter – who volunteers on our Time Together project - spoke about mentoring a refugee to help him transition into UK life: “Who tells you about the etiquette of queuing?! Having a mentor helps with community integration and supports refugees and asylum seekers settle into their new country and understand the culture.”

Volunteering is at the heart of everything we do here at TimeBank and listening to our speakers and talking to our guests afterwards - funders, MPs stakeholders, trustees, partner organisations and staff - made me realise how much TimeBank really is ‘Changing lives through volunteering’.

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Where do you belong?

I've been thinking a lot about veterans who are homeless, since hearing of Darren Greenfield, an army veteran who sadly died on the streets of Edinburgh last month. Darren, who was known for sitting at the top of the escalators of Waverley station, was offered support by veteran's charities, but chose to sleep rough.

Since delivering Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine (S2S Erskine) over the past three and a half years, many veterans (22%) supported by the project have been either sofa surfing or are living in temporary housing or veterans’ supported accommodation. Mentors have often supported veterans moving from one place to another, even permanent housing, but at times still not feeling as though they belong. 

Add anxiety, depression or PTSD and this can make for a very lonely veteran who is socially isolated, alone in the home and often confined to one room. It doesn't help that many veterans tell me they have lost contact with family and friends and have no social circle. Just being able to talk with someone who is happy to listen helps them through the lonely days.

But it goes beyond that. It's about connecting with people; about being able to join in and feeling you belong to a community.

Since 2014, S2S Erskine has been supporting veterans to feel less anxious, develop conversation, new friendships, social circles and volunteer in their local communities: helping them to belong. One veterans’ accommodation I link in with is Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR) Bellrock Close in Glasgow. Along with the support of SVR, staff felt that Kevin, an ex-army veteran could also benefit from a TimeBank mentor.

At first, Kevin found his transition to Bellrock Close difficult. He felt lost, with no direction or focus. I matched him with Tim, a volunteer mentor. They met twice a month for nine months and within this time Tim helped ease Kevin into conversation, feel less anxious and set goals to try new activities. Tim supported Kevin to develop new relationships and interview skills and Kevin started to volunteer at the café within Bellrock Close.

He says: "My confidence and self-esteem was low, and meeting new people was difficult. Tim supported me with setting goals to focus my days. At first we kept activities local, such a as swimming at the local leisure centre and then art classes. My confidence grew and I was able to chat with more people about my activities. We built up to going into town and I became more confident using public transport. Tim is easy to talk with, he's knowledgeable, a good lad. I now feel like I have purpose and look forward to life again.”

If you know of someone who could benefit from a mentor, we are here to help. Please take a look at the Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project here.  You can call Ali, the project co-ordinator, on 07437 437867 or email her at ali@timebank.org.uk

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Time Together means taking Time to Talk

As the project co-ordinator on Time Together, TimeBank’s volunteer mentoring project that supports refugees and asylum seekers living in the UK, I come into contact with some extremely resilient and sometimes vulnerable adults who are feeling incredibly isolated. 

Living on limited resources and having limited opportunities for social interaction with local people can cause mental distress to our beneficiaries.  This can be for a number of reasons, such as language barriers, financial difficulties, being new to the UK or being moved yet again to a strange town or city, or residual mental health problems caused by their experiences of persecution or living in a war zone. 

One thing that is apparent when I first meet them is their need to talk to someone whose attention is undivided and who is willing to give them time, whether for just one hour a week or two hours every other week. Some of our volunteer mentors have had some very emotionally draining mentoring sessions.  Others have felt as though they haven’t really done that much to help their mentee.  Yet just meeting and talking over a cup of tea or coffee on a regular basis is all that some of our mentees require. 

The power of talking to someone who isn’t connected to any other aspect of their lives can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress and loneliness.  I attend the first meeting with our volunteer mentors and mentees to introduce them to each other and to get a conversation going.  After 20 minutes or so I leave them to it.  I always glance back before I go and often notice the body language and demeanour of our mentee is much more relaxed than at that first meeting.

Time Together fits well with Time to Talk Day, a campaign tasked with raising awareness and encouraging conversations around mental health.  Taking the time to talk to each other about our mental health and wellbeing is a great way to prevent stigmatising and further isolating people with symptoms of mental ill health.

If you’d like to know more about our Time Together project, do take a look here.

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Could it be you? We're looking for that special person with fundraising ideas to grow our volunteering projects

Back in the 90s I was starting my career fresh from postgraduate research, uncertain of what it was I really wanted to do, disillusioned with academe and determined to ‘do something good’. I accidentally found myself in the charity sector and even more accidentally found myself in fundraising and actually was quite good at it.

How things have changed as we breeze into another uncertain year of political and economic upheaval - our sector is under immense pressure and yet it is increasingly seen as a genuine and attractive career prospect and not always that easy to break into.  Which all means finding a good fundraiser, as my old boss used to say, is like finding rocking horse manure!!

So - what brings on this musing so early in the new year about days gone by and changes in the sector? It’s because at TimeBank we are recruiting for a new fundraising and business development post – one that will work directly to, and with, me and have the opportunity to shape the job  as they see fit. It’s a role that could suit an entry level person who I’d be happy to mentor and support or equally someone returning to work after a gap, or someone more senior, developing a portfolio of freelance roles but wanting something stable in the diary.

In essence, we are pretty flexible, we just want the right person – someone happy to think out of the box and be creative one day but trawl through 17 years of files and folders the next researching previous funders, supporting our project team in developing new, fundable, mentoring projects, someone passionate about volunteering and the role it can play in changing lives.

Add into that an element of business development – we want to expand our employee volunteering. We want to show businesses how this can improve teambuilding, leadership skills and make a massive difference in their communities – could you join me in making that pitch to a corporate CEO?

I want someone who wants to work in our sector and sees the difference that being a fundraiser can make – not, as I was thought of back in the day, the necessary but rather grubby team in the corner that asked people for money – but an intricate cog in a finely tuned charity making its way, despite the pressure of the outside world, towards its 20th anniversary of changing people’s lives for the better through volunteering.

If that sounds like a challenge you want to take up then take a look here – or give me a call on 020 3111 0701 and we can talk about how you could be the difference TimeBank needs to step up to the next level.  

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