Blog

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

What a huge amount we've achieved!

Whenever I sit down to write my end of year blog I think not much has happened. Then I start to flick through my diary and realise what a huge amount has been achieved!

This one started with our office move. It wasn’t  without its challenges - IT is never a friend in such circumstances - but we are very happy in our new home with our friends at the YMCA.

In early January I was in Leicester to visit one of our delivery partners, the Shama Women’s Centre, with Lord Ahmad, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) who was fascinated by the work being done there.

347 The impact of our Talking Together project never ceases to amaze me. One lady told me that for years she’d been a victim of domestic abuse from her brother-in-law. He started to attack her again but the week before she'd learnt on our course to call 999 in an emergency and ask for the police. The attacks stopped. A simple English language project – not just life changing but life-saving.

In February I was once again invited to speak on the Charityworks programme.  I absolutely love this project, supporting graduates into a career in our sector. This year one of the tutors was ill so I was asked if my session could be Skyped to their South West cohort.  It was  quite an experience but I’m told successful!

It was Charityworks too that introduced us to one of our most interesting potential partnerships. At a lunch encouraging different charities to take a graduate I met the Chief Executive of Acorns Children’s Hospice and a conversation about our respective organisations sparked an idea for a new way to use our mentoring model – working with young people with life limiting illnesses who are transitioning from children’s to adult services. We held focus groups in November, the funding bids have been submitted and we can’t wait for this exciting new partnership to begin.349

The beginning of the year also saw the start of a new iteration of Engage, our volunteer project supporting young people in Newham who are not in education, employment or training.  In March we celebrated the success of our Carers Together project in partnership with Carers UK with a Westminster launch, which to our delight was hosted once again by TimeBank supporter Sir Kevin Barron MP.

Not long afterwards the DCLG asked us to extend our English language project into London, to harder to reach groups in Birmingham and to pilot an IT and Hidden Carers project – a huge reflection on our reputation for delivery and our ‘fleet of foot’ ability to quickly upsize and deliver when required.

April saw me speaking at ECF 2015, a gathering of the world's leading campaigners, fundraisers and communicators using digital media for achieving social change. I’d never stayed overnight at an Oxford college so thoroughly enjoyed the experience and having the opportunity to talk about how we can harness the power of a new generation of volunteers. We were also thrilled to secure funding from the John Ellerman Foundation. Core funding is hard to come by but vital to empower innovation, partnership building, funding diversification and programme development so this made a huge difference.

Our volunteers of course also make a huge difference and this year I’ve been delighted to join some of them at events for our mentoring projects The Switch and City Opportunities to celebrate with them, hear their stories about volunteering with TimeBank and of course to thank them – definitely one of the best bits of my job. As it was when one of our volunteers, Sean, persuaded his company Swift to donate 5,000 euros to TimeBank and I was lucky enough to attend their annual conference to accept it.

We’ve hosted several overseas groups this year from the Netherlands, South Korea and one, Common Purposes, a group of international leaders. It gives us a chance to share our knowledge and experience, learn from others and harness the incredible power of volunteering internationally.  

359 April saw us Christmas volunteering!! I know it was a tad out of season but we had postponed it due to the office move in December and true to my word I hadn’t forgotten. Plus it was a little warmer for outside volunteering! We headed to Birmingham en masse to join our colleagues there and volunteered at the Ackers Adventure Centre – a charity that provides access to open space and adventurous activities in over 75 acres of diverse landscape in the centre of Birmingham. 

Part two of my Windsor leadership course also took place this year, six months after the first course. It was another opportunity to learn from and spend time with leaders across sectors and take time out to think – something as CEOs we rarely do but which is so very important.

Our first Talking Together project came to an end in June and in October we launched the external evaluation report in Westminster. This was one of the best and most successful events we’ve run with lots of partners, funders, stakeholders and volunteers together. It was also one of our most successful projects ever - delivered on time, above target and under budget – 1,571 women taught by 144 volunteers in 18 months with a calculated social return on investment of £9.31 for every £1 spent.352

Another part of my job that I love is bringing new people and skills onto our Board  and this year saw another round of recruitment and induction for four fantastic new trustees.

In October our Board approved a very ambitious five year business plan,  designed to ensure our long term sustainability and maximise  the value we give to our beneficiaries and volunteers. As ever I am hugely impressed by the calibre and engagement of our trustees and consider myself and TimeBank very lucky to have such incredible governance and quality volunteers at the very top of our organisation.

Last week, this time in season(!) we did our Christmas party volunteering and how amazing it was to spend time with colleagues at a care home making mince pies,  Christmas cards and decorations with the residents – and sharing our experiences afterwards over a curry and a beer! This year lots of companies have taken up our Christmas volunteering challenge and we are excited about the potential for future years.

355 Finally, I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to join Carers UK CEO, Helena Herklots, on the Isle of Wight for one of her 50 hill walk challenges to celebrate 50 years of Carers UK. As I mentioned, Carers UK and TimeBank partnered on our Carers Together project which finished earlier this year and the partnership and indeed friendship has continued. Caring has been a subject very close to my heart this year as I supported my Mum caring for my Dad at home during his final seven months. It made me realise the huge challenges and pressures of caring full time that many millions of carers do on a day to day basis. So I was proud to join Helena in memory of my Dad and in awe of my Mum and of every other carer who puts their life on hold for a loved one.

In 2015 we were proud to celebrate our 15th birthday. 358 Who knows what 2016 will hold but I am confident that TimeBank will move forward taking on new challenges and new volunteering programmes and may I take this opportunity of saying thank you to our incredible volunteers, staff team, trustees and supporters and wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. 

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Christmas volunteering - a win win for businesses, staff and community organisations.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve organised festive volunteering opportunities for a number of companies who were eager to do something different to their usual Christmas party. Volunteers have packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, shared their digital skills with the older generation, and even dressed as elves to throw a Christmas party for Anchor care home residents.

All the volunteers found that by taking just a few hours out of their busy work schedules, they could make a meaningful impact to the lives of others, from bringing a smile to the face of someone who may be lonely at this time of year to helping someone learn to use Skype so they can talk to far away relatives on Christmas Day.

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I was impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the volunteers. Bericote Properties organised an incredible Christmas party at the British Museum for residents from a number of Anchor care homes. Dressed as elves, the volunteers greeted the residents and brought them into the museum. Throughout the day there was a range of entertainment including a magician and a performance from the Salvation Army band, as well as a delicious Christmas dinner. At the end of the day, the elves presented each guest with a small gift hamper. Their generosity was particularly appreciated by the Anchor staff who remarked that, for some of the residents, this would be the only Christmas gift they would receive.

Other teams of volunteers spent time in Anchor care homes across London baking mince pies, making Christmas decorations and doing puzzles with residents. 

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The most important aspect of these days was the time spent socialising with residents. In a busy care home, staff aren’t always able to have lengthy one to one conversations with the residents. Volunteers from Informa, Novo Nordisk and Workroom chatted to residents about everything from football to their experiences in World War II. A volunteer from Informa made a Chelsea themed Christmas card for football fan Charlie at one of the care homes. Charlie loved the card so much that he didn’t put it down even when eating his lunch. This really shows how valuable volunteers can be.

What struck me most when working with our volunteers is how kind-hearted and compassionate they were. It’s easy to become cynical, even at Christmas. But seeing volunteers making Christmas decorations and baking biscuits for care home residents and carefully packing shoeboxes with gifts to be sent to disadvantaged children across the world was truly heart-warming and a reminder of the true spirit of Christmas.

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As well as being a fantastic way to give back to the community, Christmas volunteering offered a chance for the volunteers to socialise with their colleagues in a totally new setting, whilst also utilising a wide range of skills including team work, problem solving and empathy. Importantly, volunteering is also really great fun! From the minute the volunteers stepped into any of the Anchor care homes that we worked with this Christmas, there was always laughter to be heard. It’s a win-win situation for volunteers and our community partners.

But remember, volunteering isn’t just for Christmas. If you’d like to get your team volunteering contact Calley on 0203 111 0700 or calley@timebank.org.uk

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Speaking the same language and building more inclusive communities

It’s been nine months since the Talking Together adventure started in London. After being a great success in Birmingham for 18 months, in March we started a pilot programme across 10 London boroughs.

Throughout these months I have had the pleasure to work with amazing colleagues and volunteers and inspiring and exceptional learners. In London, Talking Together recruited and trained 42 volunteers to hold basic and informal English language classes to long term UK residents with very little or no English.  35 classes later, an amazing 302 learners have completed the course.   

Talking Together has been all about a holistic approach to sustainable development - a ‘win win’ for everyone involved.   For our volunteers, their time has been used doing something really meaningful, and that has further developed their skillsets and employability. Our delivery partners have been able to offer an extra service to their users, as well as gaining some additional funding at a time when the charity sector is being stretched beyond its means. And our learners can now communicate and have basic conversations in English. Most importantly, they now have the confidence to speak.

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Being a national volunteering charity our focus is on creating great, meaningful and sustainable volunteering opportunities. Talking Together has been just that.  Ten of our volunteers have continued volunteering with the organisation they were matched with, delivering English classes the way we trained them. Four are pursuing careers in teaching after being inspired by the programme; one has already completed his CELTA qualifications.

Two inspiring young women - both victims of domestic violence - have gained confidence and experience to enter the job market. We haven't pictured them here to protect their privacy but one said: “I will never forget about you, especially after giving me the opportunity to gain my confidence again after nine years of domestic violence. Only you and the three days of training woke me up from my nightmare and made me see life in a positive way and look forward.  You gave me opportunity to start from scratch, built a career and feel worth in this life.”

Every class has been different; we have worked with 23 diverse organisations who support refugees, get people into employment, support victims of domestic violence or link schools and mothers. The learners are from many different backgrounds, but what is common for all is that they want to be a part of British society and they want to be able to communicate.

Talking Together has been all about creating more inclusive communities. About overcoming boundaries and providing support to volunteers, organisations and learners. Some of our learners have been in this country for many years, but had no friends outside of their immediate family.  One told me that she had made her first friend since moving to this country on our course.

Talking together is about improving people’s English, but a truly great side effect of the programme is its social impact. How it helps people out of isolation, be it volunteers or beneficiaries, and how it builds friendships and understanding of different cultures. The project empowers our learners, beneficiaries, partner organisations and local communities as a whole. We all have something to learn from each other, speaking the same language and building more inclusive communities.

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I’m so proud to have been one of two project co-ordinators on Talking Together London, and that the project as a whole (including London and the Midlands) has reached 2,011 learners via nearly 200 volunteers.  Thanks to everyone involved making this a truly great project! 

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A trip to the British Museum

"I have lived in this country for 16 years, but never been to the museum. I always wanted to go, just been afraid to go on my own.”

As a part of TimeBank's Talking Together programme, offering informal English language classes to UK residents with very little or no English,  I taught a class at an Islington Primary School in co-operation with one of our delivery partners Renaisi, an award winning social enterprise.Ten mothers completed the course and they were truly exceptional learners with great drive and a keen interest in learning. One had just moved to the UK and didn’t speak a word of English; she spoke three other languages, but not this one.

In the beginning we communicated through miming, and let’s face it, me looking like an idiot most of the time, but in the end we could actually have a small conversation (almost without reverting to comical moves). After a class covering public services I found out that none of the mothers had ever been to a museum in the UK. They didn’t know it was free and some of them were afraid to travel alone.

An idea started to form in my head and I spoke to Emma Brech, head of schools and communities at Renaisi, and together with their bilingual advisers we organised a class field trip to the British Museum.  I joined the mums after they had dropped off their kids at school and gave them each a printout of a map, directions and bus information and they guided us from the school all the way there.

As we reached the Museum one said: “I am taking my kids here, it’s so easy. Just one bus and you’re there!”  It’s all about helping people take that little step outside their comfort zone. Here was a lady who had not even entered the Museum yet, but had felt empowered by being able to direct us and had crossed an internal boundary doing so.

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We checked out the Egyptian section, Greek artefacts, South East Asia, Africa, and the Islamic world. Throughout the day we were constantly using our English vocabulary, unless some descriptions were too difficult and then the translators from Renaisi would step in and explain more complicated aspects of world history. After a long informative day I turned to one of the learners and asked what she had liked the best.  She told me that her favourite part was seeing the mummies and that she hadn’t known that they existed.

We do field trips with children all the time in school to expand their learning and to make it interactive. Why don’t we do the same with adult learners? The people I have come across have specifically enjoyed the informal nature of Talking Together which makes learning fun and less intimidating. 

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Our learners have hopes and ambitions and want to be a part of British society. They want to learn English to speak to their child’s teacher, to go to the doctor alone, to be able to get a job, to have the confidence and ability to ask for directions or travel on their own.  I have never come across people that are so dedicated to their studies and it has been a pleasure to be a part of their journey to learn the language and integrate better into their communities. 

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My role as a TimeBank trustee is everything I want from a volunteering opportunity - and more

When I first heard about becoming a TimeBank trustee, I only knew a few things about volunteering. Having been a School Governor and a Games Maker, I knew I enjoyed it. Having done short term and long term volunteering, I felt that there was a real value in starting a long term volunteering relationship. And having done generic and skills specific volunteering, I wanted an opportunity where I felt could use my professional skills - as well as develop new skills that would help in my professional life.

I also wanted to work with a charity that made a provable difference to individual's lives, so was instantly impressed by TimeBank's targeted, measurable and end user-centric mentoring programmes. I could see how they would have a real impact, both for mentor and mentee, and admired the way in which they aimed to fill gaps in provision or meet emerging social needs.

Having been lucky enough to pass my initial interview, I've found that my role as a TimeBank trustee has been everything I wanted from a volunteering opportunity and more. I've been able to use my professional skills (I work in communications) on everything from blog writing to helping review communications procedures and protocols. I've been part of Trustee interview panels and TimeBank away days, and attended Parliamentary events. I've even done a stint as a mentor myself, as part of the Leaders Together programme, supporting smaller charities. 

But the main thing I've enjoyed is working with such dedicated, enthusiastic and talented people - both in terms of my fellow trustees, and TimeBank's own staff. Every meeting brings a different, thought provoking challenge, and it's really inspiring to be part of that discussion with such a great team. I might have not known too much about volunteering when I started as a trustee, but I've learned so much in my time with TimeBank so far - and am looking forward to seeing where we go in the future!

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Being a trustee - a professionally and personally rewarding experience

Being a trustee might not be suited to everyone, but I am pretty certain there are many, many more people who would gain from the experience than currently get involved. And there are certainly many organisations that would benefit from the skills that volunteer trustees can bring.

My interest in volunteering started in what is probably a fairly traditional way: first the Parent Teacher Association and then Governor at my children’s schools. I quickly realised that I really could make a huge difference, not only by raising money, but also by supporting the senior teams with strong governance, guidance and challenge.

My children may both now have left school far behind, but I have continued to volunteer.  It gives me so much in return, why wouldn’t I? Whether it’s a new playground for children; the opening of a new theatre with a community play; the award of Technology status to a school or the involvement of company employees in raising money for special causes … whatever the volunteering opportunity, the reward far outweighs the effort.

And that’s what is so exciting about being a trustee for TimeBank. Here is an organisation which lives and breathes volunteering and which is making a truly significant difference to some of the UK’s most complex social problems. Projects such as Talking Together which offers informal spoken language training and mentoring support to long-term UK residents who have little or no knowledge of English; and The Switch which matches volunteer mentors with young people who are living with mental health issues like depression, anxiety or self-harm. Personally, I am really interested in the work TimeBank does to encourage Employee Volunteering and the Leaders Together project which matches leaders from small charities, social enterprises and community groups with senior professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds in London.

As a trustee of TimeBank I can use the skills that I have developed in my corporate life to support the aims of the charity. I get to work with other people who are similarly passionate about volunteering, but from whom I can learn a huge amount professionally. We are bound together by this passion, but we come from many different backgrounds and walks of life and all contribute to the success of the charity. This is not mere ‘do-gooding’. This is working at a highly professional level as part of a senior decision making team; in many ways similar to being a non-Executive Director of a corporate company. Whether it’s decision-making at board meetings; assisting with fundraising strategies; supporting the CEO and her team at TimeBank events; it is a professionally and personally rewarding experience and I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

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Too many of the most vulnerable young people in England are "cut adrift when they need help the most" say MPs.

Young care leavers are still being let down according to the Head of the Public Accounts Committee, who says there has been "systemic failing" in support to young people leaving foster care or children's homes.

A BBC report today says the committee found that outcomes for the 10,000 young people aged 16 or over who leave care each year are "poor and worsening" and that the quality and cost of support to care leavers "varies unacceptably" between local authorities.

This report highlights the need for TimeBank projects such as Starting Together which supported female care leavers during their transition to independent living. The project was a small pilot, which originated in Southwark and ran for 18 months from May 2013. It provided young women with a volunteer mentor at the point they left care.  Mentors met the care leavers for around five hours a month for six months, offering them both practical and emotional support as they made the transition to independent living.

Young people are particularly vulnerable when they leave care. They have to leave home much earlier than those who have not been in the care system and are often the least equipped to deal with it. They may be susceptible to anxiety and depression and the project aimed to act as a preventative measure to long-term mental health difficulties.

Although a small pilot project, the outcomes were very positive. One third of mentees were supported with finding or applying for jobs and 50% with drafting a CV or cover letter. 42% received help with applying to college or college work and another 42% gained support with every day matters such as starting driving lessons, budgeting or housing issues. The young people also became used to confiding in their mentors about day to day issues or concerns, learning to open up about a range of personal difficulties.

One of the young women, Carla, was supported by her mentor with her dream of becoming a lawyer. She said she found the help she gained from her mentor invaluable: ‘I’ve become more focused and targeted. I’m ready and on track with school work and applications. I’ve made lots of plans and really enjoyed the experience.’

Another – Ellie - was helped with her goal of living more healthily, by attending gym classes with her mentor, shopping for nutritious food and discussing affordable, tasty recipes together. She says that her mentor has been ‘friendly, motivating and patient’ and has encouraged her to do activities which were previously a struggle.

This project has sadly finished now, but we’d love to offer this support to many more young people and roll it out more widely across the UK. So if you know of any funders that would be up for supporting us please do let us know as we’d really like to see many more care leavers benefit from a project that is so clearly needed.

 

 

                               

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Helping South Korea to create new opportunities for people with disabilities

At the end of October we had an amazing meeting with a delegation from the Seoul Welfare Foundation. They are travelling around Europe to collect information and share experiences with other organisations on how to improve access to volunteering for people with disabilities, as well as helping them to make a bigger contribution to their local communities.

We started the meeting with an introduction to TimeBank and an overview of our volunteer mentoring projects and the beneficiary groups we support. Specific attention was paid to the lessons we have learnt  and, especially, the transferable elements of our model. The delegation from Seoul was particularly interested in how involving more people with disabilities in volunteering could also help build stronger communities.

We gained the impression that in South Korea there still are big obstacles for disabled people to find employment or even meaningful volunteering. We were keen to emphasise that for us the question was not “if” they could make a valuable contribution to society but “how”. We told them about our mentoring programme The Switch and how we worked with a young person who suffered such severe anxiety that she was unable to leave her bedroom. After 12 months of mentoring, she is now working as a teaching assistant. Also, how one of the volunteers on our English teaching project Talking Together  has MS, but has enjoyed the experience of language training so much that they have decided to train as a teacher and continue working in this sector.

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These example helped us to show  our guests how volunteers and volunteering can help a variety of people to gain new skills, confidence, motivation and support to break down the barriers that keep them from fully developing their potential. I would not argue that volunteering is the solution to all problems, but it can definitely help in many different situations it if is properly managed and supported.

Volunteering also breaks down social barriers. When people from different communities meet, they find they are not so different after all. This is the third time in the last few months that TimeBank has been contacted by organisations from overseas who want to learn from our projects and experiences. We feel very proud and honoured that our model of tackling complex social issues is gaining such an international reputation.  This is further recognition of the extremely high quality and impactful interventions that TimeBank staff deliver. Well done to all of them!

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