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

My son is smiling for the first time in months

It’s a bright and sunny day in London and I’m on my way to meet Michael and Dan at a café in Angel.

Mike and Dan have only been matched for a month and a half as part of our volunteer mentoring project The Switch, but the relationship has gone so well that we received this message from Mike’s mum a couple of days ago:

“I just wanted to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much! My son is smiling for the first time in months. I now feel positive he will get better.”

The message was so nice that I wanted to hear more from Dan and Mike. They were happy to meet me for a chat, so I’m tagging along to one of their meetings.  At the café I meet two young men sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.  Dan has come straight from the office and is on his lunch break, and Mike has ventured out to enjoy the weather. They have decided to divide their time together so that they meet several times a month rather than a couple of hours in a row, and are therefore used to meeting in Dan’s lunch break.  Dan laughs and says this is to avoid Mike getting “too bored of his company”. Mike smiles and they say they’re venturing out this weekend on a long session, so they’ll see what they prefer.  So far, a mix seems to be working well.

Before being matched, Mike didn’t leave the house much and sorely missed having someone to discuss football with. Throughout the meeting football banter is highly present, with Mike an ardent Arsenal fan and Dan Leicester; they’re not in competition for the league title, but enjoy discussing games and players. “Luckily I don’t support Tottenham or Chelsea,” jokes Dan.   Mike laughs and says the mentoring relationship might have been different if he did.

I quietly applaud the excellent matching skills of Rachel, the project co-ordinator, while picturing Mike matched with a hard core Tottenham fan and the heated discussions that could follow. Mike is a goalie and Dan has never given up on his dream to become a Leicester player so the cards were ripe for a good mentoring relationship. They are going to play football one of these days and I think it’s going to be a good match.

Mike is a bit shy, but when asked what he has enjoyed the most he’s a burst of energy and answers “I enjoy every session. It’s brilliant!”  So far they’ve met at different coffee shops and gone for lunch in the West End. Their meetings have been loosely planned and consisted of wandering around London talking, but they admit there's also been a lot of coffee. “I’ve never had so much!”  laughs Dan.  

At their first meeting they sat down and created a list of stuff they wanted to do, with researching colleges, playing golf, going to sports museums, visiting the Emirates stadium and playing football top the list. They also want to go fishing one day and I hope they’re not going to end up catching anything from the Thames. If they do, they assured me they won’t attempt to eat it.

Mike and Dan first met in January. At the match meeting Rachel and Mike’s mother stayed for 30 minutes before getting tired of hearing about football and left Mike and Dan.  It was ‘love at first goal’ and it’s continued to go swimmingly.  

I’m curious as to what the mentoring relationship has meant for them so far and if they’ve experienced any changes. I turn to Mike; he smiles and with the same energetic enthusiasm says his time with Dan has really changed him for the better. “Although it’s been short, it’s given me more confidence and self-belief”.  Mike is also happy that he’s out of the house more:  “I’ve got to see things I haven’t seen before, go out more and have someone to talk to.” 

Dan says he’s really enjoyed it too and says: “Mike is up for doing everything, so I’ve mentioned a couple of things that I think sound interesting, and that’s what we’re doing. It is great fun; I get to do and see things I’ve wanted to do for years, but never made time for!” 

I leave the boys to discuss this weekend’s activities – happy to have been a part of their mentoring relationship for a day.

This is why I love working for The Switch. It’s truly a life changing programme and the change is caused by people like you and I, donating a few hours every month just to be there for someone.  Seeing how great they are together has been really inspiring and has made me want to be mentor.  Let’s see what the future holds shall we. For now, I’m happy to be a small part of Dan and Mike’s journey together and I can’t wait to hear what they get up to next!   

If you'd like to get invoved in The Switch, we'd love to hear from you! Take a look here

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How City workers are supporting young care leavers

City Opportunities Mentoring is a TimeBank project matching care leavers with City workers to support them with tasks such as writing job applications, practising interview skills, networking, job shadowing or gaining work experience.

The project started in September 2013, successfully matching 24 City workers to 24 young people and we’re now relaunching it for a further year thanks to funding from the City of London Corporation and Team London.

One current mentoring relationship is between Victor, a Project Management student at London SouthBank University and Chris, an information security consultant working near Liverpool Street.

Victor took up the offer of mentoring after attending a five day work skills programme at London SouthBank University.

That programme provided him with a taste of City life and he decided he wanted help from a mentor to help him find work on graduating. Chris had gained both mentoring and leadership skills through his current and previous jobs and felt that he would be able to use these to offer a young person guidance and support with their career.

Victor and Chris have been matched for several months now and are both enjoying the mentoring experience. They have already undertaken a number of positive activities including working jointly on job applications and CVs, and now plan to focus on interview techniques and confidence building in the next few months.

Chris says ‘mentoring is a rewarding experience and it is a privilege to be able to help someone benefit from some of the many opportunities that the City provides but that can often be quite difficult to break into.’

Victor says: ‘The support and help received from Chris has been remarkable. Most importantly I have gained invaluable knowledge, encouragement and guidance. I am glad to say I have benefited greatly from this programme.’

If you would be interested in becoming a mentor with us or would like to refer someone to the project,  I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at Rachel@timebank.org.uk  or on 020 3111 0730. 

And if you'd like to know more about City Opportunities Mentoring, take a look here.

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Banking on volunteer mentors

There has been no shortage of interest from volunteers to take part in Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine since the mentoring project started last June. The project matches veterans and families living in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh with a mentor who provides one to one support to help in their transition to civilian life. 

Mentors have been recruited through various methods, including volunteer websites, colleges and universities, partner agencies, news articles, Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine’s online application and word of mouth. We had a really good day recruiting at Volunteer Edinburgh’s Recruitment fair. Jody, one of our volunteer mentors (pictured above) helped out for the day and was fantastic in getting people interested in volunteering.

Volunteers go through a rigorous recruitment process including an induction. They provide two referees, join Disclosure Scotland's Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme and complete mentor training. 

Here’s what volunteers have said:

“I’m feeling very confident”

“I’m aware of the issues veterans face”

“I found the case studies and personal experiences of veterans most interesting”

“The videos linked theory to real life”

TimeBank now has a good bank of fully trained mentors ready to be matched with a veteran or family member. Mentors come from a variety of backgrounds. Their ages range from 20 to 60 and they are male, female, ex-military, families of veterans and from civilian life.

If you are a veteran or family member and find it difficult to move on, mentors can:

  • Talk with you on the phone
  • Meet with you for a chat
  • Be there to listen
  • Give you one to one support, assistance or guidance
  • Help you focus on setting goals in the aim to move on

If you are an ex-serviceman, woman or family living in or around Glasgow or Edinburgh and would like the support of a mentor, or would like to find out more, we are here to help.

You can read more about the project here, call me on:0141 814 4510 or 07437 437 867 or email:ali@timebank.org.uk

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What a rewarding journey!

Hello, my name is Amy. I’m a student in the first year of my English Language and Linguistics BA (Hons) Degree at The University of Wolverhampton - and I wanted to tell you about the rewarding experience of volunteering on TimeBank's Talking Together project. 

I am a British Bangladeshi born and bred and I am very proud of my heritage. I have always been passionate about English Language as a subject and feel that being able to speak English plays a crucial part in our daily lives.

I was intrigued to learn about the barriers to second language acquisition, so I signed up as an English Language Mentor on TimeBank’s Talking Together project.  I would like to help people from ethnic minorities gain confidence in using English in various contexts. My motivation to take part  is that being a Bangladeshi myself,  I would like to branch out and help those from my community and other ethnicities to progress with their English and be able to integrate with the wider society, whilst also gaining independence to fulfil a range of tasks outside of the home.               

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For my first volunteering trip, my colleagues and I took a group of students and ventured out to Moor Street Station. The journey was just four minutes from the starting point to the City Centre, yet most of the ladies didn’t know that this option of travel was accessible to them.

They were very nervous as many had not gone on a train before.  However as the day progressed, they learnt about departure and arrival times as well as the 24 hour clock system in order to read train timetables.  They also took the opportunity of asking the gentleman at the ticket office about train times, journey lengths, ticket types and prices. They were initially hesitant but once they did they were very proud of what they had achieved by simply asking a few questions. This really helped to build their confidence.

The Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum was the main attraction of the day. The students were able to learn about opening and closing times, exhibition costs (if applicable) and describing paintings and sculptures. The trip really helped to expand their vocabulary and learn new skills. And they thoroughly enjoyed their experience.

We later had lunch and they were able to order their own meals, talking in English with the staff. Their confidence had improved vastly compared to the beginning of the day. A few of the ladies said they would try the journey themselves again now they knew what to do.

Something that we take for granted like boarding a train is so invaluable to these learners – and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to know that I played a part in their learning and made a difference to their lives.  That is the biggest reward you could have as a volunteer.

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

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Employee volunteering isn't just for Christmas!

Like last year, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit shown by the employee volunteers I had the pleasure of working with over Christmas. The volunteers came from a range of companies; from global fashion brands to chemicals and marketing. They may have all come from different backgrounds and sectors but what united them was their openness to genuinely giving something back to the communities where they live and work.

This year was the first time we worked with the company City Index to get its employees volunteering.  City Index employees volunteered at four different Anchor care homes across five sessions of volunteering in London. Anchor is the largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for the over-55s in England. The City Index volunteers did a fantastic job interacting with the residents through activities such as Christmas card making and baking, as well as singing a few Christmas carols. The volunteers created a buzz around the homes, the residents loved seeing new faces, and the Anchor staff appreciated the support of volunteers to engage with the residents. It was an absolute pleasure working with the volunteers, and the Anchor staff are incredibly passionate about their work. It was inspiring to see all the fantastic work they do.

TimeBank also worked with a global fashion brand to help create sensory toys to be used by Blind Children UK (part of Guide Dogs), in their work with blind and partially sighted children. The sensory toys, such as sensory boards and umbrellas, all have different textures and materials to encourage stimulation and confidence for the children the charity works with. The employees from the company amazed us with their creative flair - in a matter of hours they had turned ordinary materials like brushes and make up bags into magical toys that will bring joy to lots of children and families across the country. The staff from Blind Children UK were so excited by the results they couldn’t wait to use them at their sessions later that day.

Once again, I was amazed by the efforts of employee volunteers to offer not only their time, but also their skills and experience to help others at Christmas. For TimeBank, it is not only a pleasure to work with the volunteers, but it is also rewarding to help the community partners we work with find such kind and talented volunteers.

But volunteering isn’t just for Christmas - charities need help all year round. The New Year is the perfect time of year to reflect on what we have and to help those less fortunate; it’s a perfect time to volunteer! There are a whole range of opportunities to get your employees volunteering this year - take a look at our Employee Volunteering pages to see how we can help.

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The impact that volunteering has on your own life ...

A lady of leisure, I was lingering between applying for jobs and attending community training events.

I needed something to challenge my over-active mind, something to get my teeth into and that was the moment I came across Talking Together, a TimeBank English Speaking programme.

I was instantly attracted by this practical teaching course, and of course, I had my doubts - oh no, not with Time Bank - in my own ability and confidence.

“How on earth will I teach a class of women, English?” I fretted.

“Where will I begin, when the ladies stare at me with eager eyes and empty note pads?”

Needless to say, I was wrought with self-doubt and worry. However it soon faded away when I met smiley Elizabeth –a Talking Together trainer- along with a group of eager volunteers.

Step aside boring, tepid training session and say hello to interactive, friendly and refreshing training.

I had a blast over the three days training sessions and made some great friends that left me in fits of laughter; thawing my worries and fears. We all were in the same boat - volunteer learners.

Soon after training I was introduced to staff at Betram Children’s Centre where I worked alongside another trainer. We worked together and complemented each other with our ideas, resources and teaching style. He came from a teaching background, me-not so.

But that’s the buzz of Talking Together; you don’t need to have teaching experience to help others to speak! Yes! It’s amazing.

They provide you with a curriculum - the motherboard – and you inject your personality and tailor the class to the students’ ability and hey presto, they will be eating out of your hand or like my class, laughing at my silly jokes.

Over the 12 weeks I made friends with my class and the beautiful women came out of their shells and participated in class activities. They learn practical talking skills which they put to use in everyday life.

Shanaz (not her real name), who I am starting to gently fall in love with, laughs with modesty every time she attempts to speak in front of the class. On my last day, she bought a fresh batch of home cooked pakoras to our leaving party, simply delish!

In conclusion, over the 12 weeks, not only did it boost my students’ confidence, but my own. I could teach!

Now that looks impressive on my CV. A few ladies gained confidence to apply for ESOL courses, others will be mentored and the journey has only begun!

Me? Well, who knows … where there is a challenge, a new experience, there I am.

Therefore lady of leisure, I am not, I’m a lady who teaches the magnificent-English language and helps other women get so much more out of their lives.

Samina Bibi……signing off

If you'd like to get involved in our Talking Together project in Birmingham and Leicester, take a look here.

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A fabulous year for volunteering!

I always sit down at this time and do a bit of a review of the year – looking through the 2014 diary it utterly astounds me just how much we have packed into 12 months and how excited we are to take this forward into the New Year!

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January saw the launch of our new volunteer led English Language project in Birmingham and Leicester – it also saw us move into a new office in Birmingham and increase our staff team there by another six people. Of course that meant all the usual things like setting up IT and financial processes and induction but it also meant we had a whole new group of TimeBank staff to learn from and work with as we grew our work. I get to go to our Birmingham office much more often too, which is great fun!

Meanwhile in London we were welcoming a slightly more unusual new staff member in Mason our trainee guide dog! He came to the office every day as part of his training and was an amazing volunteering opportunity for one of our team. 

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By March we’d started planning our annual staff away day with the creative team at Happen and preparing our next 18 month business plan as we moved towards year end. Our employee volunteering was really starting to develop, as you can see from this video from our friends at Southerly about their volunteering at a local school. And our Shoulder to Shoulder Families project was launched in Birmingham.

In April we heard the fantastic news that the Forces in Mind Trust and the Henry Smith Charity would fund our Shoulder to Shoulder project in Scotland with our partners Erskine, so that meant lots of time on trains to Scotland to get the new project up and running. 

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In May for the second year running the company CEB asked TimeBank to run its global impact day in the UK by organising volunteering opportunities for 300 staff on Give and Gain Day. I went round five of the six projects in London and was astonished at just how much impact one staff team could have in one day with the right opportunities.

In the summer we started working with Pro-bono Economics to try to put a value on the incredible work our Carers Together project is doing in partnership with Carers UK. More flippantly we turned our training room into a big screen to watch some of the World Cup – hmm not sure that England got the memo to deliver like TimeBank!!  Inevitably projects come to an end as Engage, which works with unemployed young people, did in June but like a phoenix rising from the ashes we are fortunate to have secured funding to launch a new iteration in January so look out for another fabulous job being advertised at TimeBank.

In the summer I took time out to go up to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, seeing first-hand how the Clyde-siders replicated the Gamesmakers in London – showing volunteering at the forefront of a big national event once again – and of course bumped into one of our very own trustees Lorna who was volunteering her time. Like TimeBank staff our trustees really do walk the talk! 

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By the autumn it was back to business as usual, delivering our amazing projects, fundraising for new ones and delivering impactful employee volunteering opportunities.  November took me to the Windsor Leadership Trust for a week which utterly blew me away as you can read in my blog here – trust me you are never too senior to learn and develop new skills and you should never underestimate the power of taking time out to think.

Just last week the volunteering world saw the re-launch of the volunteering site do-it. I was lucky enough to be on the panel discussing the value of social media at the launch and saw the amazing new site that really will support people more easily into volunteering opportunities – anything that gets more people volunteering is a good thing as far as we’re concerned!

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And so full circle we moved offices, but this time in London!  As our lease came to an end we waved goodbye to Moorgate and hello to Kings Cross, moving into a great space with our friends at the YMCA. I’ll be honest it wasn’t the greatest time of the year to move but we’ve done it and come January 5  we’ll be operating from our new home and hope very much that you’ll come and see us.

Meanwhile an absolutely heartfelt and huge thank you goes out to all of our volunteers and supporters, our trustees and our staff team – they have been fabulous this year and I hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year. 

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We're moving!

Well, our lease at Royal London House in Finsbury Square has come to an end after four years and we’re off to new offices at TimeBank, One KX, 120 Cromer Street, London WC1H 8BS.

You’ll still be able to reach us at our usual email addresses and phone numbers but do bear with us while we make the move as there may be a little disruption. Our Birmingham and Scotland addresses remain the same and we’ll be settled in to our new London premises from January 5.

We’re really excited about making the move to King’s Cross. 2014 has been a fantastic year for us (look out for my blog later this week) and we’re looking forward to growing our volunteer mentoring projects from our new home.

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