Blog

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

Volunteering around full time work - how do you fit it all in?

When I list all the volunteering I do, people’s reaction tends to be “How do you fit it in?” It’s easy really. I do things that I really care about so I want to make time and none of them involves a regular commitment at a set time.

I’ve always worked full time and I’ve always volunteered. As a Youth Support Volunteer for the National Deaf Children’s Society I attend residential events for deaf children and young people to provide pastoral care and communication support, translating between English and BSL (British Sign Language). These are at weekends or in the school holidays. I also attend the volunteer steering group three times a year.

I’ve been involved with Greenbelt Festival - an annual festival of arts, faith and justice - for nine years in a variety of voluntary roles including leading teams of volunteers. The festival takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend and I’m there for a few days beforehand, as well as attending a Team Leader day and doing some prep at home throughout the year. I can do any admin and preparation in my own time so I just fit it in where I can.

I’m also an Independent Visitor Volunteer with The Children’s Society, which involves keeping in contact with a young person in local authority care and meeting them about once a month to do whatever activity they choose. Having moved away I’m continuing that role as a Virtual Independent Visitor, keeping up contact remotely with a couple of face to face visits. Independent Visiting is quite similar to the mentoring projects I’m working on at TimeBank.

These include Starting Together and City Opportunities Mentoring which match care leavers with a mentor who will spend five hours a month with them for six months working towards goals identified by the young person. Mentors receive training and expenses for their travel and refreshments. The Switch matches mentors with young people who are making the difficult change from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to either Adult Mental Health Services or living independent of mental health services as they turn 18.

We are particularly interested in hearing from male volunteers who would like to be matched with a young person on The Switch. We are running training at the end of November so it’s not too late to apply. Please contact Rachel Carder, Project Co-ordinator on 020 3111 0730 or email us at theswitch@timebank.org.uk

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I volunteer as a trustee to support a cause I passionately believe in

Our trustees play a vital role, volunteering their time and working together to make important decisions about TimeBank's work. To mark Trustees' Week Peter Beeby talks about what drives his involvement.

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I didn't really need to think long and hard about volunteering with TimeBank. I firmly believe in the value of volunteering - the desire to put your hand up and do something for someone else or a cause – I like to believe it is something innate in most of us, second nature.

What TimeBank does is facilitate this need – co-ordinate and organise it in a way that is valuable for the volunteer, for organisations engaged in volunteering and for those benefiting from the contribution of volunteers. I am also very interested in the projects TimeBank supports – my particular favourites include co-ordinating volunteers to befriend and support veterans and their families, and a project matching volunteer mentors with young people who are living with mental health issues.

I like being a trustee firstly because I am supporting a venture/cause I passionately believe in. This is what drives my contribution and my enjoyment volunteering for TimeBank.

Volunteering as a trustee utilises the skills and experience I have gained in my day job and is something I can do around my work. It enables me to be part of a team that supports the success of an organisation that has a direct impact on the lives of others. Hearing about the impact and success of the staff and volunteers of TimeBank gives me a real buzz and I am never short of something to say when advocating and promoting the work of TimeBank! I’m also a bit of a geek when it comes to good governance and process which I think really benefits the organisation and the Board.

I don’t just get a ‘lovely feeling’ out of being a trustee. It has been beneficial in building my confidence attending external meetings and contributing my thoughts and opinions. The Board at TimeBank is supportive and focused with a team of trustees from various backgrounds and experiences. I enjoy the respect and knowledge shared around the table – I learn something new at each meeting.

I wouldn’t be a trustee or volunteer unless I felt my contribution in some way, however small, makes a difference. As a trustee there are many ways to contribute – sharing my skills and knowledge from my previous experiences, promoting the organisation at events or reviewing and commenting on financial performance – big or small they all in some way make a difference to TimeBank. Ultimately my time volunteering as a trustee ensures good governance, supporting an organisation that enables others to volunteer safely, and in mutually rewarding way. 

TimeBank will be recruiting some more trustees to its Board in the New Year, so if you've been inspired, look out for our ad on the vacancies page.

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Don't undervalue the role of older people as trustees - they have a wealth of experience to offer

I had lunch with an old boss of mine a couple of weeks ago. Someone I’ve kept in touch with not just because he was the first person to ‘take a punt’ on me and give me a chance at a time in my career when I needed someone to believe in me but because he’s someone who I have enormous respect for, learnt a huge amount from and whom I rate as a real leader. So I guess really he’s an informal mentor.

Over lunch he told me that his role as Chairman of a board of trustees at a big charity was coming to an end and he didn’t know what he was going to do with his time. This is not a man to retire quietly to the golf course or tend the lawn to within an inch of its life!  So I immediately said: Get another trustee role of course, you’ll easily pick up another chairmanship. No, he said I’m over 70 now, no-one will even look at me. When I’ve applied to register with an agency they just laughed. Apparently I have nothing to offer - I’m an old fuddy duddy, a ‘traditional trustee’ and no one wants those anymore!

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Now please don’t get me wrong, I could not agree more with the importance of diverse Boards, of encouraging young people to take on more responsibility and become a trustee. And let’s not forget making sure women have their place at the table too. But it made me think that perhaps we could be in danger of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’. The traditional, ‘old school’, retired, professional man actually has rather a lot to offer.

As a CEO I know that one of the most important things you need from a Chair is time – someone who can devote their time to reading Board papers and talking them through with you, who will lead a strategy meeting, make sure the Board works as it should and is happy to pop into the office for an hour here and there to act as a sounding board or to attend our events. Someone who is no longer working full time and who has life and work experience has an awful lot to offer.

So this Trustees Week – while you read all of the articles encouraging you to think of new people to join your Board – step back and think about the traditional candidates too and don’t undervalue them, their knowledge, their leadership skills, their time or indeed their ability to chair a meeting effectively. Don’t  assume everyone retires to the countryside and wants a quiet life – because if 40 is the new 30,  70 is the new 60!! Our country is moving into an era of an increasingly ageing population (there are more than 10 million people over 65 in the UK) and our older people are fitter, more active, and have more to offer than ever before.

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A new home for our Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project

It was an exciting day for Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine yesterday. Even the pouring rain couldn’t dampen our spirits as our new home in Bishopton was unveiled after SP Energy Networks generously stepped in to renovate the exterior of a cottage at Erskine Home for us.

Local newspaper the Paisley Daily Express came along to mark the moment when the cottage was ready for use - much earlier than we expected thanks to the company's support. SP Energy Networks' staff volunteered to paint the outside of the cottage - a great example of employee volunteering supporting a local charity.

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Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine is a unique partnership between TimeBank and Scotland’s leading veterans’ charity Erskine, which supports veterans and their families in Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

The cottage will provide an important base for the programme. We’ll be able to hold a friendly drop-in there for ex-Service men and women, and for their families too, who often face unique challenges in understanding and dealing with the issues their partners, sons and daughters are going through. And we hope local people will come along to find out more about volunteering with us.

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Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine mentors provide one to one support, once or twice per month over the course of three to nine months. You can see more about the work we are doing here and if you’d like to volunteer as a mentor please call 0141 814 4510 or email ali@timebank.org.uk  We are here to help.

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Caring Conundrums

Caring for someone is far from easy. TimeBank’s Carers Together project is here to help.

The responsibility of caring can fall on us quite suddenly. When a close friend has a fall, or a family member suffers a stroke, life can be turned upside down. It can also creep up, as a parent reaches old age or a partner contracts a degenerative condition and makes ever-increasing demands. Loved ones can even hide their needs, not wanting to trouble us.

However it strikes, it will bring difficult choices and unforeseen challenges. Television presenter Fiona Phillips found a home for her mother, who was suffering from dementia. In an article for BBC News Magazine she describes the ‘hardest decision of her life’. When filmmaker Tom Browne’s parents reached old age, he wanted them to change the way they lived their lives. Now he has made Radiator, a very personal movie showing what he feels he should have done.

What’s right for Fiona and Tom may not be right for everyone, but the truth is that caring’s a tough and demanding job. It requires patience, physical strength, financial acumen, medical expertise and excellent communication and negotiating skills. And if you don’t match the person spec? Tough! You can still be handed the job.

Thankfully, help is available. TimeBank’s Carers Together online mentoring project uses a secure website to link experienced carers to those encountering difficulties. Carefully matched mentors provide everything from emotional support and encouragement, to practical advice on benefits, dealing with the NHS and social services, and finding respite. It’s not for everyone – some people just don’t feel comfortable interacting through a computer – but it is available everywhere in England, from the big cities to the most isolated backwaters. And carers can send messages at a time most convenient to them, even if that’s the middle of the night.

If you have caring responsibilities and need a mentor, or if you are an experienced carer able to share your experience with others, please get in touch. Call William on 0121 236 2531 or e-mail carers@timebank.org.uk

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Internships: a twilight zone in the workplace?

Once considered the preserve of academia and the private sector, the use of unpaid interns is increasing in the voluntary and community sector. But it can bring problems:

  • With no legal definition of interns, no status in law and no consensus about what an intern is, they occupy a twilight zone in the workplace. Unpaid interns are not volunteers: their contribution is “incentivised” in so far as it is seen by many as an entry-point into employment with the same organisation, their time is not freely given and they are often expected to work the same hours and conditions as paid staff.
  • Some voluntary and community organisations use interns to deliver the work of a paid role, without having to pay a wage – often characterising this as a volunteering role. In addition to the unethical use of interns as an unpaid workforce, there is also a knock-on effect of reducing the number of new opportunities for those seeking their first paid role in the sector.
  • Under some circumstances they can be classed as workers (even if they are unpaid) and employers will be legally obliged to pay minimum wage. Their entitlement to the minimum wage has nothing to do with what they are called – it depends on the agreement or arrangement they have with their employer.

Ask yourself this: Do you have an unpaid intern who:

  • Has a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (that contract doesn’t have to be written)
  • Is rewarded (their reward does not have to be money – it could be a benefit in kind, training or the promise of a contract or future work)
  • They have to turn up for work even if they don’t want to (they have set hours and tasks).

If the answers is yes then that unpaid intern could well be seen as a worker under employment legislation.

The range and quality of opportunities available to interns varies significantly. While some will have fantastic experiences in rewarding roles and be well supported, others will find themselves in demoralising, unrewarding work with no clear outcomes or goals.

At TimeBank we will not support or provide unpaid internships and do not believe they can be considered volunteering. However, there are some circumstances where we would both provide and/or recognise paid internships.

When we involve interns in our work we will make sure that:

  • Internships are advertised in the same way as paid positions – in a fair, open and accessible way to ensure that all potential interns have the possibility to apply
  • The opportunity is time-limited, discrete piece of work, this could be a research opportunity, a consultation exercise, or a delivering a specific campaign
  • The principal beneficiary should be the intern and the opportunity should offer tangible benefits, for example as a pathway to full-time employment or further education
  • Interns are paid a fair living wage.

We’ve put together our thoughts on all aspects of volunteering in ‘What TimeBank Thinks’. Take a look and let us know if you agree!

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Meeting the emotional needs of care leavers

Starting Together is our mentoring project, matching volunteers with young female care leavers. Starting in Southwark in May 2013, we’ve now expanded to other London boroughs, offering more young women access to this great support.

Mentors meet the young women for around five hours a month for six months, offering them practical and emotional support as they make the transition to independent living.

Young people are particularly vulnerable when they leave care and the project aims to act as a preventative measure to long-term mental health difficulties. A recent BBC report highlights this vulnerability, stating that the ‘emotional needs of children who have been in care are not being well looked after’. 

The report focuses on a study by Action for Children which reveals that 'Most young people who have been in care continue to cope with the lasting impact of a traumatic childhood. They can suffer from depression and anxiety, on top of dealing with the challenges of living on their own for the first time. They tell us that too often they feel alone with these difficulties - even when they have been helped with the practicalities of transition and finding somewhere to live.'

It calls for better ways of meeting such children's needs and warns that support must be ongoing to prevent them from following 'chaotic pathways'.

One young woman who is currently benefiting from the support of a TimeBank volunteer is Sara who was matched with her mentor, Genevieve, in September. They have already developed a great relationship.

Genevieve is helping Sara to find work, obtain her theory driving licence and learn to live more healthily. Sara has said that Genevieve is ‘friendly, motivating and patient’. Genevieve has been equally positive about the experience, saying that Sara is a ‘lovely person to be around’.

If you’d like to refer a female care leaver, please contact me to start the referral process on 020 3111 0730 or at Rachel@timebank.org.uk    

Alternatively, if you would like to become a volunteer on the project, I'd love to hear from you! You can find out more and complete an application form at www.timebank.org.uk/starting-together, or contact me on the email address or telephone number above.

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That feeling of being in a strange land, not understanding the language

Peter is a volunteer English trainer on our Talking Together project in Birmingham, which offers informal language training and mentoring to long-term UK residents who have little or no knowledge of English. He says living in China brought home to him that feeling of being in a strange land, not understanding the strange noises coming out of people's mouths ...

Once, what feels like a lifetime ago a friend told me that my English was superb. Well, yes I retorted, so it should be - I am English after all. Au contraire said she, it's the way you explain things. I, in the manner of a youth, added the compliment to my burgeoning ego and filed it away under 'things to do should world domination fail' and carried on the business of being a boy of 19. 

University followed. As did jobs and travel. And jobs while travelling. One such job took in a bit of English teaching and eventually I decided to make a fist of that teaching thing in China. Why China? Well, why not? I couldn't speak the language and knew nobody but I was me and everything would surely go my way. Surely. So off I trotted back to college and after a few months I was qualified and in this strange beast of a country with a seemingly impenetrable language. 

After returning to Birmingham I still wanted to teach English to people who might understand this feeling of being in a strange land not understanding the strange noises coming out of people's mouths in the place of words. A friend of mine had just started volunteering with a charity called TimeBank. She seemed to have not had a bad time of it, so I applied.

I was invited for interview and then I was on a Talking Together English language training course with Elizabeth, who had a sublimely energetic teaching style. The training served as a good refresher and confidence builder and way of meeting some new folk. 

Training over, it was time to gird my loins and get back into the arena of learning. Said arena was a small place in Small Heath called The Bangladeshi Women's Centre, where I was to teach a group of Bengali men. A far cry from the bling-a-ding-ding offices of China and far more relaxed. 

Thankfully there was a syllabus in place so with a little tweaking off I popped. My Chinese experience had, it's fair to say, rather knocked my self-belief. However the centre was welcoming and my students a joy to work with. Always eager to answer questions and in time ask some of their own. Seldom on time but always eager to learn and test themselves, which was really refreshing. The majority were working and had been for a number of years but for whatever reason had not had the opportunity to engage in a conventional ESOL setting.  

All of them made progress over the coming months and as a group we developed a bond. Each with our individual experiences of life being brought to one spot to pursue some sort of linguistic exchange. And exchange we did, with lessons whizzed through, not whizzed through, tea drunk, biscuits dunked and tales of how in the old country there were six seasons and tigers too. 

And so, as is the nature of things - it finished. Half of the class are now on ESOL courses at a proper smells-of-teenagers college and one even found (with the assistance of one who shall remain nameless) some voluntary work. As for yours truly? The next challenge beckons back in the world of work ...

If you'd like to volunteer on our Talking Together project, we'd love to here from you. There's lots more information here.

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