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

Ex-Service men and women from our Shoulder to Shoulder project had a great day volunteering

The Shoulder to Shoulder (S2S) project spent a day at Birmingham project, Ackers Adventure, a vast 70 acre site in the heart of the city.

Veterans who have been regularly attending the S2S Drop-in signed up for a day of volunteering, after a successful volunteering day in the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum earlier in the year.

The Ackers is a busy outdoor activity centre and natural space open to the public. It has a military past however, having previously been the home of the Birmingham Small Arms Company which made munitions for both the First and Second World Wars.

214 The centre relies on groups of volunteers to maintain the natural space so Dave, the activity manager at The Ackers, soon got us to work digging a trench to improve water flow into the pond within the conservation area.The expert team workers made swift work of the task, which has made a big impact on the natural environment, creating an island for breeding wildlife. 

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It was my second visit to The Ackers, having first visited with a staff team from employee benefits company Edenred on Global Impact Day, when companies invest time in their local communities.

Veterans volunteering days have developed through our busy monthly Drop-in where veterans and their families are able to find out about services available to them through talks and information. Volunteering is one of the options we offer through the Drop-in by organising days like these, getting the local Volunteer Centre (BVSC) along to the Drop-in, as well as other agencies, so they know what opportunities are out there that could offer a step up.

One regular attendee found out about the Thrive Gardening project after he met the Coordinator at our Drop-in. He’s now working towards a City & Guilds Qualification in Horticulture and begins a Woodland Management course in the autumn. He also worked on Birmingham City Council's gold medal winning garden at the Chelsea Flower Show and spent the week at the show. Calling in to the Drop-in has opened doors to other opportunities and who knows what’s next?

After a morning of hard graft on a hot August day the group took advantage of the outdoor activities on offer at the centre, with a light-hearted archery competition (not sure who won in the end!) followed by a paddle on the canal.

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For more information about the Shoulder to Shoulder project and our monthly Drop-in, take a look here or contact Jane, the Project Coordinator janed@timebank.org.uk

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That's why I volunteer!

Bob, a volunteer on our Talking Together project in the West Midlands, told us about the impact that volunteering had on him and the joy he felt that it could change lives:

Recently I volunteered to teach 12 introductory English lessons over six weeks at Jetshop in Aston. Fired by high octane enthusiasm and lower octane capability I set about delivering what I hoped would be the students' first steps towards a mastery of the English language. Well ok, competency maybe. Halfway through the course I was beginning to have some serious doubts. Despite my best efforts, unfailing energy and internationally adaptable sense of humour (a smile is the same in every language right?) I appeared to be making very little headway. 

One student in particular seemed to be struggling with the work and with what appeared to be a crippling shyness whenever I tried to coax a response from her. With some one-to-one work and lots of praise and reassurance she began to blossom. She practised constantly at home and soon became the star pupil of my little group.

I suppose that it's only natural to feel a certain sense of pride in seeing someone who you are teaching begin to flourish academically. But for me the real sense of achievement, the real joy in fact, was seeing the huge change in her self-confidence that learning some basic spoken English could produce. I don't think it is an understatement to say that for her the course was a life changing event.

She wasn't the only student to improve of course but she is the one I will remember because of how she made me feel. I felt I had done something truly valuable and worthwhile.

That is why I volunteer!

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

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Skills-based volunteeering is great for local communities and volunteers

TimeBank has worked with EE since 2012 to deliver a digital skills employee volunteering programme nationwide. Our partnership began in 2006 when TimeBank started to provide T-Mobile’s employee volunteering programme, and over the years it has evolved towards skilled-based volunteering.

As part of this we’ve delivered fun and informal events such as Techy Tea Parties when EE employees show older guests how to make the most of technology and the internet over a cuppa!

Skills-based volunteering is a great way to connect with people most in need in your local community. The employee volunteers from EE support people who cannot get help from anywhere else, even their family. One guest who attended a Techy Tea Party in Merthyr, who said: “My volunteer was very helpful and patient (unlike my son!). I would recommend it”. And sharing your skills can boost other people’s confidence in learning new things, like one of the guests who attended a session in Paddington, who said: “I am confident in the future to use the internet instead of relying on other people”.

Sharing skills doesn’t just help people in the community; it also has significant benefits for employee volunteers. Whilst volunteering employees can develop leadership, decision-making and negotiation skills while making a genuine difference in the communities where they work. “It is a great feeling knowing you have helped someone, but to do it face to face is even more rewarding. This is such a fantastic thing we do and I hope it continues every month,” said one of the volunteers. That feel good factor is hard to beat!

We are working with EE to help deliver EE National Techy Tea Party Day onSeptember 9 at their offices across the country. If you would like to attend a Techy Tea Party and talk one to one with the EE volunteers, please email richardg@timebank.org.uk or call 020 3111 0728. There will be morning (10 am – 12 pm) and afternoon (2 pm – 4 pm) sessions, but spaces are limited so do get in touch soon if you are interested. We are helping at the following locations: Bristol, Doxford (Sunderland), Greenock, Hatfield, Merthyr Tydfil, Paddington, Plymouth.

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Telling the world what it really means to be homeless

At our Leaders Together project, we match small London charities and social enterprises with business mentors, and offer workshops on different issues. Last week I had a great time talking to a group of resourceful young people about how effective communications could help to promote their projects, and I was truly inspired to hear about the innovative work they are doing.

Farah Mohammoud is co-founder of You Press, a youth-led agency in East London that works to explore and promote the opinions of young people.

One of its most powerful projects brought together two often neglected groups in society today; the homeless and young people. The result was ‘One Story, Our Voice’ in which individuals from both these groups were able to tell the world what it really means to be homeless.

Farah tells how the project came about:

From my research I found that 1 in 10 people say they have been homeless at some point in their life.  Last year 113,260 people in England informed their local council that their status was homeless, an 11% increase over two years.

I felt compelled to do something to give voice to the unheard stories and experiences of homeless people. I’ve always been interested in the art of storytelling and the impact that it can have on people. I come from a Somali background and in my culture storytelling and poetry is the method through which we pass on our history. Before the civil war poetry was one of the most powerful methods of communication used to inform people to tackle social issues.

Along with this I noticed how popular poetry and spoken word events were in London, particularly among young people. This inspired me to tap into this market and bring together young poets and musicians to empower those homeless individuals who are often vulnerable and socially excluded from society.

The idea behind One Story, Our Voice, was to give homeless people a creative platform through which they could express themselves. Despite having no resources, through a variety of avenues including a partnership with Caritas Anchor House, a residential and life skills centre for single homeless people, the idea developed to become a community interest project involving over 40 people including 10 homeless people, 14 talented poets, spoken word artists, musicians and 20 volunteers that also included filmmakers, photographers and a DJ.

We organised seven workshops in East London where homeless people worked with the creative artists and decided how they wanted their stories to be told.

The project culminated in a high profile, youth enterprise-initiated event at Spotlight in Tower Hamlets - a mix of poetry readings, spoken word and musical performances which were borne out of the collaboration between the homeless people and artists involved in the project.

Homeless people often live chaotic and isolated lives and so working toward the event in a positive environment empowered them. It not only helped to build their confidence but it also increased their employability skills by supporting them in rediscovering and developing their soft skills. In fact during the project two homeless young people found employment. It was also wonderful to see the impact this had on the artists and the way in which they were able to turn the stories shared with them into powerful poems and music that not only challenged the perception of homeless people but also educated the audience that homelessness can happen to anyone at any time. 

You can find out more about You Press here: http://weareyoupress.blogspot.co.uk or by emailing Farah

And if you'd like to get involved in our Leaders Together project, take a look here.

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Why do so many male carers struggle on without seeking support?

More men than you might expect are caring for their loved ones - and they are often older men.

Overall, 42% of carers are men. ONS figures estimate that 15% of men over 65 are acting as carers, compared to 13% of women in the same age group. There are also more men between the ages of 50-65 than women aged 25-49 performing caring roles.

Caring can be exhausting and take its toll on relationships, family life and carers' own health. Clearly, both women and men need support. But research shows that male carers are often more isolated and unwilling to ask for help. Their tendency is to struggle on stoically until they reach crisis point. So why aren’t more men seeking support?

Only 19% of those benefiting from our Carers Together support project are men. This isn’t a problem limited to Carers Together, as most emotional support that is supposed to serve both genders is more often used by women.

Perhaps men are coping – just taking the burden on their big manly shoulders. That’s the stereotype men would like to be true. How do we know it isn’t? The suicide rate for men is three times that for women and men outnumber women in admissions to psychiatric hospitals.

The traditional male role is totally challenged by becoming a carer. Identity, status, capacity to provide for others are all inhibited in an extreme way.

If you don’t tell men that it’s normal to feel pressured by life and suggest to them it’s ordinary to ask for help, they never admit to struggling. All too often their natural tendency is to deal with difficult situations themselves and to avoid emotionally sensitive conversations. But the stereotype of men’s capacity to cope is only true in as much as it prevents them from asking for support.

In all support services attracting men is seen as a big challenge. But a trip to the gents will tell you what are thought to be important issues in a man’s world. Standing at the urinal you can see adverts addressing issues of impotence, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer and career progression. Emotional fatigue doesn’t feature. There seems to be a collusion of indifference to men’s lack of uptake of support services. But the myth of manly shoulders taking the burden of whatever is placed upon them can have a devastating impact.

So if you know a male carer who is struggling but not asking for support, please send him our way. Carers Together not only offers face-to-face support from a volunteer mentor, but also online mentoring which is designed to fit in with carers’ lifestyles – and their own particular needs.

You can read more about Carers Together, the project we run with Carers UK to support carers, here.

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They inspired us to think outside the box - and we inspired them to volunteer

We were thrilled when innovation agency Happen volunteered to hold an inspirational Away Day for the TimeBank team. They certainly stimulated our thinking - and we were delighted to hear that we'd motivated them to volunteer. So we invited them to write a guest blog about the Day: 

Last month we had the fantastic opportunity to do some pro bono work for our dear friends at TimeBank – the inspirational volunteering charity which runs a diverse range of projects designed to tackle complex social issues and which encourages businesses to get their employees volunteering. 

The staff at TimeBank volunteer; their trustees volunteer; and we were delighted to volunteer our services to design and run their team Away Day, using our skills as an innovation agency to help them connect and learn, share ideas, and think of new ways to generate more opportunities for them as a charity, including idea generation around future projects for TimeBank.

As a busy innovation agency it is really satisfying to be able to work on pro bono projects that give organisations such as Time Bank a valuable chance to help make a difference.  

Happen designs creative and collaborative approaches for a wide range of companies who want to solve businesses challenges in an inspiring and actionable way. We use our range of insight and ideation techniques to open up new possibilities for our clients. So it was a real pleasure to host TimeBank at our Hub and guide them through a day of sharing, learning, consolidating, team building, concept writing, and celebrating the great work that they do.  It was amazing to see such enthusiasm from the team and a real joy to see everyone connecting so positively; given their offices in London, Birmingham and Scotland, it’s not often that they all come together as a team.

The true inspiration for us came from recognising how passionate the whole TimeBank team are about the work that they do.  They live and breathe volunteering and it was a real honour working with them to come up with future project ideas, which could really change people’s lives. The buzz around the hub by the end of the day was very motivating and we were delighted to hear such positive feedback from the team and trustees.

They’ve inspired us to want to volunteer more, and having heard us wax lyrical about our experience of working with this amazing organisation, we’ve even managed to get a few friends of Happen signed up as Timebank mentors.

Huge thanks to TimeBank for this great opportunity to work together!

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What a fantastic response to our Talking Together project!

It’s hard to believe that TimeBank’s Talking Together project has only been going for six months. We’ve already trained more than 60 volunteer English teachers, with others waiting to be trained as part of our rolling monthly induction and train the trainer programme.

We have 12 local community delivery partners working with us to enrol learners (at the moment we’ve had to close our waiting list such is the interest). There are 18 classes underway across Birmingham and Leicester, most facilitated by a lead and assistant volunteer trainer, and our first learner cohorts will be completing shortly; for some this will be an opportunity to meet local councillors and be presented with their awards.  

The Talking Together project is providing a much needed service in the Midlands; the response has been overwhelming.  What we can see from the interest is that residents do want to learn English and there is a real need for projects like ours which are free, easy to access and provide a learning opportunity right in the heart of the community.  

When the project started, we knew that there were lots of things that we do day-to-day that non-English speakers would find really difficult: chatting to teachers about a child, going to the doctor or hospital, shopping, reading mail, filling in paperwork or talking to neighbours.

What has made a deep impression on the team is how vulnerable this makes people feel. Sometimes they have left most of their family and friends behind and feel isolated and lonely here in the UK. If they cannot speak English they might not be aware that there are services that can help - or know how to access them.

It’s been brilliant to see people build confidence and engage more with their communities, although this can sometimes be unsettling for other family members.  One husband became uneasy when his wife became more confident and assertive but was soon reassured by the team.

By empowering mothers, children also benefit.  One child refused to hold his mother’s hand while they walked to school because he was ashamed that she couldn’t speak English. Now she is able to help him with his homework.

Our volunteers too are telling us what a great time they’re having. It’s a chance for them to make a massive difference as well as gain hands on teaching experience, enhance their CV and maybe even take the first steps towards a rewarding career in education. A win win situation for everyone in fact!

TimeBank’s Talking Together project works with local community partners in Birmingham and Leicester to offer informal and flexible language teaching to long-term UK residents who have little or no knowledge of English. If you’d like to get involved, take a look here.

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Volunteering to remember those who served their country

This week we are commemorating 70 years since the D Day Landings as well as, later in the year, the Centenary of the First World War. 

It is important that we remember those ex-Service men and women who have served their country in more recent conflicts too, so they can go on to lead productive civilian lives.

Veterans can face a whole range of difficulties after leaving the military, from unemployment to relationship breakdowns and mental health difficulties. Having a mentor can prevent these problems from spiralling and help people to get back on the right track.

As the Shoulder to Shoulder Project in the West Midlands gets closer to the end of its pilot, we’ve been looking at what works best and what we want to develop beyond the pilot. The Shoulder to Shoulder Drop-in which we set up last September has really grown - starting as simply a way to find out about mentoring and developing into a social network, a chance to sit down with other services who attend on a regular basis, like the Royal British Legion and Poppy Factory, as well as hearing from guest speakers like the Warrior Program or the local volunteer centre, BVSC.

Our volunteering day came out of one of these talks when Kim from the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) came to talk to us about the site and the many ways that people can volunteer to support it. Kim inspired a group of veterans to sign up to a day volunteering in the grounds.

So on a rainy day last Wednesday, six veterans, two mentors and two TimeBank staff members boarded a mini bus in Birmingham and headed north to Alrewas in Staffordshire, the home of the NMA. With the main Armed Forces Memorial set atop a hill within the 150 acre site, it’s quite a stunning place. There are hundreds of memorials dedicated to regiments, squadrons and corps across the Services, both military and civilian. There are 50,000 trees, planted since 1997, many dedicated to individuals who have given their life in service.

The grounds are predominantly maintained by volunteers and so James, the Grounds' curator, is always keen to hear from groups and individuals who want to offer their time. 

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Despite the weather, after a warming cuppa we all cracked on, clearing six beds which make up the Royal British Legion's Women's Memorial and planting 100 golden grasses.

206 The day also created an opportunity for the guys to find the memorial commemorating their own regiment and to take some time to remember lost friends.

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Overall it was a very positive day, great to be part of and a strong direction for the Shoulder to Shoulder project to go in.

Here's what the veterans and mentors said: 

'Thank you for today. Really good day. Emotional times. Can't thank everyone enough,' said Ian. 

'Had a brilliant day, thank you so much for inviting me along,' said Deb, a mentor.

'If you plan another day I'd love to be part of it. I felt a lot of pride being part of the group; it was nice to give a bit back. I think you've really started something here,' said John.

More volunteering days for veterans and mentors will be organised over the summer.

Shoulder to Shoulder offers ex-Service men and women, who have had difficulty adjusting to civilian life, a one to one mentor for a specified amount of time. We take referrals for both veterans and their families from across the West Midlands.  If you are interested in getting involved as a veteran or as a mentor, take a look here or contact Jane, the Project Coordinator on 0121 236 2531, email janed@timebank.org.uk

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