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

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.


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.


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  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

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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    

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, 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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It's World Mental Health today - we're putting the spotlight on veterans' families.

Today is World Mental Health Day – so an ideal time to turn the spotlight on the thousands of ex-service men and women who are recovering from mental health issues – and the families who are struggling to support them.

Veteran: a person who has served in a military force, especially one who has fought in a war

There is a general perception that a veteran is a senior gentleman who fought in the World Wars, but in fact a veteran is any person - male or female - who has served any time with any of the Armed Forces be it the Army, Navy or RAF.

Many of the veterans we see are of varying ages and would often go unnoticed if you walked past them in the street. They don’t tend to shout about the time they served in the Forces.

However, through our Shoulder to Shoulder project we hear how their lives can  be particularly challenging. Last year 22,530 personnel left the regular Armed Forces. Over 27% will have a mental health disorder.

Some families battle every day to understand and deal with the consequences of a veteran’s mental health. Whether it’s a husband, wife, son, daughter, mum or dad who is going through a difficult time,  families can suddenly find themselves as carers and are just not equipped with the knowledge, tools and support to enable them to deal with it.

“I wish I knew how to deal with it”,  “I could tell he wasn’t right but I didn’t know how to help”, “I wish someone spent time with me to tell me how to cope with his mental health” are all things I have heard from families who have got in touch with our Shoulder to Shoulder Families project.  

So we are delighted that we’ve been able  to secure a FREE mental health first aid training session exclusively for families of any veteran from the West Midlands – whatever their gender or age. It is a two day training session being held on the 11th & 17th November 2014 in central Birmingham

Mental Health First Aid for the Armed Forces Community will help families gain a better understanding of both the military culture and mental health issues and in particular to:

• Spot the early signs of a mental health problem

• Feel confident helping someone experiencing a problem

• Provide help on a first aid basis

• Help prevent someone from hurting themselves or others

• Help stop a mental illness from getting worse

• Help someone recover faster

• Guide someone towards the right support

• Reduce the stigma of mental health problems

Contact Laura Davis if you’d like to find out more or to book a place - but please note that there are a limited number on the course. 

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What does TimeBank think?

How often do you sit down and decide “this is what I think about…….X”? I wonder if we made time to weigh up the arguments or read the literature about different topics how many of us would change our stance or our vote at the next election?

It’s all too easy to just ‘know what you think’ and stick with it, not question it or why you came to think that in the first place and perhaps assume that everyone knows that is what you think and why.

Where, you may ask, is all this going? It’s because at TimeBank we’ve done exactly that -  questioned what we think about key volunteering issues - where we stand as an organisation and as a staff team. In an ever changing landscape it’s vital sometimes to step back and see if what you are saying is still relevant and even still true and make sure everyone internally and externally knows that this is what we think and why.

Take, for example, the issue of the Help to Work scheme – the potential of losing benefits if you don’t volunteer – SIMPLE, it’s not volunteering. If you have to do it, it’s not volunteering. If you are going to lose something if you don’t do it, it’s not voluntary. We’ve gone through a number of topical issues and debated what we think and put them up on our website here – we’ll be adding to it as new questions enter the volunteering world so you’ll always know what we think and why.  

In essence at TimeBank we take quite a purist view of volunteering. We believe that people, as a general rule, enter into it not with an expectation of getting something back but of giving something back. Almost always volunteers get more out of it than they put in and often in ways they never imagined– increased confidence, greater understanding of a cause or issue, more empathy with a particular group of people, something on their CV that makes them stand out to an employer. BUT that isn’t necessarily their motivation for volunteering in the first place. The clue is in the name – it’s you voluntarily giving your free time to something that you care about in order to make a difference to society.  

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You don't have to be Sir Richard Branson or Lord Sugar to be an effective business mentor!

Alice, a volunteer mentor on our Leaders Together project, describes how the experience has benefitted her too. 

Back in 2012, I approached one of the directors at work to be my mentor. I am pleased to say that this is still continuing and that he has been a constant source of help, support and ideas. He has also inspired me to become a mentor too, as I really wanted to find a volunteering opportunity that allowed me to ‘give something back’ and help someone.

So I was delighted to find out about TimeBank’s Leaders Together project, which matches volunteer mentors with small charities and social enterprises in London, to help them work more efficiently.

Leaders Together matched me with Aminul, who works with Al Isharah, a small charity which supports deaf Muslims.  Working with him has been a fantastic experience and something I am so pleased I embarked on. Whilst I hope that I have shared some of my personal experiences and learning’s with him for his benefit, I personally have learnt a great deal from Aminul too as he has also reciprocated and shared his experiences with me too.

At first I felt I was under-qualified to become a mentor. For some reason, I had it in my head that I needed to be a mini version of Richard Branson or Alan Sugar to meet the criteria of being a mentor. However this experience has taught me otherwise. Mentoring is about sharing your experiences and ideas with your mentee to help give them a fresh or different perspective of something. It’s certainly not about giving them the right answer or telling them what to do. The fact that I was able and willing to give advice from my personal related experiences provides me with part of the qualification to be a mentor!

Learning from Aminul has meant that I have too benefited from the mentoring relationship. It has also helped me boost my confidence, communication skills and the ability to ‘put myself out there’ and meet new people, which if we are honest with ourselves, is a little scary! Meeting someone new, striking up a relationship instantaneously and sharing your views in a confident and comprehensive manner is a skill that I have enhanced now through our successful mentoring relationship.

For me the TimeBank project of matching mentees and mentors has been excellent. Aminul was looking for a mentor to support him in his volunteering capacity at a local charity, event management and assistance in managing volunteers. With my previous experience of volunteering in an events management setting and managing over 100 volunteers in my paid position, I feel that TimeBank has matched us well.

What now?

The six month project worked so well for us, we have decided to continue for another six months to the end of the year, with one meet up a month. I am more than happy to do this as it isn’t really a lot of my time, I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to help and support another like minded individual, plus let’s not forget that I probably have a lot more to learn from Aminul too!

 Alice Dartnell, Development manager and project manager for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, writes at and

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