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

Working for a small charity means wearing lots of different hats!

My role as Project Co-ordinator involves working on both our employee volunteering programme and our English language project, Talking Together. This means that my job and day to day tasks are varied, from training volunteers to teach English to posting on social media or visiting community gardens to discuss potential team volunteering opportunities.

As part of my role, I work closely with many other small charities and community organisations and I’ve found that my experience is very typical. Wearing many hats is a normal part of working for a small charity. 

When I first thought of writing a blog for Small Charity Week, I considered writing a ‘day in the life’ style piece. I soon realised this wouldn’t work as no day is ever the same so here is a sample of things I’ve done over the past few months to give you a flavour of what it’s like to be a TimeBank Project Co-ordinator:

  • Sourced approximately 50 shades of grey paint to decorate the library of a primary school in Clapham. Volunteers created a woodland themed mural using just grey, white and black, and the result was fantastic. Particularly considering the walls were royal blue at the start of the day!
  • The part of my job I enjoy most is meeting the learners who attend our Talking Together English classes. There is so much fun and laughter that goes alongside the learning.  I recently stepped in to teach one of our classes at the last minute after a volunteer was taken ill. Whilst teaching ways to describe their ailments when visiting the doctor or dentist, I was told that the best way to get white teeth is to wash your mouth out with salt water daily! I haven’t tried that just yet…
  • Starred in a film created by Met Film school students to promote our employee volunteering programme. This involved being filmed ‘typing’ and ‘talking on the phone’ and repeating a handshake with a volunteer a number of times to make sure we got the right shot!
  • Assisted a volunteer with taking her class of beginner level English learners on a tour of the British Museum. This was their last class with their teacher, and it was great to see how engaged they were and how far they had come with their learning. 
  • Spent an afternoon exploring Poundland with a colleague to find decorations and arts and crafts materials to take to care homes. Throughout the year, we arrange for a number of teams of employee volunteers to spend the afternoon doing activities and socialising with care home residents. Last Christmas, this even involved one volunteer who belly dances in her spare time putting on a show for the residents of a Bethnal Green care home.

I have highlighted the more interesting aspects of my job here and alongside all of this are the usual emails, spreadsheets, meetings, data entry and other admin. Although the varied nature of my role can sometimes be challenging, it also means there is rarely a dull day. Most importantly, my job is incredibly rewarding. The sense of truly making a difference that you get from day to day contact with volunteers and beneficiaries is the real highlight of working for a small charity.

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Vive la difference - one size doesn't fit all

This week we are celebrating with our volunteers on our Midlands projects – Talking Together, Time Together and Hidden Carers.

Over the last three years we have recruited more than 300 amazing volunteers to deliver these projects. It led me to thinking about what they all have in common and l think the answer is practically nothing. But far from being a cause for concern, l think we should celebrate this. Our volunteers cross social, educational, ethnic, cultural and political divides. They range from their early twenties to well into retirement.

So what brings them all to TimeBank? (ok, so they do have one thing in common!) Well, l could bang on about the trust people place in TimeBank as an organisation, our fantastic Project Co-ordinators who recruit, train and support them, our 17 years of developing and delivering cutting edge volunteer led programmes that bring about social change, the importance we place on good volunteer management and of course the need to recognise and celebrate the achievement of volunteers. All of which are really important to delivering a successful volunteering programme, but that would be to miss the point.

I was once invited to sit on a panel of the great and good in the volunteering sector at a national conference on how to increase interest and take up in formal volunteering, and what might be done to address this. Obviously, l prepared notes and rehearsed my arguments – how CEOs need to buy into volunteers and understand why and what volunteers can contribute to achieving an organisation’s mission and values, having paid volunteer managers, clear role descriptions, allowing volunteers to have real influence in your organisation etc. When it came to my turn to speak it suddenly occurred to me that l was talking to an audience of voluntary sector professionals and that my answers were all tailored to meet their expectations – rather than to address a really straightforward issue. So l ditched my notes and said: “It’s pretty easy really, just stop offering people rubbish opportunities to volunteer.”

So perhaps our volunteers do have something in common – we offer exciting and interesting opportunities that people want to do: opportunities that make a real difference in a role that they could not find anywhere else in either a paid or unpaid capacity. We accept that the motivation to volunteer will be different for all our volunteers – for some it is to support a transition in their own lives; to develop new skills to change careers; to broaden learning before going on to new educational opportunities; or a change in life stages, for instance retirement.  Many just want to contribute in interesting and challenging roles to give something back to the community.

So whatever an individual’s motivation to volunteer is, and the TimeBank project they volunteer on, we believe that they benefit equally from their involvement. So thank you TimeBank volunteers for your amazing contribution to all of our projects new and old, but thank you also for all being so different.

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Getting help in an emergency if you don't speak the language ...

Celia volunteers on our Talking Together project, teaching basic English to women who can't speak the language. She describes the challenge of getting help when there's an emergency.

‘When I first arrived here, I called 999 practically every day – until they told me to stop!’ said one of my students.  My class is all female, a mix of Turkish and Somali ladies with school-age children who have all been here a few years.  Our topic this week is emergency services and we’ve been doing role-play. I quickly realise that there’s a lot more to it than simply learning essential vocabulary and practising a script to ask for help from the emergency services operator.  

All the students found it very challenging to describe common emergency situations. In real life, fear scrambles your brain and affects your ability to describe what’s happening, especially in a foreign language.  There are linguistic and cultural subtleties, which are hard to clarify but important to understand. For example, in the case of an accident, the difference between ‘hitting your head’ and a ‘headache’, how to describe a personal attack or to explain your location if you’re involved in an emergency outside the home.

It reminded me of an experience I had many years ago when I first went to live in a wild and woolly place in the Middle East. Someone broke into our house at night.  In a blind panic, I ran to the nearest neighbouring house with no idea how I would be able to explain the situation with my very limited Arabic.  The best I could manage was ‘bad man in my house, please come’. Fortunately, they did come and chased the intruder away – with guns!

Another student tells me how she had to call the emergency services when she went to visit a heavily pregnant friend.  Arriving at the house, she found her friend in advanced labour.  The ambulance soon arrived and the baby was delivered safely at home. All’s well that ends well. It transpired later that her friend had never wanted to have her baby in hospital anyway and might not have called 999 if left to her own devices.

On reflection, I concluded that this class was about far more than language and that we had only scratched the surface in terms of exploring cultural perceptions of when and why they would call emergency services. There is much of importance to talk about. Domestic violence, depression and pregnancy problems were issues raised by my students.   

A basic English class may not be the right forum for such potentially controversial discussion but these issues came up. I note that currently the healthcare module only deals with physical health problems.  Perhaps it should include some mental health vocabulary too.

If you'd like to know more about our Talking Together project, take a look here

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Refugees welcome?

Today (April 25) the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees published the report 'Refugees Welcome?'. The group, consisting of MPs such as Caroline Lucas and Lord Alf Dubs, examined the experiences of refugees in the UK, with a specific emphasis on their experiences after gaining refugee status. The report highlighted the many individuals, communities and projects working hard to integrate and support refugees. However it also demonstrated the barriers refugees face.

The report found evidence of a two-tier system. When entering the UK refugees either go through the asylum process, having arrived in the UK and submitted an application or they will have been brought to the UK directly from another country through one of the Government-led resettlement schemes. Refugees arriving through the resettlement route are provided with support to find services, employment and accommodation. However, for those who have gone through the asylum system, there is no support, and they have to rely on local services that vary from location to location. One of these services is TimeBank’s innovative mentoring project Time Together operating across the West Midlands.

Working together with different referral partners, such as refugee and migrant centres, LGBT centres and faith-based and non-faith based organisations, we recruit a diverse range of people who have been or are going through the asylum process, who we then match to a volunteer. The volunteer then meets with their beneficiary for five hours a month, over a six month period. This has the aim of increasing wellbeing, reducing isolation and helping the individual to settle into UK life.

We’re only seven months into our project, but we are already seeing successes. One beneficiary is hoping to access a barbering course in a year’s time, so his mentor is assisting with improving his English language skills; one mentor is supporting an individual to find local voluntary work to utilise his skills and knowledge of ICT, whilst another beneficiary with the help of his mentor has just become a member of the local library which has led to him finding out about an English conversation class. This goes to show the impact that local volunteers are having on the lives of refugees, and we at TimeBank strongly agree with one of the report’s many recommendations that includes furthering support to individuals who have recently been given refugee status.

For more information on the Time Together project, take a look here or email

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My extraordinary journey as a volunteer English teacher

Shahin Hussain is a volunteer on our Talking Together project in Birmingham, helping to deliver English language classes in the local community. Here's her powerful blog about the impact the project is having, both on learners and the volunteers who take part:

My journey with TimeBank has been extraordinary as a volunteer teacher trainer.  You may well be thinking, well they all say that, but in fact it’s the truth. From one community centre to the next and having this opportunity to get to teach but also to integrate with different communities who have gone through many difficult stages in life and understanding their needs, respecting and appreciating their culture makes a huge and tremendous difference.

From the start I taught a range of communities - all women from different places such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Arabia, Yemen and Bangladesh - who all committed to learn English. The main purpose of their learning was to be able to communicate within the society where they reside by doing simple things such as making appointments, being able to say what they need in a supermarket and much more.

Although the main focus of the Talking Together programme is Bangladeshi, Somali and Pakistani women, I also taught Romanian women, who in today’s society still feel isolated and are segregated from many parts of the community. There were a lot of challenges that I had to face such as bringing the class together and physically getting them to stay for the two hour sessions and gaining their trust so that they believed that I was really there to help them. My biggest challenge: trust!

These women had a sense of embarrassment and low self-esteem because of their lack of education and felt uncomfortable attending a class which they felt they might not understand.  However, it soon began to turn into a positive and happy learning environment in which the women began to participate much more often and it was clear to me that they became very comfortable and began to enjoy the lessons. From the very first day to the last lesson, the women made a huge improvement and felt that the classes had become a stepping stone to look at life more positively and in an optimistic way.

This whole volunteering experience has given me an insight into what teaching can really accomplish, for example, the simplest things such as what ‘learning the alphabet’ can do, until you take the plunge and find those shining stars smiling at you. From the moment the students enter the classroom, you can see their enthusiasm, commitment and their desperate eagerness to learn and achieve. These women wanted not only to communicate with the outside world but also to work, find employment and most importantly to improve and progress in their lives. This is what I feel teaching can achieve, it can make a change.

As for TimeBank as an organisation, I truly believe it really makes a difference to those in need just like it has mine and those who strongly improved with its help.  TimeBank is driven to deliver and from what I have experienced it certainly has.

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


Our Journey

Not knowing where to go,

What to do,

TimeBank was like an open ocean,

Showering opportunities and more,

It’s hard to believe what we’ve all achieved,

The obstacles we have overcome,

To reach upmost assertion,

Assertion that education could outreach and bring forth,

Capability and a fresh stance to learn.

We tried and we attained,

We believed and we became,

We can now proclaim the Art of Education!

Thank You TimeBank.

                                                                                                         Shahin Hussain

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I've been able to help someone who gave so much to our country ...

We’re delighted to have been awarded a grant of £50,000 from ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, to support Scottish soldiers who are struggling to adjust to civilian life and reduce their risk of social and economic isolation. Here’s how our Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project helps:

Michael writes:With a few hours to spare each week I decided to volunteer with Shoulder to Shoulder and help support a veteran.  The induction training provided me with a good overview about Shoulder to Shoulder and the new role that I had volunteered for.  I met up with my mentee Robert and the project co-ordinator Ali to see if we might be a good match and want to meet up regularly. 

The mentoring process was helpful to provide a structure for the meetings and give initial direction, which is important in the early days when new to the project.  Robert and I met every few weeks, usually at one of the local cafes and we would spend an hour or more together, talking over his week, the activities that he had been involved in and things that had been going well and not so well. 

Completing the Shoulder to Shoulder Mentoring Action Plan was helpful as it kept us both focused on areas that Robert wanted to work on, by clearly setting out his goals, the stops that he could take to achieve them and the possible people and resources that might help him to achieve them.  An important and interesting part of the mentoring relationship is the Shoulder to Shoulder Star Assessment which was completed by us both every few months and helped Robert to see the areas in which he had achieved. Over the year that Robert and I met we completed a range of goals and could see the gradual and consistent changes that were taking place by completing the Shoulder to Shoulder Star Assessment. 

It was very rewarding to gradually get to know Robert and share in the developments that were taking place in his life and overtime I learned about some of the situations that contributed to his developing PTSD when in the forces.  Through Shoulder to Shoulder I have been able to make a small contribution in helping someone who gave lots to our country and is now enjoying a good life.  I enjoyed being a volunteer and hope to continue in the role in the future.

Robert, in his early thirties, was in the army for four years, including Iraq, and came out in 2007. The transition was difficult, particularly thinking about where to settle down, and he had issues with anxiety. He was keen to get into volunteering, further study and then employment, however being anxious meant this was difficult as it meant being in crowds. His mentor helped by being someone he could talk through his issues with and they often went walking together to keep fit.

Each time they met Robert felt less anxious and they looked at ways to help combat this. Robert liked walking and took part in organised walks in Scotland and then with a physical activity group where he took the lead and enjoyed encouraging others to take exercise. This gave him the confidence to think about getting back into work. He updated his CV and volunteered for the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, helping to train Army Cadets. Robert also moved out of veterans’ accommodation to independent living. He is doing really well and was delighted to be successful in a job interview that enabled him to stay on as an employee working with the Army cadets.

If you’d like to know more about Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine, take a look here

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Helping to highlight the important contribution that immigrants make

Recently volunteers and staff from our Birmingham projects Talking Together, Time Together and Hidden Carers set up a TimeBank stall at the One Day Without Us event. 

It was hosted by HOPE not Hate community organisers at the Ort Gallery and Café in Moseley, as part of a national campaign that highlights the important contributions that immigrants, both economic and those fleeing from war, make to our economy and diverse social tapestry. 

We were treated to art exhibitions by Syrian survivors, installations of traditional clothing and a demonstration of how to use a textile loom in the old way. The Afghan Association provided delicious food and The Real Junk Food Project supplied vegan food, all on a pay what you feel basis. 

We were there to talk about all the TimeBank volunteering projects running across Birmingham and the West Midlands, recruit potential volunteers and spark the interest of learners, carers and those who could benefit from our projects.  Seven volunteers came and supported the event and it was wonderful to see their enthusiasm and dedication and how passionately they talked to members of the public about TimeBank and the projects they are involved with. 

It was my first meeting with some of the volunteers and I truly felt like a part of something big.  This was also my first community event representing TimeBank and I can honestly say it was a joy meeting so many new people and getting to know our fabulous volunteers whilst raising TimeBank’s profile at a grassroots level.

Later in the evening there were several performances from across the globe.  There was an African gentleman playing the Kora known as the African Harp and singing traditional Mandinka songs. This was an absolute treat to hear and see played.  I thought the sound was a cross between a harp and a cello.  It was a great way to end this heart warming event.

Siân is project co-ordinator of our new project in Birmingham, Hidden Carers, that supports carers who may not realise they are care givers and and need to improve their confidence and skills in English to access carer support. We are now recruiting volunteers to run a series of workshops to explain what services are available. If you'd like to know more, take a look here.  

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Could it be you? We are seeking a new Chair with passion, commitment and drive

I’ve worked very closely with Chairs before (the people that head up meetings, not the things you sit on).  Previously my closest working relationships were at London 2012, with Lord Seb Coe and Lord Charles Allen, when the fizz was all about the ambition and the excitement of the Games … but I’m saving the best stories about that time for my autobiography (!)

Working with Lady Andrée Deane Barron at TimeBank has been an altogether different experience.  Andrée has been the Chair of the first charity where I have sat on the Trustee Board and whether she knows it or not, she has been a mentor and a role model.  This relationship has been about the nuts and bolts of developing, strengthening and supporting a small charity which successfully punches well above its weight.  She has steered TimeBank through some pretty daunting times and done so with grace, calmness, wisdom and in a manner that inspired her Board to all pull in the same direction.

She has also built a trusting and mutually respectful relationship with the Chief Executive – if you read any book or ‘Dummies Guide to being on a Board’ it’ll tell you the CEO/Chair relationship is key to success and like any relationship in life is one that needs time, investment, challenge and compromise.

Unfortunately for TimeBank, Andrée is stepping down in July.  Her tenure is up, though we’re refusing to let her totally go and will be making her an honorary TimeBank ambassador . . . a Time Lady if you please (as long as the BBC don’t sue us for infringement.)

Therefore, we need a new Andrée.  The small but impactful, effective and dynamic charity that is TimeBank is seeking a new Chair with the same passion, commitment and drive that Andrée has, to take it into the future.  Is that you?  Would you like the opportunity to lead a Board of committed individuals who are as passionate about this charity as they are about their day jobs?  Then we’d love to hear from you. 

The new Chair of TimeBank needs to be someone who has a rich understanding of volunteering and the difference it can make to individuals and communities.  TimeBank is supported by a wider network of stakeholders and partners so you also need to be a brilliant communicator, a credible figure and an excellent networker.  You also need to be able steer a meeting – the dedication of the Trustees equals passion and sometimes the discussion needs to be kept on track.

BTW, if you think that from this that I only work with ‘titled’ ladies and gentlemen you’re wrong.  We’re a welcoming and inclusive bunch at TimeBank and are looking forward to receiving applications from a really wide range of people …

Please note this vacancy has now closed.

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