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

Getting down and dirty with our employee volunteers

I’m always banging on about the importance of CEOs making a regular appearance at the coalface – seeing their work in action and drawing down from that when they go back to their day job. Such was my unexpected experience recently.

Our Employee Volunteering Co-ordinator was ill and without thinking through the fact that we had an event the next day, the only possible thing to do was send her home to bed. It transpired my diary was the most flexible the next day as I’d blanked it out to write board papers so I ‘volunteered’ to run the day. 

Hence at 5.45am when the alarm went off I donned my hugely unflattering orange TimeBank T-shirt, picked up the bag of kit packed for me by a somewhat wary Co-ordinator (first aid kit, cups, pens, forms, maps, contact details, list of supplies to purchase, water, biscuits, insect repellent etc etc) (thought bubble - *I’m only going to Kingston*………….)

I arrived at Canbury Gardens just on time to meet our volunteers from BMT Group, an organisation which regularly undertakes volunteering opportunities so they were prepared and full of anticipation. Andy from our partner organisation Quadron joined us and gave a briefing on the day – what to expect, what we were doing, why and how, along with health and safety – and how best to use the tools we had.

He then took us to the garden where we would be working. The team from BMT had been lulled into a false sense of security as the park on the river where we met was beautifully kept, and I think they wondered why they were there. But Andy led us to Canbury Community Garden, formerly known as the gardener’s yard.

It was essentially an overgrown plot at the heart of the park where pretty much everything that could have been dumped had been over the years since the hut became dangerous and then left to grow over. Recently discovered and procured from the Council for the community by Marilyn Mason, the space needed clearing before any plans could be made for its use within the community.

The team set about their task straight away and I popped to the supermarket for supplies, water, biscuits, fruit, chocolate etc. to keep everyone going and make sure they stopped for a well-earned break.  

It’s incredible what eight people can achieve in a day - nine if you include my inadequate contribution! The thing is, you can’t just sit around taking pictures and tweeting or hovering next to the First Aid kit in case someone hurts themselves - you simply have to take part and start hacking away at brambles! A huge amount was chopped, cleared, swept and ‘discovered’ – all carefully watched by a series of birds, mostly robins, watching out for worms and bugs to be revealed for lunch! When Marilyn returned later that afternoon she just couldn’t believe what had been unearthed nor the size of the space that had now been created. I’m sure that with only one or two more days like this the community will take over planting and cultivating their very own secret space.

We finished off around 4pm just before the rain started, with a huge sense of achievement, a team enthused by what they had accomplished, and a day enjoyed away from the office with colleagues they don’t always work with. Off I trundled back home – frankly shattered and with new respect for the TimeBank team who run these days throughout the year across London.  

 If you’d like to learn more about Canbury Gardens take a look here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/537275283126209/. And if you’d like your company to volunteer and make a difference to your community contact Calley on 020 3111 0701 and take a look here.

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A brilliant team-building event

Almost 50 volunteers from The Copyright Licensing Agency, Publishers Licensing Society and Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society arrived at Nunhead Cemetery for an environmental volunteering day. We couldn’t have hoped for better weather - the sun was shining, not a rain cloud in sight!

After being introduced to me and representatives from Quadron Services, a specialist green space management company, Southwark Council and Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, the volunteers were divided into teams.  One set to work in the Lewisham View area of the cemetery. It was so overgrown with brambles, you could no longer read the gravestones. By the end of the day, the entire area was clear and a huge pile of cuttings was ready for the bonfire.  

Another team laid 100 metres of anti-slip matting on a footpath to make it safer for visitors and prevent erosion.  Other volunteers cut down thin trees to create a hedge to preserve the wetlands meadow. By the end of the day, the volunteers had created an impressive 50 metres of hedging.

After a well-deserved lunch, Jeff from Friends of Nunhead Cemetery told us all about the history of the cemetery. This helped the volunteers to see the significance of their work in maintaining a historic and important London landmark.

The teams who manage the cemetery were hugely impressed by the amount of work the volunteers accomplished. With limited resources and time, this kind of work would take much longer without the support of volunteer groups. The volunteers worked incredibly hard; all felt a sense of ownership over their team’s area and were eager to ensure that the work was completed by the end of the day. I see this motivation and hard work at every employee volunteering event we run, and I’m continually impressed by how much can be achieved in just a few hours.

Nicola Girling from The Copyright Licensing Agency said: “We all thoroughly enjoyed our time at Nunhead Cemetery - it was a brilliant team-building event, with a great sense of achievement at the end of it.”

Many of the volunteers said they had never volunteered before, and many others had never done this kind of environmental work. I heard some say with surprise that the day had been much more enjoyable than they’d expected. As well as being beneficial to the local community and natural environment, volunteering really benefits the volunteers themselves. These activities help to develop team-building, communication and problem solving skills, not to mention the practical skills gained!

If you’d like to get together with your workmates for a day of environmental volunteering, do get in touch at calley@timebank.org.uk or give me a call on 0203 111 0700.

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Is a trustee a proper volunteer?

If you work in volunteering it is, to some degree, expected that you do some volunteering yourself.  If you don’t it’s kind of like being a barista but never drinking coffee.  

Anyway, and without wanting to perpetuate the myth that people simply don’t have the time to be volunteers these days, I simply don’t have the time to be a volunteer.  Or, to be more accurate, I don’t have the time to be what I’ve frustratingly heard called a “proper volunteer”, that person who gives hours a week, week in week out, to their chosen cause. 

But, BUT! in my defence, and sticking with the labels, I am an episodic volunteer (as many of us increasingly are) as I have volunteered for organisations in the past, helped out at various somethings-or-others where needed and volunteered at a variety of events.

Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to do a bit more and so looked into how I could have a more regular volunteering experience that I could commit to with the confidence that I would have the time to fulfil my duties.

I had wanted to be involved with a charity for some time and took care to find one where my voice would be heard, where I could contribute something useful and where I knew my values were reflected.  TimeBank is that charity.

I’ve been a Trustee for about a year now and genuinely love the experience.  The Board is a fascinating mix of Trustees from various backgrounds and our work in helping to steer TimeBank and support our amazing CEO is teaching me new perspectives and proving useful in my day job, previously as the volunteering lead for a government agency and currently as Head of Volunteering for a major charity.

This Volunteers' Week I would urge anyone who thinks they don’t have time to be a volunteer to think again.  Volunteering doesn’t have to be something you do every day, week or even month.  Also, volunteering isn’t a purely altruistic act – I can assure you that you will get something out of it too.  Getting involved with a cause or organisation that you care about is incredibly rewarding – not just for the people you are supporting but for yourself.  Personally, I have gained knowledge, increased my confidence and honed skills.  Deciding to support a cause for whatever reason that is – to meet people, gain experiences, learn skills, give something back – is the first step, then it’s about making sure that the time you give fits in with your life.  As modern life becomes busier and more chaotic, it might seem like people have less time to “give” but episodic volunteering needs to be embraced.  Volunteers' Week is a great time for organisations that use volunteers to reflect on whether they welcome and support episodic volunteers like me. 

So to answer my own question, “Is a Trustee a proper volunteer?”- very much so!

Volunteers’ Week is an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK – and it’s taking place from 1-12 June 2016.

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We're looking for some extraordinary volunteers for a ground-breaking project

Here at TimeBank we are passionate about volunteering, but we are equally passionate about challenging people’s perceptions about what volunteers can do. Don’t get me wrong – l’m not advocating that volunteers replace paid staff, or do the jobs no one else in your organisation wants to do. What we do believe is that there are many roles, once considered the sole preserve of professionals, where volunteers can complement the work they do. 

In the last few years TimeBank has delivered some truly ground-breaking projects – from supporting young people transition from Child and Adolescent Mental Health services into adult services to teaching English in a women’s refuge. All delivered by our incredible volunteers. TimeBank’s latest project is a partnership developed between us and Prospects, the education, employment and training company, at HMP Feltham. Prospects currently provide education for all young men within Feltham Young Offenders Institution (YOI). Our new programme, Through Together, will offer mentoring support to young people currently detained at the YOI and during the difficult transition to life after release. 

Volunteer mentors and mentees will be matched while the latter are still at Feltham YOI. This is when a relationship will be established, so that at the time of release the young people will have an already-established support mechanism. After release volunteer mentors will continue to provide mentoring support to the young people for an additional three/four months to support them to find employment or enter training or education courses. 

So no usual opportunity, and some extraordinary volunteers required.  We usually like to match young people with mentors of a similar age and gender, so for this project we are looking for young men who are aged 25 to 40, willing to travel to Feltham YOI and prepared to undertake an Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. If you think you would like to be involved in this ground-breaking project, and are available to volunteer for the next six months please drop me an email at andyf@timebank.org.uk for more information.

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Celebrating diversity and football in Leicester

On Friday I was in Leicester to visit the Shama Women’s Centre, one of the delivery partners on our Talking Together English Language project and celebrate with the participants their successful completion of the course.

Although a few days before the parade everywhere in the town was blue or had flags or pictures of footballers flying! It’s incredible how something as simple as football can unite a city as diverse as Leicester. It’s diversity,  of course, and the desire to integrate that makes our English Language project so popular and such a success.

As Chief Executive I don’t get out to our projects as often as I’d like but when I’m invited to attend something like this I always say yes and I’m always blown away by how incredible they are and the phenomenal difference something we take for granted can make to an individual’s life. Our volunteer-led English language courses have been funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government to help support predominantly Muslim women to learn basic, functional, pre-ESOL English – to enable them to talk to their child’s school, make a doctor’s appointment or go shopping on their own. Not speaking the language of the country in which you live is hugely isolating and can leave these women living and communicating within a tiny community, almost all family. Learning just enough English to do the basics has truly empowered them and fundamentally changed their lives, enabling them to take a train into the city for the first time, or help a child with their homework.

It’s a huge privilege to meet them and see their faces light up as you present the certificates – excited and grateful that the CEO from London has come to their class to say well done! The truth is it was me that was excited and grateful to be there and have my photograph taken with them, to see the impact that our classes have had, to meet one of our incredible volunteers who had worked with them to give them the confidence to speak English and to enable them to change their lives through  a simple, and crucially, free 12 week course.  Of course as always when I go to one of our grassroots partners the welcome and hospitality was fantastic and I certainly never leave hungry!

We very much hope we will be in a position to run more of these courses over the coming months and change more lives, so do keep an eye on our website for volunteer opportunities.

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Volunteering helps Birmingham's young people into work

A second group of young people have now taken part in our Engage project, designed to support them to plan and deliver a community project, helping them to develop new skills that will hopefully lead to employment.

They had sessions in project planning, budgeting and developed personal plans to give them the skills, confidence and experience to be able to design and deliver their own social action projects in Chelmsley Wood. We also offered the young people the chance to volunteer for a local community interest company (CIC) to enhance their work experience and employability skills.  Once they complete the two weeks with TimeBank we will match them with a volunteer mentor for a further six months to support them to gain employment, start a training course, launch their own business or return to education.

This group of young people was referred by Standguide, a training and recruitment company, as part of the Destination Work programme. All the young people brought different experiences, skills and abilities to Engage, but still worked really well together as a team. I took time to get to know each of them and find out what they wanted to gain from being part of Engage so I could tailor their experience to ensure they got the most out of it.

During the first week they were offered a day’s volunteering with our partner Gro-organic. Gro-organic is an award winning social enterprise specialising in design and construction landscaping, outdoor education and community land based projects.

The group jumped at the chance to support Gro-organic and helped host a fundraising coffee morning in aid of Dementia UK, built a bug hotel to assist local primary schools to learn about conservation, created wind chimes from recycled materials and planted a garden with sensory plants which we hope people with additional needs will find inspiring. It was a really busy day, but all the staff at Gro-organic were really supportive and helpful and were always on hand to explain how to undertake a task or answer questions. 

The young people went above and beyond on their volunteering day and instead of finishing at 1pm asked to stay until 3pm. The weather was not the best as we experienced sleet, hail and almost zero degrees temperatures, but none of the young people complained and they stayed enthusiastic and engaged throughout the entire day. Gro-organic were really impressed with everything they achieved.

Following the volunteering day, one of the young people was offered a role with Gro-organic working with their adults who have additional needs.  Gro-organic said: “She definitely showed potential and seems a practical person; she has knowledge of building and creating things outdoors, and also showed a flair for caring for people.”  Had she not had the opportunity to volunteer with Gro-organic her potential would never have been recognised. This is just another example of how volunteering is a vital ingredient in supporting young people to gain employment.

I am really inspired by each group of young people that I meet and firmly believe that a volunteering opportunity should be offered to every young person as I have seen how much they gain from taking part. I have seen them gain confidence and skills that are relevant to work and offered jobs just from undertaking a day’s volunteering. I feel that Engage is one of the best programmes around and hope we can help as many young people as possible in the Birmingham area. 

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Top tips for getting started with employee volunteering

Last week, volunteers from global company Edenred spent the day planting hedges and cutting back overgrown nettles in Southwark Park nature reserve. Although all the volunteers work in the same building, a few had never actually met before. By the end of the day, they were happily chatting and working together as a team.

This demonstrates how fantastic volunteering can be at helping to build teams. Research shows that employee volunteering also helps staff develop leadership, decision-making and negotiation skills. It has important business benefits too, such as boosting morale and improving staff retention. It encourages engagement and social awareness across your organisation and has a vital role to play in change management, enhancing internal communications and demonstrating active citizenship. Volunteering offers all of this while also making a big impact in the community; it’s a win-win.

Over the last 15 years TimeBank has become expert in connecting workplaces with communities, offering a specialist and professional brokering service to make sure employees get the very best and most enjoyable volunteering experience possible. It delivers employee volunteering that really works - engaging staff, helping them develop confidence and skills, and making them proud to be part of your organisation and tell your story. We introduced the enormously popular idea of Christmas Party volunteering – getting together with work colleagues for a few hours volunteering in the community before heading off to a work social with experiences to share and stories to tell.

With the Government’s commitment to employee volunteering, now is the time to prepare and develop your employee volunteering programme. 

Having worked with companies as diverse as EE, Google and Balfour Beatty and with Government departments including the Cabinet Office here are our top tips for ensuring effective employee volunteering:

What do you want to get out of it?

364 Think about what you as an organisation want to get from volunteering. We’ve worked with companies that want to become more cohesive after merger, build teams, bring together people at all levels or develop staff. You may have seen a need in your community that staff would love to help out with. You might want to grow your public profile – if you’re an energy company for example you might want to be seen as green and promoting energy efficiency. So give careful thought to the key areas you want to enhance and promote and how employee volunteering aligns with your business priorities.  

What do your staff want?

It will be important to think about what your employees want to do, too. They might like to use their professional skills to help others, by helping older people get to grips with technology, mentoring young people in interview skills or preparing a CV. One of our clients, a design company, wanted to use their creative skills to help a neighbourhood school and successfully transformed a drab corner of the library into an inspirational reading corner.

366 But other employees might want to do something completely different to their day jobs – and we’ve set them to work clearing an adventure playground or planting a community garden on a housing estate.  Consider a staff survey asking them if they would be interested in volunteering and if so what kind of volunteering they’d like to do – they may come up with new and interesting ideas that can benefit your organisation.

At TimeBank, we offer an interactive, two-hour workshop that provides your staff with insights into current volunteering opportunities and the different ways they can give their time and share skills with the community.  Delivered at your place of work, such a workshop can provide your organisation with the foundations to starting your own employee volunteering scheme.

Budget for volunteering

For it to function well, volunteering needs just the same sort of organisation, management and support as paid work. Remember that charities invest substantial resources in their volunteers and there may well be the cost of tools and materials to take into account too. If you use a broker like TimeBank, bear in mind that there are of course costs involved in providing this service. TimeBank has to pay its staff to research and source volunteering opportunities, to organise the day and be there to coordinate the activities.  We will work with you to arrange a date, make sure health and safety checks are in place including a risk assessment if needed and provide your team with all the information they need for the day.

What do charities need?

And finally, do think about what the community needs and how your organisation can make a difference. It’s important to consider not only what you want to accomplish, but also what the charity needs are and how these two aims can be combined most effectively. That’s the most important part of a successful employee volunteering programme.

It will be vital to talk to prospective charities, to be honest about your organisation and what you’d like to achieve. And remember to ask the charity what it needs and what your volunteers can help it accomplish.

Discuss how many employee volunteers you have and how many the charity can take. Allow enough time to put your plans in place. It can take a while to match your employees with the best and most appropriate volunteering experience to ensure they have an enjoyable and rewarding experience. We’ve had companies come to us and say they have 200 employees looking to volunteer in their community next week. That’s an offer that no matter how welcome, can be overwhelming to a small community organisation facing the challenge of hosting so many enthusiastic but untrained helpers.

What next?

Many organisations find it difficult to engage with the communities they’d most like to support. Often small charities and community organisations just don’t have the resources to provide an effective, properly structured volunteering experience.

Outsourcing can be a helpful solution for many businesses. And that’s where TimeBank comes in, offering a cost-effective brokering service to provide the skills and expertise to make successful employee volunteering happen. As a volunteering charity, one of TimeBank’s aims is to encourage people into volunteering. If they enjoy their first experience of volunteering and find it has been managed well and professionally, they often go on to volunteer for a wide range of causes.

If you’d like more information, take a look at www.timebank.org.uk/employee-volunteering.

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Penalised for volunteering? That's just WRONG!

In my lunch hour I had one task to get done other than eating my sandwich - and that was to renew my car insurance.  I’d decided that the renewal fee from my current insurer was just too high and I’d go to a compare website to get a better quote. And I did -  significantly better as it happens -  with the AA. I’ve been an AA member for years so figured it was a trusted brand and I’d call up so I could tick yet another thing off my personal to-do list.

“Just a few questions madam…….Do you volunteer?” Well, given that I’d just told her my day job was Chief Executive of a national volunteering charity it’s not surprising that my answer was yes – “right ,I’ll just recalculate your premium quote”. Naively I thought that this might mean the AA had an ethical policy of rewarding people for giving back to their community – but no, I was informed that my premium would now be increased by about £50.

I was utterly astounded – I pointed out that as I live in London and my current volunteering is as a trustee and mentor I go to meetings by tube and don’t use my car, only to be told: “Well some people do - they use it for church events and things.” Apart from the fact that I don’t, I can’t begin to imagine why someone like my Mum for example would be asked to pay an extra £50 out of her pension for insurance so that she could deliver her church newsletters around the rural community in which she lives.

Surely volunteering should be seen as something wholly positive. In freely giving your time to do something good in your community you should be able to do it without having an increased premium from your car insurer. I can understand that there may be instances where volunteer drivers might be using their car in an increased capacity which might increase risk but surely you can’t have a sweeping policy that doesn’t define what type of volunteering you are doing or what that actually means. Or perhaps insurance companies could swallow that extra risk against their profits as part of their own CSR policy and contribute to society like those of us who volunteer.

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