Blog

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

Where do you belong?

I've been thinking a lot about veterans who are homeless, since hearing of Darren Greenfield, an army veteran who sadly died on the streets of Edinburgh last month. Darren, who was known for sitting at the top of the escalators of Waverley station, was offered support by veteran's charities, but chose to sleep rough.

Since delivering Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine (S2S Erskine) over the past three and a half years, many veterans (22%) supported by the project have been either sofa surfing or are living in temporary housing or veterans’ supported accommodation. Mentors have often supported veterans moving from one place to another, even permanent housing, but at times still not feeling as though they belong. 

Add anxiety, depression or PTSD and this can make for a very lonely veteran who is socially isolated, alone in the home and often confined to one room. It doesn't help that many veterans tell me they have lost contact with family and friends and have no social circle. Just being able to talk with someone who is happy to listen helps them through the lonely days.

But it goes beyond that. It's about connecting with people; about being able to join in and feeling you belong to a community.

Since 2014, S2S Erskine has been supporting veterans to feel less anxious, develop conversation, new friendships, social circles and volunteer in their local communities: helping them to belong. One veterans’ accommodation I link in with is Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR) Bellrock Close in Glasgow. Along with the support of SVR, staff felt that Kevin, an ex-army veteran could also benefit from a TimeBank mentor.

At first, Kevin found his transition to Bellrock Close difficult. He felt lost, with no direction or focus. I matched him with Tim, a volunteer mentor. They met twice a month for nine months and within this time Tim helped ease Kevin into conversation, feel less anxious and set goals to try new activities. Tim supported Kevin to develop new relationships and interview skills and Kevin started to volunteer at the café within Bellrock Close.

He says: "My confidence and self-esteem was low, and meeting new people was difficult. Tim supported me with setting goals to focus my days. At first we kept activities local, such a as swimming at the local leisure centre and then art classes. My confidence grew and I was able to chat with more people about my activities. We built up to going into town and I became more confident using public transport. Tim is easy to talk with, he's knowledgeable, a good lad. I now feel like I have purpose and look forward to life again.”

If you know of someone who could benefit from a mentor, we are here to help. Please take a look at the Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project here.  You can call Ali, the project co-ordinator, on 07437 437867 or email her at ali@timebank.org.uk

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Time Together means taking Time to Talk

As the project co-ordinator on Time Together, TimeBank’s volunteer mentoring project that supports refugees and asylum seekers living in the UK, I come into contact with some extremely resilient and sometimes vulnerable adults who are feeling incredibly isolated. 

Living on limited resources and having limited opportunities for social interaction with local people can cause mental distress to our beneficiaries.  This can be for a number of reasons, such as language barriers, financial difficulties, being new to the UK or being moved yet again to a strange town or city, or residual mental health problems caused by their experiences of persecution or living in a war zone. 

One thing that is apparent when I first meet them is their need to talk to someone whose attention is undivided and who is willing to give them time, whether for just one hour a week or two hours every other week. Some of our volunteer mentors have had some very emotionally draining mentoring sessions.  Others have felt as though they haven’t really done that much to help their mentee.  Yet just meeting and talking over a cup of tea or coffee on a regular basis is all that some of our mentees require. 

The power of talking to someone who isn’t connected to any other aspect of their lives can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress and loneliness.  I attend the first meeting with our volunteer mentors and mentees to introduce them to each other and to get a conversation going.  After 20 minutes or so I leave them to it.  I always glance back before I go and often notice the body language and demeanour of our mentee is much more relaxed than at that first meeting.

Time Together fits well with Time to Talk Day, a campaign tasked with raising awareness and encouraging conversations around mental health.  Taking the time to talk to each other about our mental health and wellbeing is a great way to prevent stigmatising and further isolating people with symptoms of mental ill health.

If you’d like to know more about our Time Together project, do take a look here.

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Could it be you? We're looking for that special person with fundraising ideas to grow our volunteering projects

Back in the 90s I was starting my career fresh from postgraduate research, uncertain of what it was I really wanted to do, disillusioned with academe and determined to ‘do something good’. I accidentally found myself in the charity sector and even more accidentally found myself in fundraising and actually was quite good at it.

How things have changed as we breeze into another uncertain year of political and economic upheaval - our sector is under immense pressure and yet it is increasingly seen as a genuine and attractive career prospect and not always that easy to break into.  Which all means finding a good fundraiser, as my old boss used to say, is like finding rocking horse manure!!

So - what brings on this musing so early in the new year about days gone by and changes in the sector? It’s because at TimeBank we are recruiting for a new fundraising and business development post – one that will work directly to, and with, me and have the opportunity to shape the job  as they see fit. It’s a role that could suit an entry level person who I’d be happy to mentor and support or equally someone returning to work after a gap, or someone more senior, developing a portfolio of freelance roles but wanting something stable in the diary.

In essence, we are pretty flexible, we just want the right person – someone happy to think out of the box and be creative one day but trawl through 17 years of files and folders the next researching previous funders, supporting our project team in developing new, fundable, mentoring projects, someone passionate about volunteering and the role it can play in changing lives.

Add into that an element of business development – we want to expand our employee volunteering. We want to show businesses how this can improve teambuilding, leadership skills and make a massive difference in their communities – could you join me in making that pitch to a corporate CEO?

I want someone who wants to work in our sector and sees the difference that being a fundraiser can make – not, as I was thought of back in the day, the necessary but rather grubby team in the corner that asked people for money – but an intricate cog in a finely tuned charity making its way, despite the pressure of the outside world, towards its 20th anniversary of changing people’s lives for the better through volunteering.

If that sounds like a challenge you want to take up then take a look here – or give me a call on 020 3111 0701 and we can talk about how you could be the difference TimeBank needs to step up to the next level.  

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I love these great moments from our Talking Together project!

I was talking to a colleague recently about how it can be hard to write a blog without sounding cheesy and contrived. But because I’m genuinely very passionate about our Talking Together project I love telling stories about the incredible learners who attend our classes. (Just ask my boyfriend who has to put up with being told about every funny or sweet moment!)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been visiting final classes of some of our Talking Together courses. A particularly memorable last class was at Wapping Bangladesh Association. The volunteers Louise and Hannah had arranged for the learners to each say a few words about why they were learning English and what they like about classes. Having visited this class many times, I was really moved by seeing how much their confidence had grown and how much clearer their pronunciation was. “I am attending English course so I can improve my English. I also want to work so it’s important… I enjoy attending English class because my teacher makes the lesson interesting and fun.”

I also had a chance to hear learners from our class at Praxis Community Projects practising their statements for their Rhythm and Rights Human Rights Day celebration.

“I want to live in a world full of love.” “I want to live in a world with no slavery.” “I want to live in a world where there is no war.”

As well as the hard work of our learners, the dedication of our volunteers is impressive. The amount of work they put into something that they are not getting paid for is incredible and I can’t thank them enough.

Recently I’ve also had the chance to teach a few classes myself when volunteers have been unwell or on holiday. Not only is this a great way for me to get a first-hand understanding of the challenges that volunteers face, it’s also fun. From being asked to explain what ‘oh my gosh’ means (they weren’t happy that I didn’t have a definition of ‘gosh’) to being told I am past the age at which one should be married, there is never a dull moment when teaching! There are so many unexpected little things I learn at every class. At one class, we spent time talking about motherhood and despite their broken English, I got a great understanding of what being a mother means to them (alongside some anecdotes about their children which may have put me off starting a family any time soon…)

If you’re interested in volunteering on the project in either London or the West Midlands, don’t hesitate to get in touch on tt@timebank.org.uk or ttlondon@timebank.org.uk. Whilst we may not be taking additional volunteers right now, we hope to be recruiting more in the New Year!

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What a huge amount we've achieved this year - despite such a challenging political and economic climate

Every year I sit down to write my end of year blog and think I’m sure not that much has happened – and then I flick through my diary and realise what a ridiculous amount we have achieved, invariably against the odds in this very challenging and unique political and economic climate.

January began with a new project, Hidden Carers, starting in Birmingham with volunteers running one day workshops to support people who don’t identify themselves as carers. Following the publication of the Casey Review in December we were feeding in to the Government’s response, particularly around our English Language project Talking Together and how that addresses many of the issues raised by the report and helps to integrate those most vulnerable groups through basic functional English Language.

In February we held the first trustees’ away day for a while, which was hugely productive in terms of our longer term strategy and most importantly putting together a succession plan for our outgoing Chair, Lady Andrée Deane Barron. Andrée’s six year tenure was up in July and we were keen to make sure we had the right plan in place for her successor. We persuaded her to remain as an Ambassador - or Time Lady as we prefer to call her! 

The Met Film School approached us in the Spring and asked if their students could make a film about our employee volunteering programme – we were absolutely delighted with the outcome and you can see the film here. We also undertook some logistics to improve the way we work as an organisation, moving away from servers to exclusively online, enabling us to work anywhere and anytime and have full access to all our systems in all our offices in Scotland, Birmingham and London. And we moved to a different space in our London office in the Spring, sharing a room with another charity where we enjoy a bit more space as the team expands – we are lucky to have such accommodating landlords.  

By May we were starting a new iteration of our Talking Together English Language project and had the pleasure of interviewing for new staff in Birmingham – it never ceases to amaze me the quality and skill sets in the voluntary sector and it’s never an easy decision but we are very pleased with our new team.

I’ve continued to volunteer as a mentor – in a professional context supporting a Director of Income Generation and a new Chief Executive – I love doing this and learn as much as I give so this year I decided to reverse the position and signed up for a mentor myself. It’s been a hugely rewarding experience having the opportunity to spend time with someone, entirely independent, talking about my own challenges and longer-term aspirations for TimeBank – so I do truly walk the talk!

In June everyone was thrown by the snap election but not TimeBank - we were the first charity to get our manifesto up just 48 hours after the news, refined for a new look country, wrestling with new challenges as we look to leave Europe. Take a look here - it’s relevant election or not. 

We’ve continued to write bids and work with new funders to develop new projects and have been particularly absorbed with a significant bid to the Big Lottery Scotland for five years of funding for our Shoulder to Shoulder project which this year received funding from ABF the Soldiers’ Charity. We’ve reached Stage Two so hope that we will have good news in the New Year. We’ve decided we are in a position to recruit additional fundraising support to expand this area of our work in January 2018 which we are very excited about – if you are looking for a New Year challenge do take a look

I’ve spent time out and about speaking about volunteering at the Healthwatch England and Employee Engagement conferences and at the launch of Refugees into Sustainable Employment with our partners Renaisi as we started a new mentoring project in London, mentoring refugees to stay in employment. Even in my spare time I’m engaging with the sector and went to see the musical about the Kids Company demise – a curious combination but certainly an interesting way of interpreting a select committee – I confess to being disappointed the next time I was in Parliament that no one randomly burst into song!

One thing I love about TimeBank is that our staff never truly leave us and we were delighted to welcome a new addition to the TimeBank team - baby Emily - and went to visit her and Mum Rachel, a former team member, while fitting in a pub quiz too! Maybe it’s because they have such a fab time when they are working for us – another new team member found herself volunteering in a food and clothing bank in Birmingham on her first day, which is quite an introduction to your new colleagues.

In October we were shortlisted for Charity of the Year at the Charity Times Awards – we scrubbed up rather well for the event but sadly didn’t win – nevertheless we were very proud to have got that far. We also formally said farewell to our outgoing Chair Andrée as Peter Beeby, a trustee for four years, took over the role. We had a lovely dinner all together – I am lucky to have such an engaged and engaging Board.

This year’s Christmas employee volunteering has been truly off the Richter scale – we’ve tripled the number of events we’ve run and are blown away by the commitment of the companies we’ve worked with to make a difference at this time of year. We’ve worked in care homes, food banks, schools and homes supporting families of children in hospital. It really has been truly impactful and often a lot of fun. Certainly the TimeBank team thoroughly enjoyed our own volunteering day at Ronald McDonald House making biscuits and gingerbread houses for the families of sick children.

And so to the future. We’ve started work on upgrading our website and writing our impact report to be launched in 2018 and we’ve recruited new trustees. We are hoping to expand our English Language programme and our Hidden Carers project so things really are looking good coming into the New Year.

In summary, our volunteers have been outstanding this year - their contribution is almost unmeasurable when you read comments like this from one of our learners on Talking Together:  “Thank you for the English lessons. I have been learning English because I want to talk to the doctor. And I want to help my children with their homework. And I want to talk to children’s school teacher. When I go shopping I can speak English well. I need English for everything. I always try speaking English.” Or when you see a mentee from our Shoulder to Shoulder project attend an evaluation launch in Parliament with 100 strangers when previously he wouldn’t leave his house – this is impact; this is changing people’s lives. My job today is very simple: it’s just to say THANK YOU – to our volunteers, to our staff team and to our trustees – thank you for making it possible to change people’s lives and please continue to do so in 2018. Happy Christmas to everyone who reads the TimeBank blog and may you all have a peaceful and successful New Year.

Helen 

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Where's the bit about a cockatiel in my job description?

Much is made these days of new ways of working, from “agile working” (no, me neither) to portfolio careers – the idea being that rather than having one nine to five job you take on a series of part-time or consultancy roles. This is said to keep you intellectually stimulated and add interest and variety to your working life.

So let me strongly recommend this approach - come and get a job in the voluntary sector. But be prepared to be flexible and to embrace opportunities that fall outside your job description. And before the naysayers and doommongers claim this is just a way to get more out of employees for less, it is not.

At TimeBank we have had to develop new ways of working in a challenging climate for small to medium charities. This means individual as well as organisational change. But we are upfront with this when we recruit staff – and clear in job descriptions – that sometimes you will need to do things that we don’t know about yet. That doesn’t mean compromising the successful delivery of the job you were hired to do, or that you will be compelled to do something that you don’t want to do. And yes, it applies to everyone, including our Chief Executive. But it does mean if you are willing and have the time available you might be asked to help a colleague deliver volunteer training in another part of the country for example, or to represent TimeBank at a meeting, or spend an afternoon supporting the delivery of one of our employee volunteering programmes.

On paper, my role as Programme Manager is to ensure our funded programmes are delivered on time, to budget and target, as well as developing new and innovative mentoring projects. But over the Christmas period, which is always an incredibly busy one for TimeBank, as we arrange new language courses for our successful Talking Together project for Muslim women and deliver Employee Christmas Volunteering programmes  for dozens of companies, all the TimeBank team will be working outside their main roles to deliver these events.

For me, this has meant that in the last couple of weeks l have been visiting schools to discuss how best to meet the needs of Muslim mums, helping employees from BidFood sort donated clothing at Acorns Hospice warehouse and arranging for employees from Worldpay to volunteer in a care home putting up Christmas decorations and chatting to elderly residents, many with dementia. And ensuring that the care home pet, a cockatiel, had enough to drink. Water. Obviously.

And honestly, it’s not a chore – l love seeing the contribution our volunteers make and meeting the beneficiaries. It gives me the chance to see first-hand the difference TimeBank’s work makes on the front line with our delivery partners. And l can take away that experience to inform our project development, or to the next meeting we have in Whitehall to discuss with MPs the impact of our work. Now that’s quite a portfolio.

If Andy has inspired you with the exciting diversity you can expect from working for a small charity like TimeBank, do take a look at our latest job vacancy, a part-time fundraising and business development role which is ideal for someone returning to work or looking to add to a freelance portfolio. 

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Make the Christmas spirit last by volunteering all year round!

'Tis the season… for a lot of Christmas volunteering! Christmas undoubtedly brings out the charitable side in most of us, so it is only natural that this is also the season when companies want to give back too. But what about the other 11 months of the year?

For companies which give their employees one or two days off a year to volunteer, it makes sense that they would opt to choose one of those days to fall around Christmas. Giving employees time to volunteer in December is wonderful, as it reinforces the giving spirit.

Despite all this holiday cheer, the focus on Christmas volunteering, I believe, has its pros and cons. On the one hand, this is an important time of year for many people. For those who are struggling during the holidays for whatever reason, receiving extra help goes a very long way. On the other hand, what about the rest of the year?

I recently talked to a volunteer who mentioned watching an episode of the TV show, “How I Met your Mother”. Ted and Robin (two of the main characters) want to volunteer at a homeless shelter providing food to those in need. They are told that they should go home, that the charity already has too many people volunteering. I was asked if this really happens.

The answer is, of course it does. While many charities are still looking for volunteers for Christmas events, there are also many which are simply at capacity and are having to turn away volunteers. They have to plan well ahead so by this time many have already organised all the volunteers they need.  

So why not spread the cheer all year round? Giving your time for others isn’t something that needs to or should happen only at Christmas. It could be even more valuable to reinforce this mind-set as a company as well. Being a part of a responsible company doesn’t mean being responsible only during a set time of year, but throughout the year.

I do not mean to diminish the amazing work by our volunteers or their companies this Christmas. We’re working with lots of companies and their volunteers at this time of year, and they are making a huge difference to the lives of others. Nothing should lessen the importance of their contribution.

Corporate volunteering can be a fun, productive and insightful activity for employees. So, why not look into New Year’s volunteering, Valentine’s Day volunteering, Earth Day volunteering, or everyday volunteering? Companies and their volunteers can make an impact at any point in the year. So my recommendation is to make the Christmas spirit last by volunteering year round!

Thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers this Christmas season, you really do make a difference.

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I'm getting much more out of the experience than I put in ...

This week is Trustees Week 2017! At TimeBank we are not only celebrating the great work that the one million or so trustees do for the UK charity sector, but also preparing to welcome new recruits on our Board. So there’s really no better time to reflect on my two and half years since joining TimeBank as a trustee – and, as I turned 25 last week, to share my perspective on the role young trustees can play on boards.

I was just 22 when I became a trustee at TimeBank. I applied for the role because I had read a lot about ‘young trustees’ - those 0.5% of trustees aged 18-24 who don’t let their age stop them from contributing to issues they care about, and I felt compelled to give it a go.I had already benefited hugely from mentoring programmes at work and volunteering experiences at university, so I felt like my values were completely in sync with those of TimeBank. About two and a half years on, here’s an overview of some of the key things I’ve learnt.

The power of stupid questions

My first ever board meeting was a pretty terrifying experience. I was the youngest in the room and the only person without experience of working in the charity sector (or any sector, for that matter!). I couldn’t come up with anything of value to say and hadn’t dared to say anything at all. I left the meeting wondering if my presence was the result of an unfortunate administrative mistake! But I had watched and learned a lot about the role of the CEO, Chair and trustees; how board meetings run; how charities manage their finances; comms and fundraising strategies… In fact I was so busy taking it all in that I didn’t say anything at the second board meeting either. By the third meeting I finally managed to take part, though I spent about 60% of my speaking time apologising for asking stupid questions.

Today I still see my role on the Board as the Asker of Stupid Questions, except I now think it can add plenty of value. It gives the Board an opportunity to take a step back and avoid classic issues such as group-think or over-optimism. It has also been a very effective way for me to learn from others. Today I actively encourage my team to go back to basics and interrogate our thinking. I am still yet to receive negative feedback for asking stupid questions!

Start with Why

The last few years haven’t been a walk in the park for charities. The uncertain political climate (to cite just one thing) has made it tough for the whole sector and we have had to ask ourselves difficult questions in some of our board meetings. Through thick and thin I’ve learnt a lot about risk management, which has helped me structure my own approach to risk and difficulties at work.

But what has stood out for me is watching our Board keep its focus on our “why” – a concept made popular by Simon Sinek back in 2009. In our case, it means that we have kept our focus on the impact we want to have, the people we want to help, and the social changes we want to foster. Thanks to our shared sense of ‘why’, we work as a super-motivated, cohesive team to work out the ‘how’ without shying away from our ambition. In my view it’s this attitude that has kept us so successful as an organisation; delivering our mentoring programmes across the UK and landing volunteering projects with the likes of Google, The Telegraph, CEB and EE.

It’s about building the next generation of trustees

I could go on and on. Reporting directly to TimeBank’s beloved CEO Helen and playing a part in TimeBank’s many achievements have also hugely contributed to building my own personal resilience and confidence, which have boosted my career progression in the last few years.

Nearly two and a half years after my first board meeting, I still think I’m getting more out of the experience than I bring. Our trustees and CEO are mentors and role models to me. And that’s where perhaps TimeBank shines the most for me: as an organisation with a long-term vision for a more supportive social fabric, my presence on the board is no admin mistake, but rather TimeBank’s investment in the next generation – allowing me to learn and grow under its wing so that one day, I may become an experienced trustee with plenty to give back to the charity sector.

If you’ve been inspired to become a charity trustee, why not think about joining our Board? We have a vacancy for a trustee who is as passionate as Raphaëlle about our work and our ambitions: http://www.timebank.org.uk/about/vacancy/join-us-as-a-timebank-trustee

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