It was a tough start to the year – but we're thrilled with everything TimeBank has achieved

Helen Walker

Every year I write a review of the year’s activity, but when I started looking at my diary this year I realised just what a tough start to 2016 we had here at TimeBank.  

I know looking across the sector that we weren’t alone – it’s been a challenging economic climate, a curious political time and frankly a year few of us will be sorry to see the back of.  

January saw a number of funders either delay funding bid decisions or reject them – this delaying of decisions seems to have become more and more prolific and I would make a plea for funders to realise just how tough this makes it for small organisations who rely on knowing what they have, not what they might have, in order to move forward, plan or make difficult decisions.  

The uncertainty of the funding climate made me take a new look at our structure – that review led to outsourcing some of our ‘core’ functions in line with finance and IT which we’ve done for some time. We felt it made sense for communications and fundraising to be on a ‘need’ basis so we can upsize and downsize more easily as new projects come on stream.  Fortunately we are lucky enough to be able to work with some of our former staff in a freelance capacity which works for them and for us so we moved forward into the spring with a slimmer structure and were able to downsize our office in London.  

In April we were approached by Feltham Young Offenders Institute to run a micro pilot mentoring project for young men leaving  prison and trying to make their way back in society. It’s a very challenging project which has taken much time to develop and test and we hope to be up and running in January. We were also approached to work as part of a partnership supporting refugees into employment in London, running the mentoring element. The bid was successful we hope this project will start in the spring.

Early summer brought confirmation of more English Language funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government, enabling us to expand our Birmingham office and recruit staff in London. Simultaneously the Henry Smith Charity agreed to fund our new version of Time Together, the mentoring project that defines TimeBank’s model when we started supporting refugees back in 2002. This time a small pilot in Birmingham designed to support refugees with contemporary issues hopes to show it is still a relevant intervention that can be rolled out nationally.

In spite of moving offices and focussing on a number of significant funding bids we still found time to host a 16 year old work experience intern, introducing her to the challenges of charity life! Soon afterwards we were welcoming a number of new staff to TimeBank, so we organised a summer volunteering day for us all, which found us in Chingford weeding and planting at a workers’ cooperative, so much better than your average employee induction!

Autumn saw the launch of the external evaluation of Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine – our mentoring project supporting veterans and their families –  which we launched in Edinburgh and Westminster. We were delighted with the very positive  findings of this evaluation. And  now we have  evidence to prove it works we are working hard to secure funding to keep the project going before our current grant ends in February. 

It was through the summer that our Employee Volunteering really started to pick up pace with events in parks, schools and community centres across London. We’ve worked with 350 employee volunteers equalling 1,827 hours of volunteering with  25 community partners benefitting  from our support. This enthusiasm for corporate volunteering spilt over to our Christmas Party volunteering with an unprecedented take up by companies wanting to make a real difference in their communities as part of their Christmas celebrations. Care homes, homeless shelters, community centres and schools were the focus, involving decorating Christmas trees, painting reading corners, spending time with older people with dementia or in one case entertaining them with belly dancing!!

Our own Christmas volunteering took place in Birmingham at the warehouse for the charity shops of our partner Acorns Children’s Hospice. We sorted through 139 bags of donated clothing and two  hours’ worth of jewellery, creating 70 bags of saleable goods worth £2,500 and £80 worth of recycling – a worthy achievement but one put into perspective when you realise it costs between £750 and £1,000 to look after one child for one day at the hospice.

As we came to the close of the year the long awaited Casey Review was launched and while some of its elements were controversial, the key for us was its recommendation for more grassroots English Language classes just like those we run, which are funded by DCLG. We  are hopeful that in the New Year the Government will see fit to put this recommendation into action so we can expand our current programme. We were also  funded to run a new volunteer-led hidden carers project in Birmingham which will start in January.

So after a shaky start we go into 2017 with great optimism and enthusiasm, in the belief that we will continue to deliver our projects on time, to target and on budget to those most in need, and that volunteering truly does make a contribution to our society beyond any other. Of course we couldn’t do any of this without our incredible volunteers, our resilient and committed staff and a Board willing to take calculated risks to enable us to be where we need to be when we need to be, so a massive thank you to each and every one of them.

I hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and join us in our excitement for the New Year.

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