At TimeBank we rate volunteer mentoring above all else …

Helen Walker

It seems that there’s a day for everything these days and today it’s National Mentoring Day! Who knew that was even a thing?! I’m pleased that it is though because at TimeBank we rate mentoring above all else and we’ve been doing it for a long time, usually alongside some of the most vulnerable groups in our society.

Back in 2002 before even I joined TimeBank we were awarded a large Home Office Grant (remember the heady days of Government Grants?!) to run a volunteer led mentoring project for refugees – a huge piece of work which resulted in over 2,500 refugees matched with volunteer mentors across 24 locations in the UK and working with a vast range of local refugee community organisations. Each relationship aimed to support a refugee to integrate more effectively and more quickly into UK society. How life comes full circle because we’re running a new version of that project 15 years later – but more of that below.

From this first and most successful project stems pretty much our entire volunteer mentoring model and one we have developed and honed over the past 15 years and remodelled to work with a wide variety of complex social issues. These have included young people with mental health problems transitioning from child and adolescent mental health services to adult care, veterans with mental health problems trying to cope with civilian life, carers struggling with the stresses of caring for a loved one, young care leavers transitioning into the adult system and into employment, young people not in education, employment or training, Muslim women to enhance their digital and English language skills, and back full circle to two of our contemporary projects working with refugees, both supporting them into UK society and into sustainable employment.

In a successful mentoring relationship the mentor supports the mentee to identify their skills, build on their strengths and their interests to empower change. The beneficiary identifies the goals they hope to achieve and the role of the mentor, in addition to being a sounding board and holding the beneficiary to account, is to encourage resilience and fortitude in pursuing those goals. Effective mentoring skills include; building trust; active listening; establishing boundaries; safeguarding and confidentiality and to break down the mentee’s goals into achievable targets. The mentoring is finite because we do not want to create dependency. Our aim is to empower individuals to make decisions, act and move forward with their goals.  

I think our model is so successful because it’s volunteer-led and our volunteers bring with them a wealth of skills and experience from their own lives. Plus it’s not always easy working with people with big problems in their lives so it’s a meaty volunteering opportunity that you really have to be dedicated to.  

One final thought on National Mentoring Day is that you don’t have to have big problems to benefit from the value of a mentor. For example, I both mentor someone in our sector at a different stage in their career to me and have a mentor – someone outside my world and circle of friends or networks who listens to the challenges of charity chief executive life – who helps clarify my thoughts about what’s good and bad and how best I can move forward – someone whose sole role for the hour or two that we spend together is to listen to me musing about life and that’s a real treat in a world where taking time out to think and create some head space is a rare but very much needed commodity.

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