Volunteering during the crisis

Phil Pyatt Phil Pyatt

With the clocks going forward, it’s usually a time for everyone to look ahead to the end of the darker nights and the longer lighter evenings ahead, but with Covid-19 no-one could have imagined how much this would change our lives in such a short space of time.

As a charity, TimeBank decided a couple of days before the Government announcements that the welfare of our staff, volunteers and beneficiaries was paramount, especially with the types of face-to-face targeted volunteering projects that we deliver, and with agreement of our funders who have been extremely supportive we were backed strongly in this decision.

The end of the financial year always brings new challenges for any charity, how much funding do we have for next year and what does the year ahead look like?  With some our funding coming to an end it was already looking like a challenging year ahead.

The most important thing at this time is everyone’s health and safety, and it’s fantastic to see the altruism in the UK, from helping neighbours with shopping to a phone call so they have someone to talk to, and this was no more evident than in the NHS call for volunteers and the incredible support that followed.

As a charity that deals in small targeted volunteering projects with those most vulnerable in society, it’s imperative that we continue to support as many of our beneficiaries as possible, even in spite of the significant funding cuts we have experienced over the last four weeks, and we truly believe we can continue to do that:

Our Shoulder to Shoulder Online project in Scotland supports ex-service men and women who are recovering from mental health issues or having difficulty adjusting to civilian life. Many veterans have complex problems including financial hardship, homelessness, alcohol dependency and health issues.  Using a new on-line video mentoring platform, we have matched a number of beneficiaries with vetted volunteers to offer trained support and someone to talk to.  During this difficult time projects like this are vital, and we hope to be able to secure funding to roll this out to other beneficiary groups.

Our Talking Together project is TimeBank’s extensive volunteer-led project offering informal, functional English teaching to marginalised UK residents with little or no knowledge of the language – mostly women. It started in deprived areas of Birmingham in 2014 and has since expanded across London, Birmingham and Leicester. As part of the project, 5,000 people have completed English classes taught by 436 volunteers.

The project has transformed their lives, enabling them to interact with new people, gain confidence and skills and do everyday things we take for granted, like visiting the doctor, talking to children’s teachers and use public transport. It also offers follow up classes to build learners’ confidence in using English, including trips to local places of interest to bring the language to life. 

Sadly, this project has now ended and is not being refunded but we are delighted to have helped over 1700 beneficiaries over the last year which is a fantastic achievement, and I’m so incredibly proud of the team.  We are currently looking to see how during the Covid-19 outbreak we can continue to support those beneficiaries by using remote technology as they navigate an uncertain time where their English may be limited, and we are appealing to other funders out there to help us to continue to support these groups.

Employee Volunteering is another strand of work that unfortunately like a lot of charities we have had to cancel, resulting in a significant reduction in revenue for the charity, but most importantly not being able to support the  charities and community groups that rely on these days for support.  We are reaching out to our existing community partners and corporates to see how we can continue to support both the local charities/community groups that we work with but also the vulnerable groups that they support using remote technology.

In summary, these are certainly challenging times for the nation as we look to keep our loved ones and communities safe whilst still supporting those experiencing social isolation.  I have been touched by how much people care, from supporting their neighbours to the heartfelt applause for the amazing NHS staff.

I’d like to offer our sincerest thanks to amazing volunteers everywhere!

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