Blog

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

My first month

Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun, and I can’t believe it has already been a month since I started as CEO at TimeBank! 

With the charity moving into its 20th year in 2020, there are certainly big shoes to fill but after just a month I’m feeling really settled thanks to the professionalism and dedication of the committed staff here at our offices in London, Birmingham and Scotland.

I’ve been impressed by the great work they are doing to support ex-service men and women in Scotland and to help refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham and London through the challenges of a new life in a new country. It’s been great to see the enthusiasm that our corporate volunteers bring to the community projects we organise for them – and how much they achieve (and benefit) in just one day.

All in all it’s an exciting time to be associated with the charity.  Over the next couple of months - thanks to securing further funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) for our new Talking Together project in London, the West Midlands and Leicester - the team will be growing, and we will be recruiting and training even more volunteers to deliver community English classes that empower those taking part to improve their English and play a greater role in their communities.

So, what does the future hold for TimeBank?  Well I’m optimistic that the future is very bright.  With fresh eyes I can look ahead to the objectives that as a charity with our dedicated board of trustees and staff we want to achieve, and together develop new volunteer projects to support even more beneficiaries across a range of social issues. 

However, we cannot do this without the continued support of the various trusts, foundations, corporates and supporters that have such an impact on both the the young and old across the UK, and we are hugely appreciative of that support. 

New partnerships and relationships will need to be built so that we can reach even more people, and technology will start to play an even greater role in the future of mentoring. We  are planning some exciting pilots in partnership with the voluntary and corporate sectors and increasing our employee volunteering offer.

None of this is achievable without our dedicated pool of volunteers. Through their hard work and dedication they really do transform the lives of the beneficiaries they work with, and I’ve been hugely impressed by their commitment.

So, one month down, there’s plenty to do, but I’m excited by the challenge ahead!

 

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Recognising the value that asylum seekers and refugees contribute to society

Since August 2016 Time Together has brought almost 100 volunteers and refugees and asylum seekers together.  As the project co-ordinator I recruit volunteers who are from different areas of the UK and the world. 

They have a variety of reasons for wanting to mentor a refugee or an asylum seeker.  It can be for experience alongside gaining a degree, or about meeting someone from a completely different culture to their own.  Some volunteers are retired and have time to offer.  We also have new residents to the West Midlands who see this as a way to meet new people.  Mostly it’s about wanting to welcome those who have been through the most harrowing of life circumstances and showing their fellow humans kindness and compassion. 

While some of the media would have you believe that most people residing in the UK are hostile to refugees and asylum seekers, many of our volunteers take the opposite stance and see the value in what refugees and asylum seekers contribute to society.  The experience of meeting with their matched participants can offer insight into an incredibly complex immigration process.  Our volunteers can help guide their partners through difficulties and challenges that life throws at them as a refugee and asylum seeker living in the UK.

Our participants are from all over the world including Zimbabwe, Cuba, Iran, Malawi and Malaysia. Our referral partners identify our participants as being socially isolated and in need of one to one support.  Once assessed, informed and interviewed by the project co-ordinator, they are matched to a trained volunteer mentor.  Their volunteer will help them focus on their current situation and refer them to any service or support they could access to help improve their wellbeing. 

They are there to offer practical solutions to problems:  for some it’s about increasing their English language skills or gaining employment.  For others it could be getting specialist therapeutic support to help cope with past traumas.  For our asylum seeker participants, it can be about utilising their knowledge and skills by finding educational/training/volunteering opportunities in their communities while they are unable to work.  Having someone to talk to and to be listened to without judgement over a cup of tea on a regular basis is sometimes all our participants need. 

Twice a year Time Together organises a tea party for volunteers and participants past and present, allowing all parties the opportunity to keep in touch and to touch base with the project co-ordinator.  At our most recent festive tea party participants and volunteers all got into the Christmas spirit and enjoyed a TimeBank Christmas quiz. It also got very competitive on the pool table!  It was a lively afternoon with music, games, laughter and people meeting for the first time over tea and cake.  Based on the success of the tea parties we are looking to organise more social opportunities in 2019.  It’s a joy to see people socialising, laughing and sharing experiences with people they would never normally meet. 

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It's a bittersweet celebration when our Talking Together courses come to an end

I spent the last few weeks of last year doing little else during working hours but eating. Or that’s how it feels anyway! Many of our Talking Together English courses came to an end in December, and as the Project Co-ordinator it’s part of my role to visit the final class of each course and hand out certificates to the learners.

We like to make these final classes a celebration of all the group has achieved and so many learners will bring in copious amounts of home cooked food as part of this celebration. As our learners come from a wide range of countries (including Bangladesh, Somalia, Lebanon, Turkey, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan), the range of food on offer has been incredible. Not only has the volume of food been astonishing, but also the quality is impressive. From homemade pakoras, biriyani, spring rolls and samosas to cupcakes that look like they could have been shop bought!

The final class is also a chance for the learners to say thank you to the volunteer who has taught and supported them over the past 12 classes. In some cases, the class have even grouped together to buy a gift for their teacher: flowers, chocolates, and even perfume. At a few classes I also received a gift including a plant which now sits beautifully on the windowsill next to my desk!

Their gratitude is also evident in the feedback that we get at this last class. Here’s a sample of what a few of our learners had to say about the course:

“I made new friends and I improved my English speaking.”

“I like English class. I think the 2 hours is too short because I enjoy the English. Because when I’m here, I’m not alone.”

“My confidence has grown since I came here.”

“I enjoyed learning. There is nothing I didn’t enjoy. I hope it’s more often.”

Despite the tremendous achievements of our learners and all the happiness that the celebration class brings, the last class of each course can also be a bittersweet occasion. At each class I am begged by the group to allow the class to continue and their limited English means it can be difficult to explain the limitations of our programme and why continuing the course indefinitely isn’t possible.

Whilst we always aim to refer learners to other courses, either formal classes at colleges or local informal conversation classes, the learners are often concerned about making this change. This can be due to childcare issues (all our classes take place during school hours and some provide creches for younger children), fears of attending classes in a formal environment - particularly for those who have never had formal education before - or concerns about travelling to unfamiliar areas.

This is why we have been trying to work with other ESOL providers to help break down these barriers and encourage learners to access other courses once they complete our programme. A particular success has been in Harrow where we invited the Head of ESOL at Harrow College to visit one of our classes at a primary school in the area. Due to the high number of learners who are keen to continue, the college can set up a higher-level course to start in February which will be delivered at the school! This will be an accredited course, held in a comfortable and familiar environment for the learners where they will be able to all continue learning together. A win win for all!

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You'll be surprised at the impact a volunteering day can have on your staff, your business and your community

Throughout November and December, we've been incredibly busy working with companies who wanted to do something for their communities in the lead up to Christmas.

We've worked with close to 100 volunteers and 12 different community partners across London. From Reading to Dagenham, we’ve had the chance to see first hand the impact our volunteers have had on their local communities. They’ve helped set up Christmas decorations, battle social isolation amongst the elderly, support some of London’s busiest food banks, cook for people living with limited access to food, and brighten up schools and care homes with murals.

The wonderful team from Hanover Communications ready to serve the meal they prepared and cooked for 60+ people in connection with a homeless project.

The enthusiastic team from Jagermeister powering through the rain at a park in South London on their employee volunteering day.

One of our Tictrac volunteers getting creative with a sensory mural at a care home in east London. 

Of course, volunteering isn't just for Christmas, and throughout the year we help companies get the very best and most enjoyable volunteering experience possible. We aim to provide an employee volunteering day that really works – engaging your staff and helping them develop confidence and skills, while supporting small community groups that often don’t have the resources to provide an effective, properly structured volunteering experience. 

If you'd like any more information, download our FAQs here, or get in touch: employeevolunteering@timebank.org.uk, tel: 0203 111 0721. 

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One stranger at a time

For the past few months I have been working for TimeBank as the RISE mentoring project coordinator. RISE stands for Refugees Into Sustainable Employment. Through this project, TimeBank volunteers are supporting refugees to find and sustain employment in the UK.

For me personally, RISE stands for the new rise of my faith in what I do, a newfound belief in my work alongside people seeking a better life in Europe.

I have gone back to working with refugees after a period of doubt. I left my home town on the French-Italian border, where I had been working with asylum seekers for two years. My previous job taught me a lot about myself and how difficult it can be to help others, especially in a hostile political context.  It confirmed a lot of my fears about what people have to endure before they can hope to acquire the right to live and work in Europe and the UK.

Luckily I hold a European passport, so when my work contract ended I just took a flight to London, in search of a new life, a new job, and more than anything, in search of my lost faith in what I do.

These first few months working as a refugee mentoring project co-ordinator have helped me rise again, thanks to the inspiring people I get to meet every day.

I meet people who have been in the UK for more than 10 years and have only recently acquired the right to work. I meet people who suffer from mental health issues caused by traumatic experiences in their home country, on their journey here or through years lived in fear of being sent back, and not being allowed to work in the UK.

I meet people who were qualified professionals back home but their certificates will never be recognised here.I meet people who are very young.I meet people who are very lonely.They all have something in common: they give me hope.  

Why?

Because they are still here, standing in front of me, telling me that they want to make a better life for themselves.

They give me hope because in spite of everything they are still ready to trust a Londoner, a stranger, to come into their life to make it a better place.

Meeting these volunteers, these Londoners, these strangers, hearing why they want to mentor a refugee, I start believing again.

Believing in a place where hope can be retrieved, a place where we can build a shared, a better future together, one stranger at a time. 

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Being a TimeBank trustee has been a life-changing experience

I was inspired to become a TimeBank trustee as I had recently left a charity role and moved back into the private sector.  I didn’t want to lose touch with the magnificent work undertaken across the not for profit sector. And having completed an MSc in Charity Marketing and Fundraising I wanted to be able to continue to utilise my learning.

Researching TimeBank’s work in my preparation for applying for the role, I quickly empathised with its mission and values. I have now been a trustee at TimeBank since 2015 and during that time empathy has turned into passion.

What do I get out of it?

Being a trustee at TimeBank inspires me to keep living life brightly and full of positivity. It’s a truly life changing experience and I hope I can continue to be involved with TimeBank in one way or another for the rest of my life.  It ensures that I have to push the boundaries, be involved in situations outside of my comfort zone and be positive and confident at times when my life has been fraught with challenges and difficulties.

What does it entail?

The role of the trustee is to ensure TimeBank has a clear strategy and that its work and goals are in line with its vision, making sure the needs of the beneficiaries are always put first.  Trustees are the bastion of the charity’s assets – both physical assets, and intangible ones, such as its reputation. TimeBank’s trustees, staff and volunteers are an amazing group of people who share a common goal and shared purpose.  As a very cohesive group, in the face of funding challenges, the trustees supported the CEO and staff to ride the storm, move forward and in due course celebrate triumphs.

The most important commitment a trustee has to give is time and a real understanding of TimeBank’s work. The time element is not onerous - four Board meetings a year, which are always effectively managed and fun to be involved in. There are other exciting opportunities such as away days, interviewing, sub committees and events like the recent launch of the impact report at the House of Commons.  

What difference you can make as a trustee

The difference you can make as a TimeBank trustee is for me the most satisfying part of all. Being involved in an organisation that enables an outstanding volunteering experience by utilising people’s skills to tackle social problems teaches you things about yourself that you probably never knew. Knowing that I have been part of enabling that impact, is priceless.

Why not join us as a TimeBank trustee and help us build our volunteer projects that tackle some of the most complex social issues in our society.Take a look here for more information.

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What it means to be a charity trustee

I’ve been a volunteer most of my adult life. As a teenager I got deeply involved in a Jewish youth group and threw myself into planning and running educational programmes before serving on the organisation’s national committee, editing its newsletter, staffing seminars and setting up and running its first ever summer camp.

In adult life this has continued to be important to me: I volunteer regularly, leading services and teaching at my local synagogue and, when my son started school, I volunteered as a class rep on the PTA.

I’m also involved in an organisation called Citizens UK, the country’s largest broad-based community organising network which brings together churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, students unions and more to work on grass-roots driven campaigns on issues like the Living Wage, housing, mental heath provision and refugee rights.

One of the most important lessons of community organising is that people are motivated not by principles but by broad self interest. This does not mean selfishness – it means we are driven by issues that genuinely touch our lives. No wonder so many cancer survivors are involved with cancer charities, parents of young people affected by violence campaign against knife crime, and members of the Jewish community, most of whose ancestors were immigrants, care passionately about refugee issues. It certainly applies to me: my volunteering has been driven by my passion for education, my commitment to my religious tradition, and concern for my children’s wellbeing.

But recently my volunteering has taken a different turn. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to serve as a trustee of London Citizens (the precursor to Citizens UK) and, most recently, as a trustee of TimeBank. Being a trustee or non-executive board member feels very different from regular volunteering. It’s not about mucking in and getting your hands dirty and it’s not about a front-line role or directly pushing forward the projects you’re involved with. That’s what professional staff (and other volunteers) are for.

But I’ve come to realise that being a trustee can be deeply satisfying. It allows me to use the skills and experience I’ve developed in my professional life as a charity chief executive and bring them to bear for the benefit of another organisation. I recently heard a charity leader complaining that he couldn’t find anyone to take on the role of treasurer within his organisation because several finance professionals he knew, while keen to get involved, didn’t want to spend their free time doing the same thing they do at work. I feel the opposite: there’s nothing more satisfying than using my professional skills to support something I believe in – and I’m sure that if I worked in the private sector the opportunity to serve as a trustee would be even more meaningful to me.

At the same time, being a trustee is a wonderful contrast to the pressures of a day job. It’s a privilege to be able to engage with amazing professionals who are driving change and bringing benefit to thousands of people, and to support them by taking a step back, asking the right questions, and being a critical friend. It’s something I would enthusiastically recommend.

If Matt's blog has inspired you to become a charity trustee, why not join us at TimeBank and help us build our volunteer projects that tackle some of the most complex social issues in our society.Take a look here for more information.

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It's been a great summer for employee volunteering - and now we're thinking about Christmas!

What an amazing summer it’s been! We’ve had over 400 volunteers from local companies out helping their local communities. We’ve created a Special Educational Needs garden for a group of schools in Chessington, helped stock the shelves of foodbanks across London, built planters and garden furniture for community gardens and scythed a wildflower meadow in the soaring 30 degree heat!

Now that the summer sun is starting to fade it doesn’t mean we’ll be slowing down. As the season starts to change and the leaves begin to fall we need volunteers more than ever. Our community partners are looking for companies to provide volunteers in the run up to Christmas to create emergency hampers for those most in need, to help decorate schools and community spaces and to bring some festive cheer to those who may not have a family to spend Christmas with.

Are you currently making plans for your staff Christmas party? Why not come and volunteer before you head off to the pub! Here at TimeBank we volunteer as a team every Christmas, it’s a wonderful way of bringing our teams from different offices together and learning more about colleagues who we may not get to work with very often.  After our volunteering we head to a local restaurant to celebrate and leave the day with a sense of accomplishment having had a great time and worked together to make a real impact in the community.

The sooner you get in touch, the more time we have to find an opportunity that works perfectly for you and your team. To find out more you can reach us on 0207 111 0721 or email employeevolunteering@timebank.org.uk

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