Volunteers' Week and Simon the ship's cat

From 1-7 June 2013 it is Volunteers’ Week, the annual celebration of the contribution that volunteers make across the UK.

At TimeBank this poses an unique challenge – not only does TimeBank work with volunteers, all our staff get an additional five days volunteering leave to pursue their own volunteering interests. So when Volunteers’ Week comes around it can be a bit of a busman’s holiday.

Our day jobs mean that we spend a lot of time recruiting and supporting volunteers delivering  our mentoring programmes. When the Birmingham TimeBank team were planning what we wanted to do, we decided we wanted to look for an activity away from this –volunteering as a team on a one-off opportunity, working on an environmental project. 

One-off opportunities bring their own challenges – something we know only too well, having spent the past 10 years connecting businesses and communities, designing and running skills-based volunteering opportunities that match companies with local community-based partners. Local community organisations need plenty of notice, expert guidance and support if they are to identify meaningful team volunteering opportunities. Even the large national volunteer-involving organisations need plenty of notice if you want to be involved. 

How to find a local community project, that would accommodate four people at short notice, and where a one-off volunteering contribution would make a significant difference? We considered the usual routes – the online volunteering opportunities website do-it, our local Volunteer Centreand the Volunteers’ Week website – all have fantastic opportunities. However, in the end it was talking about some of the great local volunteer-involving projects we had visited with partners, friends and families that led us to the National Memorial Arboretum.

The National Memorial Arboretum covers 150 acres in Staffordshire and provides a living memorial to all of those in the armed and civil services who have made personal sacrifices while serving their country. Importantly, the focus is not just military. The work of the police, ambulance and civil services are all commemorated, as are those who worked for charities. 

Particularly moving is the Shot at Dawn Memorial which commemorates the British and Commonwealth soldiers shot for desertion or cowardice. It is now accepted that the real cause for their reaction was Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome – this resonates strongly with TimeBank’s Shoulder to Shoulder programme where we support ex-service personnel suffering PTSD as a result of recent conflicts. 

What will we be doing? – we will be spending the day weeding, pruning and mulching. Each member of the team will also bring food along for a potluck picnic, so it will be a day of volunteering, team-building and good food in the glorious sunshine. Hopefully l will also have time to find the memorial shrub dedicated to Simon, a ship’s cat who “served” on the Royal Navy ship HMS Amethyst during the Chinese Civil War, survived injuries from cannon shells and killed off a rat infestation during his service, and to date is the only cat to be awarded the Dickin Medal, and have his obituary in the Times.