Kissing frogs in Parliament

Last week we launched our Carers Together evaluation report. At TimeBank we believe passionately in the importance of sharing learning – not just of things that have worked but things that haven’t – we believe that stakeholders, funders and partners should have sight of that learning so as not to reinvent square wheels that don’t work as well as replicating things that do. 

The last time I spoke at Parliament I was upstaged by a mouse taking a turn around the audience. Now TimeBank supporters are hardy people but mice just have a way of freaking people out! So this time we moved venue just along the river to Millbank in the hope that the mice would stay away and the focus would remain firmly on the speakers!

We were hosted by long term TimeBank friend Sir Kevin Barron MP who opened proceedings by talking about his passion and belief in volunteering. When you share a platform with three others it’s important to keep things short and sweet particularly since people really wanted to hear about the outcomes of the report from the evaluator – so my focus was on the benefits of partnership. 

For Carers Together we partnered with Carers UK, a national membership body supporting carers. As I said in my speech, just like in real life you have to kiss an awful lot of frogs before you find the right partner!

Partnership in the voluntary sector is more important now than ever before and whilst we pride ourselves on it, in reality it’s hard to find a partner who matches your ethos and values and of course who is as willing to work on the relationship as you are.

Carers UK and TimeBank was a match made in heaven – we had relationships from Chief Executive through to director and operational level so we always all knew where we stood. We knew we brought to the party our skills in mentoring and volunteering, training and matching relationships and they brought their extensive membership and knowledge of carers.

Heléna Herklots, Carers UK CEO, spoke of the importance of the learning that they had gained from the project. The fact that she had spent the day at their very first volunteer forum spoke volumes.  

But the reason people had come was to hear Matthew Terry from Cloud Chamber who we had commissioned to do the evaluation.  He said this had shown that online mentoring in particular could be useful in allowing carers to express their anger, feelings and raw emotions.  It offered them the flexibility to send messages at a time convenient to them, or when they felt particularly overwhelmed by their caring responsibilities. And some carers said they were more willing to discuss personal and emotional issues online that they would have found difficult or embarrassing to raise in face-to-face conversations.

Online mentoring also meant that TimeBank was able to recruit a wide pool of volunteer mentors from across the country instead of a small geographical area, enabling careful matching of mentors to carers’ specific needs.

It also enabled the project to triple the number of people it was able to support, because each volunteer mentor could respond to more than one carer online.

The learning from this project has already been integrated into our existing projects and bids to support new socially disadvantaged groups that might benefit from it. And the questions to the panel after the speeches showed a real interest in the detail of the project and the extent of carer breakdown it sought to reduce. Like all these events the real discussion got underway after the formalities were done, over a drink and I am confident that we truly did share our learning far and wide. And this time the mice stayed away!

Take a look at the full evaluation report here.