The importance of sharing experiences and learning

At TimeBank we believe that sharing our learning is a fundamental aspect of our work. We recently had a great opportunity when a vocational college from The Netherlands – the Regional Community College of Twente – contacted us to arrange a meeting with a group of 25 mentors volunteering with their students.

We accepted enthusiastically and set to organising a three-hour workshop to ensure we used the available time as effectively as we could.

On the day of the workshop all was ready. We arranged for TimeBank's Chief Executive, Helen, to come and greet our guests and we booked a programme manager and project co-ordinator to run the event, present our projects and answer any questions the visiting mentors might have.  

The workshop opened with an introduction from our guests who explained that they came to London funded by the Erasmus and Mobility Programme of the European Union and that their main area of mentoring is to support mentees to prevent early school leaving during  their vocational courses at the college. We then talked about TimeBank and our volunteering projects and received many enthusiastic questions from our visitors about our approach to mentoring.

Our visitors were interested in how we managed such a diverse and specialised range of projects – especially regarding our work with young people with mental health problems, The Switch – and to learn about our procedures in recruiting, training and managing volunteers. Everyone was very impressed to learn that we are usually oversubscribed with volunteers for our projects, showing how much commitment to volunteering there is from the public in London and the UK more generally.

We also discussed some of the challenges we face in reaching and engaging beneficiaries. It was remarkable how similar these are in London and Twente. Although it was not possible to find, or even suggest, potential solutions to all these issues, it is always a useful experience to exchange ideas and information, if only to realise that you are not the only one having frustrating and difficult experiences when running a project.

We have also discussed in detail some of our procedures and the pros and cons of adopting them. Thinking about why an organisation is doing something - and how - is always a useful exercise, especially when you have 25 people in front of you keen to understand and learn new approaches as well as questioning you keenly! It forces you to reflect and makes you aware of potential pitfalls that may not yet have come to light. At the same time it strengthens an organisation’s practices to see that others are interested in adopting some of your methods because they find them effective, valuable or simply more efficient to achieve a specific goal or to streamline a time-consuming process.

By the end of the workshop we all felt that we learnt something from each other and that it was time well spent, on top of finding it a very interesting diversion from our day-to-day tasks.

So thank you to the Regional Community College of Twente and its volunteer mentors for coming to visit us and sharing their mentoring experiences with TimeBank.

If you'd like any more information on the topics discussed in this blog, do contact Filippo.