What a huge amount we've achieved this year - despite such a challenging political and economic climate

Every year I sit down to write my end of year blog and think I’m sure not that much has happened – and then I flick through my diary and realise what a ridiculous amount we have achieved, invariably against the odds in this very challenging and unique political and economic climate.

January began with a new project, Hidden Carers, starting in Birmingham with volunteers running one day workshops to support people who don’t identify themselves as carers. Following the publication of the Casey Review in December we were feeding in to the Government’s response, particularly around our English Language project Talking Together and how that addresses many of the issues raised by the report and helps to integrate those most vulnerable groups through basic functional English Language.

In February we held the first trustees’ away day for a while, which was hugely productive in terms of our longer term strategy and most importantly putting together a succession plan for our outgoing Chair, Lady Andrée Deane Barron. Andrée’s six year tenure was up in July and we were keen to make sure we had the right plan in place for her successor. We persuaded her to remain as an Ambassador - or Time Lady as we prefer to call her! 

The Met Film School approached us in the Spring and asked if their students could make a film about our employee volunteering programme – we were absolutely delighted with the outcome and you can see the film here. We also undertook some logistics to improve the way we work as an organisation, moving away from servers to exclusively online, enabling us to work anywhere and anytime and have full access to all our systems in all our offices in Scotland, Birmingham and London. And we moved to a different space in our London office in the Spring, sharing a room with another charity where we enjoy a bit more space as the team expands – we are lucky to have such accommodating landlords.  

By May we were starting a new iteration of our Talking Together English Language project and had the pleasure of interviewing for new staff in Birmingham – it never ceases to amaze me the quality and skill sets in the voluntary sector and it’s never an easy decision but we are very pleased with our new team.

I’ve continued to volunteer as a mentor – in a professional context supporting a Director of Income Generation and a new Chief Executive – I love doing this and learn as much as I give so this year I decided to reverse the position and signed up for a mentor myself. It’s been a hugely rewarding experience having the opportunity to spend time with someone, entirely independent, talking about my own challenges and longer-term aspirations for TimeBank – so I do truly walk the talk!

In June everyone was thrown by the snap election but not TimeBank - we were the first charity to get our manifesto up just 48 hours after the news, refined for a new look country, wrestling with new challenges as we look to leave Europe. Take a look here - it’s relevant election or not. 

We’ve continued to write bids and work with new funders to develop new projects and have been particularly absorbed with a significant bid to the Big Lottery Scotland for five years of funding for our Shoulder to Shoulder project which this year received funding from ABF the Soldiers’ Charity. We’ve reached Stage Two so hope that we will have good news in the New Year. We’ve decided we are in a position to recruit additional fundraising support to expand this area of our work in January 2018 which we are very excited about – if you are looking for a New Year challenge do take a look

I’ve spent time out and about speaking about volunteering at the Healthwatch England and Employee Engagement conferences and at the launch of Refugees into Sustainable Employment with our partners Renaisi as we started a new mentoring project in London, mentoring refugees to stay in employment. Even in my spare time I’m engaging with the sector and went to see the musical about the Kids Company demise – a curious combination but certainly an interesting way of interpreting a select committee – I confess to being disappointed the next time I was in Parliament that no one randomly burst into song!

One thing I love about TimeBank is that our staff never truly leave us and we were delighted to welcome a new addition to the TimeBank team - baby Emily - and went to visit her and Mum Rachel, a former team member, while fitting in a pub quiz too! Maybe it’s because they have such a fab time when they are working for us – another new team member found herself volunteering in a food and clothing bank in Birmingham on her first day, which is quite an introduction to your new colleagues.

In October we were shortlisted for Charity of the Year at the Charity Times Awards – we scrubbed up rather well for the event but sadly didn’t win – nevertheless we were very proud to have got that far. We also formally said farewell to our outgoing Chair Andrée as Peter Beeby, a trustee for four years, took over the role. We had a lovely dinner all together – I am lucky to have such an engaged and engaging Board.

This year’s Christmas employee volunteering has been truly off the Richter scale – we’ve tripled the number of events we’ve run and are blown away by the commitment of the companies we’ve worked with to make a difference at this time of year. We’ve worked in care homes, food banks, schools and homes supporting families of children in hospital. It really has been truly impactful and often a lot of fun. Certainly the TimeBank team thoroughly enjoyed our own volunteering day at Ronald McDonald House making biscuits and gingerbread houses for the families of sick children.

And so to the future. We’ve started work on upgrading our website and writing our impact report to be launched in 2018 and we’ve recruited new trustees. We are hoping to expand our English Language programme and our Hidden Carers project so things really are looking good coming into the New Year.

In summary, our volunteers have been outstanding this year - their contribution is almost unmeasurable when you read comments like this from one of our learners on Talking Together:  “Thank you for the English lessons. I have been learning English because I want to talk to the doctor. And I want to help my children with their homework. And I want to talk to children’s school teacher. When I go shopping I can speak English well. I need English for everything. I always try speaking English.” Or when you see a mentee from our Shoulder to Shoulder project attend an evaluation launch in Parliament with 100 strangers when previously he wouldn’t leave his house – this is impact; this is changing people’s lives. My job today is very simple: it’s just to say THANK YOU – to our volunteers, to our staff team and to our trustees – thank you for making it possible to change people’s lives and please continue to do so in 2018. Happy Christmas to everyone who reads the TimeBank blog and may you all have a peaceful and successful New Year.