Blog

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

Duchess of Cambridge calls for child mental health to be given the focus it deserves

In an interview with The Times the Duchess of Cambridge has urged that more attention be given to the issue of child mental health. This comes after yesterday’s release of data on well-being by the Office of National Statistics which showed  that anxiety and depression affect nearly 21% of 16-24 year olds.

We welcome the Duchess’s focus on child mental health, an area we believe has received way too little attention. Although mental health issues have become less taboo for adults, there is still much stigma around child mental health and this is something we need to change, not only for the sake of our children but also for the sake of adults who could have lived a less troubled life if they had received the help they deserved from a young age.

The Duchess said: “I feel strongly that young people and parents need to know that they can ask for help. Just as with physical health, we need to act early to provide support when a child is faced with emotional difficulties.” 

Here at TimeBank one of our volunteer mentoring programmes, The Switch, focuses on supporting young people making the difficult transition  from child and adolescent mental health care to adult mental health services or indeed out of support altogether. This is a time of great vulnerability for young people and having a mentor independent of family or professional services can make a huge difference to their emotional well-being, helping  them to make the move  effectively and with confidence.

The mentoring relationship helps them through one of the most difficult times of their lives, and provides them with stability in an environment of great change – it’s a small investment that makes a massive difference.

We’re glad that child mental health is finally getting some of the coverage it deserves and are looking forward to it receiving the “focus it requires”! 

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Now I can speak English at home with the kids

Imagine: your child is sick, you need to call the doctor, but you can’t speak English, you can’t understand or navigate the switchboard options; if someone answers what can you say?

You want to learn, but there are no classes locally, you have no money for private lessons, you don’t feel confident travelling to college classes and don’t meet the entry requirements for them anyway!

Not knowing the language can isolate a person, physically within the small area in which they live and feel safe and emotionally, making them dependant on others to do things that most people take for granted. It means that some things you’d prefer to keep private, like health conditions, have to be shared with others.

Talking Together works to change the life chances of people without much or any English who are living within our communities. The programme provides free spoken language training and mentoring support to learners predominantly from the Bangladeshi, Somali and Pakistani communities.  However, in total, we’ve recruited learners from 55 different countries of origin. 

Research shows that it’s women who make up the largest proportion of non-English speakers. They want to be able to play a greater role in their communities and in British life. One of our learners, Naseem, says: “Now I can speak English at home with my kids and can even make an appointment with doctor and visit him by myself and for that I do not need anyone’s help any more.”

Fareeda says: “Now if I go out I can talk to shopkeeper and buy what I want to. Now even for hospitals I can understand appointments and their schedules.”

When one of our volunteers, Amy, took a group of learners on a trip to the city centre, she found that many had never been on a train before. In her blog she describes the difference this five minute journey made to their confidence. What had previously been unknown became known - from buying a ticket, watching the arrivals board, getting on the train, watching stations go by and recognising the right one, getting off, walking through a ticket barrier … so many tiny details, all previously unfamiliar.

In just 12 months, Talking Together has trained 146 volunteer language trainers and classroom assistants and delivered 1,440 individual classroom sessions involving more than 1,200 learners.

One of the reasons it has been so successful is that classes are organised locally and hosted by trusted community organisations; learners feel secure and so able to attend. The notion of ‘hard to reach’ is transformed through simply understanding what our learners need and partnering with the right agencies to ensure things happen.

In that regard, we work with a range of community partners to deliver the project. One of them is the Shama Women’s Centre in Leicester, where co-ordinator Khudeja Amer-Sharif describes the language training as very practical and family oriented"It is about how to communicate with your GP, catch a bus - it is very practical. By learning the language, it impacts not only that individual but their family.”

We’re delighted that the project has now been boosted with further funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government!  This will enable us to expand Talking Together across the Midlands and launch new projects in London, so watch this space!           

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Mental health is a priority for TimeBank - it's good to see the Government has caught up!

One particular piece of Budget news caught my eye this week - the Government’s commitment to boost spending on mental health care, particularly for veterans and children.  

Both of these are key areas that TimeBank has been working on for some time – so it’s good to see that the Government has finally caught up!!

The Switch is our mentoring project for young people transitioning between child and adolescent mental health care into adult mental health care or indeed out of support altogether.  For the young person it’s a time of great vulnerability and having a mentor independent of family or professional services can help them to make this transition effectively and with confidence – it’s a small investment that makes a massive difference.

Shoulder to Shoulder is our veterans mentoring project that we’ve run in London, Birmingham and now in Scotland. Again supporting vulnerable veterans through the difficult transition into civilian life made harder by the mental health issues some of them have, caused by their service to our country.

Neither of these is an easy volunteering opportunity – mentees may often not turn up to meetings because their condition has worsened or they’ve forgotten or can’t make themselves leave the house. They may not do the things they say they will between meetings. Our veterans may be challenging, angry young men and women who are unlikely to say thank you to anyone, even their mentor. This is a volunteering opportunity that requires patience, goodwill, and recognising what seem like baby steps are actually giant leaps forward.  But this is a volunteering opportunity that literally can save lives.

I hope that the Government will acknowledge the role projects like these play in supporting the most vulnerable in our society and that funding something proven and helping to expand it geographically is just as valuable, if not more so, than a new, innovative but unproven initiative.

If you want to know what TimeBank thinks the new Government should be prioritising – check out our manifesto and sign up to it here

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My son is smiling for the first time in months

It’s a bright and sunny day in London and I’m on my way to meet Michael and Dan at a café in Angel.

Mike and Dan have only been matched for a month and a half as part of our volunteer mentoring project The Switch, but the relationship has gone so well that we received this message from Mike’s mum a couple of days ago:

“I just wanted to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much! My son is smiling for the first time in months. I now feel positive he will get better.”

The message was so nice that I wanted to hear more from Dan and Mike. They were happy to meet me for a chat, so I’m tagging along to one of their meetings.  At the café I meet two young men sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.  Dan has come straight from the office and is on his lunch break, and Mike has ventured out to enjoy the weather. They have decided to divide their time together so that they meet several times a month rather than a couple of hours in a row, and are therefore used to meeting in Dan’s lunch break.  Dan laughs and says this is to avoid Mike getting “too bored of his company”. Mike smiles and they say they’re venturing out this weekend on a long session, so they’ll see what they prefer.  So far, a mix seems to be working well.

Before being matched, Mike didn’t leave the house much and sorely missed having someone to discuss football with. Throughout the meeting football banter is highly present, with Mike an ardent Arsenal fan and Dan Leicester; they’re not in competition for the league title, but enjoy discussing games and players. “Luckily I don’t support Tottenham or Chelsea,” jokes Dan.   Mike laughs and says the mentoring relationship might have been different if he did.

I quietly applaud the excellent matching skills of Rachel, the project co-ordinator, while picturing Mike matched with a hard core Tottenham fan and the heated discussions that could follow. Mike is a goalie and Dan has never given up on his dream to become a Leicester player so the cards were ripe for a good mentoring relationship. They are going to play football one of these days and I think it’s going to be a good match.

Mike is a bit shy, but when asked what he has enjoyed the most he’s a burst of energy and answers “I enjoy every session. It’s brilliant!”  So far they’ve met at different coffee shops and gone for lunch in the West End. Their meetings have been loosely planned and consisted of wandering around London talking, but they admit there's also been a lot of coffee. “I’ve never had so much!”  laughs Dan.  

At their first meeting they sat down and created a list of stuff they wanted to do, with researching colleges, playing golf, going to sports museums, visiting the Emirates stadium and playing football top the list. They also want to go fishing one day and I hope they’re not going to end up catching anything from the Thames. If they do, they assured me they won’t attempt to eat it.

Mike and Dan first met in January. At the match meeting Rachel and Mike’s mother stayed for 30 minutes before getting tired of hearing about football and left Mike and Dan.  It was ‘love at first goal’ and it’s continued to go swimmingly.  

I’m curious as to what the mentoring relationship has meant for them so far and if they’ve experienced any changes. I turn to Mike; he smiles and with the same energetic enthusiasm says his time with Dan has really changed him for the better. “Although it’s been short, it’s given me more confidence and self-belief”.  Mike is also happy that he’s out of the house more:  “I’ve got to see things I haven’t seen before, go out more and have someone to talk to.” 

Dan says he’s really enjoyed it too and says: “Mike is up for doing everything, so I’ve mentioned a couple of things that I think sound interesting, and that’s what we’re doing. It is great fun; I get to do and see things I’ve wanted to do for years, but never made time for!” 

I leave the boys to discuss this weekend’s activities – happy to have been a part of their mentoring relationship for a day.

This is why I love working for The Switch. It’s truly a life changing programme and the change is caused by people like you and I, donating a few hours every month just to be there for someone.  Seeing how great they are together has been really inspiring and has made me want to be mentor.  Let’s see what the future holds shall we. For now, I’m happy to be a small part of Dan and Mike’s journey together and I can’t wait to hear what they get up to next!   

If you'd like to get invoved in The Switch, we'd love to hear from you! Take a look here

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How City workers are supporting young care leavers

City Opportunities Mentoring is a TimeBank project matching care leavers with City workers to support them with tasks such as writing job applications, practising interview skills, networking, job shadowing or gaining work experience.

The project started in September 2013, successfully matching 24 City workers to 24 young people and we’re now relaunching it for a further year thanks to funding from the City of London Corporation and Team London.

One current mentoring relationship is between Victor, a Project Management student at London SouthBank University and Chris, an information security consultant working near Liverpool Street.

Victor took up the offer of mentoring after attending a five day work skills programme at London SouthBank University.

That programme provided him with a taste of City life and he decided he wanted help from a mentor to help him find work on graduating. Chris had gained both mentoring and leadership skills through his current and previous jobs and felt that he would be able to use these to offer a young person guidance and support with their career.

Victor and Chris have been matched for several months now and are both enjoying the mentoring experience. They have already undertaken a number of positive activities including working jointly on job applications and CVs, and now plan to focus on interview techniques and confidence building in the next few months.

Chris says ‘mentoring is a rewarding experience and it is a privilege to be able to help someone benefit from some of the many opportunities that the City provides but that can often be quite difficult to break into.’

Victor says: ‘The support and help received from Chris has been remarkable. Most importantly I have gained invaluable knowledge, encouragement and guidance. I am glad to say I have benefited greatly from this programme.’

If you would be interested in becoming a mentor with us or would like to refer someone to the project,  I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at Rachel@timebank.org.uk  or on 020 3111 0730. 

And if you'd like to know more about City Opportunities Mentoring, take a look here.

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Banking on volunteer mentors

There has been no shortage of interest from volunteers to take part in Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine since the mentoring project started last June. The project matches veterans and families living in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh with a mentor who provides one to one support to help in their transition to civilian life. 

Mentors have been recruited through various methods, including volunteer websites, colleges and universities, partner agencies, news articles, Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine’s online application and word of mouth. We had a really good day recruiting at Volunteer Edinburgh’s Recruitment fair. Jody, one of our volunteer mentors (pictured above) helped out for the day and was fantastic in getting people interested in volunteering.

Volunteers go through a rigorous recruitment process including an induction. They provide two referees, join Disclosure Scotland's Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme and complete mentor training. 

Here’s what volunteers have said:

“I’m feeling very confident”

“I’m aware of the issues veterans face”

“I found the case studies and personal experiences of veterans most interesting”

“The videos linked theory to real life”

TimeBank now has a good bank of fully trained mentors ready to be matched with a veteran or family member. Mentors come from a variety of backgrounds. Their ages range from 20 to 60 and they are male, female, ex-military, families of veterans and from civilian life.

If you are a veteran or family member and find it difficult to move on, mentors can:

  • Talk with you on the phone
  • Meet with you for a chat
  • Be there to listen
  • Give you one to one support, assistance or guidance
  • Help you focus on setting goals in the aim to move on

If you are an ex-serviceman, woman or family living in or around Glasgow or Edinburgh and would like the support of a mentor, or would like to find out more, we are here to help.

You can read more about the project here, call me on:0141 814 4510 or 07437 437 867 or email:ali@timebank.org.uk

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What a rewarding journey!

Hello, my name is Amy. I’m a student in the first year of my English Language and Linguistics BA (Hons) Degree at The University of Wolverhampton - and I wanted to tell you about the rewarding experience of volunteering on TimeBank's Talking Together project. 

I am a British Bangladeshi born and bred and I am very proud of my heritage. I have always been passionate about English Language as a subject and feel that being able to speak English plays a crucial part in our daily lives.

I was intrigued to learn about the barriers to second language acquisition, so I signed up as an English Language Mentor on TimeBank’s Talking Together project.  I would like to help people from ethnic minorities gain confidence in using English in various contexts. My motivation to take part  is that being a Bangladeshi myself,  I would like to branch out and help those from my community and other ethnicities to progress with their English and be able to integrate with the wider society, whilst also gaining independence to fulfil a range of tasks outside of the home.               

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For my first volunteering trip, my colleagues and I took a group of students and ventured out to Moor Street Station. The journey was just four minutes from the starting point to the City Centre, yet most of the ladies didn’t know that this option of travel was accessible to them.

They were very nervous as many had not gone on a train before.  However as the day progressed, they learnt about departure and arrival times as well as the 24 hour clock system in order to read train timetables.  They also took the opportunity of asking the gentleman at the ticket office about train times, journey lengths, ticket types and prices. They were initially hesitant but once they did they were very proud of what they had achieved by simply asking a few questions. This really helped to build their confidence.

The Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum was the main attraction of the day. The students were able to learn about opening and closing times, exhibition costs (if applicable) and describing paintings and sculptures. The trip really helped to expand their vocabulary and learn new skills. And they thoroughly enjoyed their experience.

We later had lunch and they were able to order their own meals, talking in English with the staff. Their confidence had improved vastly compared to the beginning of the day. A few of the ladies said they would try the journey themselves again now they knew what to do.

Something that we take for granted like boarding a train is so invaluable to these learners – and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to know that I played a part in their learning and made a difference to their lives.  That is the biggest reward you could have as a volunteer.

If you'd like to know more about volunteering on Talking Together, take a look here.

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Employee volunteering isn't just for Christmas!

Like last year, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit shown by the employee volunteers I had the pleasure of working with over Christmas. The volunteers came from a range of companies; from global fashion brands to chemicals and marketing. They may have all come from different backgrounds and sectors but what united them was their openness to genuinely giving something back to the communities where they live and work.

This year was the first time we worked with the company City Index to get its employees volunteering.  City Index employees volunteered at four different Anchor care homes across five sessions of volunteering in London. Anchor is the largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for the over-55s in England. The City Index volunteers did a fantastic job interacting with the residents through activities such as Christmas card making and baking, as well as singing a few Christmas carols. The volunteers created a buzz around the homes, the residents loved seeing new faces, and the Anchor staff appreciated the support of volunteers to engage with the residents. It was an absolute pleasure working with the volunteers, and the Anchor staff are incredibly passionate about their work. It was inspiring to see all the fantastic work they do.

TimeBank also worked with a global fashion brand to help create sensory toys to be used by Blind Children UK (part of Guide Dogs), in their work with blind and partially sighted children. The sensory toys, such as sensory boards and umbrellas, all have different textures and materials to encourage stimulation and confidence for the children the charity works with. The employees from the company amazed us with their creative flair - in a matter of hours they had turned ordinary materials like brushes and make up bags into magical toys that will bring joy to lots of children and families across the country. The staff from Blind Children UK were so excited by the results they couldn’t wait to use them at their sessions later that day.

Once again, I was amazed by the efforts of employee volunteers to offer not only their time, but also their skills and experience to help others at Christmas. For TimeBank, it is not only a pleasure to work with the volunteers, but it is also rewarding to help the community partners we work with find such kind and talented volunteers.

But volunteering isn’t just for Christmas - charities need help all year round. The New Year is the perfect time of year to reflect on what we have and to help those less fortunate; it’s a perfect time to volunteer! There are a whole range of opportunities to get your employees volunteering this year - take a look at our Employee Volunteering pages to see how we can help.

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