Blog

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

You don't have to be Sir Richard Branson or Lord Sugar to be an effective business mentor!

Alice, a volunteer mentor on our Leaders Together project, describes how the experience has benefitted her too. 

Back in 2012, I approached one of the directors at work to be my mentor. I am pleased to say that this is still continuing and that he has been a constant source of help, support and ideas. He has also inspired me to become a mentor too, as I really wanted to find a volunteering opportunity that allowed me to ‘give something back’ and help someone.

So I was delighted to find out about TimeBank’s Leaders Together project, which matches volunteer mentors with small charities and social enterprises in London, to help them work more efficiently.

Leaders Together matched me with Aminul, who works with Al Isharah, a small charity which supports deaf Muslims.  Working with him has been a fantastic experience and something I am so pleased I embarked on. Whilst I hope that I have shared some of my personal experiences and learning’s with him for his benefit, I personally have learnt a great deal from Aminul too as he has also reciprocated and shared his experiences with me too.

At first I felt I was under-qualified to become a mentor. For some reason, I had it in my head that I needed to be a mini version of Richard Branson or Alan Sugar to meet the criteria of being a mentor. However this experience has taught me otherwise. Mentoring is about sharing your experiences and ideas with your mentee to help give them a fresh or different perspective of something. It’s certainly not about giving them the right answer or telling them what to do. The fact that I was able and willing to give advice from my personal related experiences provides me with part of the qualification to be a mentor!

Learning from Aminul has meant that I have too benefited from the mentoring relationship. It has also helped me boost my confidence, communication skills and the ability to ‘put myself out there’ and meet new people, which if we are honest with ourselves, is a little scary! Meeting someone new, striking up a relationship instantaneously and sharing your views in a confident and comprehensive manner is a skill that I have enhanced now through our successful mentoring relationship.

For me the TimeBank project of matching mentees and mentors has been excellent. Aminul was looking for a mentor to support him in his volunteering capacity at a local charity, event management and assistance in managing volunteers. With my previous experience of volunteering in an events management setting and managing over 100 volunteers in my paid position, I feel that TimeBank has matched us well.

What now?

The six month project worked so well for us, we have decided to continue for another six months to the end of the year, with one meet up a month. I am more than happy to do this as it isn’t really a lot of my time, I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to help and support another like minded individual, plus let’s not forget that I probably have a lot more to learn from Aminul too!

 Alice Dartnell, Development manager and project manager for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, writes at lifehack.org and  yoursuccesstoolkit.blogspot.co.uk

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I can finally tell the doctor what's wrong with me ...

Katie Bennett, one of the volunteers on our Talking Together project, tells us how it is changing women's lives - including her own.

Having been a stay at home mum for two years, I had lost a lot of confidence and developed serious baby brain! Having completed a CELTA  (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) qualification, I had found it hard to find any decent teaching work to put what I had learned into practice.

Then I found the Talking Together project at TimeBank. After an informal and friendly interview, I completed the training which was interesting, informative and fun!! As a trainer you are given basic lesson plans which you can adapt as you get to know your learners' interests – the more confident I became, the more I was able to put my imagination into the lessons. For instance, setting up shop with real food items and using skeletons to teach body parts.

The women I taught at the Women’s Bangladesh Centre were of different ages and had different home situations, but all lacked confidence when it came to speaking English. Some ladies were extremely shy but as time went on, I watched them all grow in confidence and become friends – this was incredibly rewarding to see and I was sad to say goodbye to them at the end of the 12 weeks, but very proud.

To boost the students’ morale I contacted Councillor Nawaz Ali who agreed to present certificates to the students at the end of their course. I believe this helped give the students the confidence they deserved. The feedback from the students included ‘..the lessons gave me peace,’ and ‘I can finally tell the doctor what’s wrong with me.’

Hearing this has confirmed to me what a worthwhile project Talking Together is and why I will continue to teach lessons until they tell me to stop! Personally, the experience has given me confidence and new skills and I now have several job interviews lined up. My advice if you’re interested… Go for it! 

If you're interested in volunteering on our Talking Together project in Birmingham and Leicester, take a look here and call us on 0121 236 2531 if you'd like to know more.

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Are children's mental health services stuck in the dark ages?

Children's mental health services have been much in the news this week. The Guardian reported how 18 year old Ben Cowburn killed himself in an adult psychiatric unit after suffering a severe mental illness. Ben was being cared for in an adult unit because in Cornwall, like several other areas, there is no specialist provision for children or adolescents. 

The paper also reported the scandal of putting mentally ill children into police cells, quoting Dr Sarah Wollaston, the chair of the Commons health select committee, that  it was "wholly unacceptable" for under-18s who are picked up by the police because they are having a breakdown to be taken into cells rather than to a specialist medical unit.

She said: "It would be unthinkable for someone who had a broken leg, for whom there was no place to assess them in casualty, to be taken to a police cell."

Yesterday the BBC reported that care and support minister Norman Lamb is launching a task force to modernise the provision of psychiatric help for children. He says they are "stuck in the dark ages" and "not fit for purpose".

At TimeBank we recognised some time ago the challenges that young people find when they make the transition from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS) or indeed leave NHS mental health services altogether.

We also recognised that where they are funded, CAMHS provide an excellent service to young people and often go above and beyond to ensure they get support once they leave them. It was in consultation with these clinicians that we developed The Switch, a volunteer mentoring project that aims to support those young people leaving CAMHS between the ages of 16-18. The Switch matches these young people to a volunteer mentor to support them through this challenging transition.

The change from child and adolescent to adult services can be extremely difficult to negotiate. A Young Minds Study in London found that only 4% of young people reported a good transition.  For many, it's the sudden switch to 'adulthood' that can be most difficult to manage. Overnight you can go from being an adolescent and having CAMHS, schools and/or social services involved in your care and liaising with your family - to the expectation of managing your own appointments and care. Many simply aren’t ready to do that and fall foul of the system. When the system isn’t even there as these recent reports have shown, it’s all too easy for the worst case scenario to happen.

Volunteering to support a young person with a mental health problem isn’t an easy volunteering opportunity but it’s an extraordinarily rewarding one – the sure and certain knowledge that you have been there for someone when no one else has.  Simply by chatting to a young person over a coffee or going to the gym together you’ve provided an outlet or a structure that empowers them to move on to the next phase of their life. That is incredibly satisfying. It also teaches people about the reality of mental health problems, breaks down barriers and broadens understanding.

It’s innovative and impactful solutions like this that the Government should be looking to in order to complement the professional services and indeed take pressure from them where they don’t exist or if they are failing to meet demands.

If you’d like to volunteer for The Switch, take a look here and get in touch. We’d be delighted to hear from you. 

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Time to say goodbye

After a year and a bit at TimeBank, it’s time for me to say goodbye and introduce you to Sam, the new project co-ordinator for Leaders Together.

I’ve had a great time meeting all these really smart and passionate leaders of London’s social enterprises and charities, just as much I enjoyed meeting the inspiring mentors who are making Leaders Together such a successful project.

Four significant factors have made Leaders Together a very important project: firstly, there are lots of inspiring and passionate people who want to do good and help society. Unfortunately, some of these organisations have limited capacity and would love a mentor to brainstorm and plan with.

Secondly, there are lots of amazing people out there who like giving back by mentoring to support leaders of charitable organisations and without them and their input this project wouldn’t work.

Thirdly, TimeBank offers workshops to help develop various skills, like effective fundraising or publicity. Mentors and mentees pose questions and tell us what they want to learn about so we can design a course that is useful and effective for everyone involved.

Last but not least, it’s networking events that gets our mentors and mentees talking. They are  a good chance for our leaders to meet, widen their networks and have a fun time celebrating their milestones.

In the past year there have been several of these for Leaders Together:

  • 81% of mentees felt that their organisational leadership had improved while on the project
  • Out of 70% of mentees who signed up to improve their fundraising, 60% secured more funding
  • 91% of mentees said they achieved what they wanted during their mentoring period
  • 85% of mentors say that their understanding of issues faced by small charities and community organisation has increased

Two of our mentors also have decided to take on a more permanent role with their mentee organisations. One is now on the board of directors while Moira jumped on a barge one day and ended up as director of the November Project (read her story here)

These are great results, and we hope Leaders Together will give many more social enterprises and charities the chance of realising their potential.

What you can expect from us this year:

Leaders Together is matching more pairs this year. If your organisation would like to receive support, or you would be interested in volunteering as a mentor, take a look at our website.

I leave you in excellent  hands. If you have any questions about the project call Sam on 0203 111 0726 or email her at leaderstogether@timebank.org.uk

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Ex-Service men and women from our Shoulder to Shoulder project had a great day volunteering

The Shoulder to Shoulder (S2S) project spent a day at Birmingham project, Ackers Adventure, a vast 70 acre site in the heart of the city.

Veterans who have been regularly attending the S2S Drop-in signed up for a day of volunteering, after a successful volunteering day in the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum earlier in the year.

The Ackers is a busy outdoor activity centre and natural space open to the public. It has a military past however, having previously been the home of the Birmingham Small Arms Company which made munitions for both the First and Second World Wars.

214 The centre relies on groups of volunteers to maintain the natural space so Dave, the activity manager at The Ackers, soon got us to work digging a trench to improve water flow into the pond within the conservation area.The expert team workers made swift work of the task, which has made a big impact on the natural environment, creating an island for breeding wildlife. 

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It was my second visit to The Ackers, having first visited with a staff team from employee benefits company Edenred on Global Impact Day, when companies invest time in their local communities.

Veterans volunteering days have developed through our busy monthly Drop-in where veterans and their families are able to find out about services available to them through talks and information. Volunteering is one of the options we offer through the Drop-in by organising days like these, getting the local Volunteer Centre (BVSC) along to the Drop-in, as well as other agencies, so they know what opportunities are out there that could offer a step up.

One regular attendee found out about the Thrive Gardening project after he met the Coordinator at our Drop-in. He’s now working towards a City & Guilds Qualification in Horticulture and begins a Woodland Management course in the autumn. He also worked on Birmingham City Council's gold medal winning garden at the Chelsea Flower Show and spent the week at the show. Calling in to the Drop-in has opened doors to other opportunities and who knows what’s next?

After a morning of hard graft on a hot August day the group took advantage of the outdoor activities on offer at the centre, with a light-hearted archery competition (not sure who won in the end!) followed by a paddle on the canal.

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For more information about the Shoulder to Shoulder project and our monthly Drop-in, take a look here or contact Jane, the Project Coordinator janed@timebank.org.uk

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That's why I volunteer!

Bob, a volunteer on our Talking Together project in the West Midlands, told us about the impact that volunteering had on him and the joy he felt that it could change lives:

Recently I volunteered to teach 12 introductory English lessons over six weeks at Jetshop in Aston. Fired by high octane enthusiasm and lower octane capability I set about delivering what I hoped would be the students' first steps towards a mastery of the English language. Well ok, competency maybe. Halfway through the course I was beginning to have some serious doubts. Despite my best efforts, unfailing energy and internationally adaptable sense of humour (a smile is the same in every language right?) I appeared to be making very little headway. 

One student in particular seemed to be struggling with the work and with what appeared to be a crippling shyness whenever I tried to coax a response from her. With some one-to-one work and lots of praise and reassurance she began to blossom. She practised constantly at home and soon became the star pupil of my little group.

I suppose that it's only natural to feel a certain sense of pride in seeing someone who you are teaching begin to flourish academically. But for me the real sense of achievement, the real joy in fact, was seeing the huge change in her self-confidence that learning some basic spoken English could produce. I don't think it is an understatement to say that for her the course was a life changing event.

She wasn't the only student to improve of course but she is the one I will remember because of how she made me feel. I felt I had done something truly valuable and worthwhile.

That is why I volunteer!

If you'd like to get involved in our Talking Together project in Birmingham and Leicester, take a look here.

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Skills-based volunteeering is great for local communities and volunteers

TimeBank has worked with EE since 2012 to deliver a digital skills employee volunteering programme nationwide. Our partnership began in 2006 when TimeBank started to provide T-Mobile’s employee volunteering programme, and over the years it has evolved towards skilled-based volunteering.

As part of this we’ve delivered fun and informal events such as Techy Tea Parties when EE employees show older guests how to make the most of technology and the internet over a cuppa!

Skills-based volunteering is a great way to connect with people most in need in your local community. The employee volunteers from EE support people who cannot get help from anywhere else, even their family. One guest who attended a Techy Tea Party in Merthyr, who said: “My volunteer was very helpful and patient (unlike my son!). I would recommend it”. And sharing your skills can boost other people’s confidence in learning new things, like one of the guests who attended a session in Paddington, who said: “I am confident in the future to use the internet instead of relying on other people”.

Sharing skills doesn’t just help people in the community; it also has significant benefits for employee volunteers. Whilst volunteering employees can develop leadership, decision-making and negotiation skills while making a genuine difference in the communities where they work. “It is a great feeling knowing you have helped someone, but to do it face to face is even more rewarding. This is such a fantastic thing we do and I hope it continues every month,” said one of the volunteers. That feel good factor is hard to beat!

We are working with EE to help deliver EE National Techy Tea Party Day onSeptember 9 at their offices across the country. If you would like to attend a Techy Tea Party and talk one to one with the EE volunteers, please email richardg@timebank.org.uk or call 020 3111 0728. There will be morning (10 am – 12 pm) and afternoon (2 pm – 4 pm) sessions, but spaces are limited so do get in touch soon if you are interested. We are helping at the following locations: Bristol, Doxford (Sunderland), Greenock, Hatfield, Merthyr Tydfil, Paddington, Plymouth.

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Telling the world what it really means to be homeless

At our Leaders Together project, we match small London charities and social enterprises with business mentors, and offer workshops on different issues. Last week I had a great time talking to a group of resourceful young people about how effective communications could help to promote their projects, and I was truly inspired to hear about the innovative work they are doing.

Farah Mohammoud is co-founder of You Press, a youth-led agency in East London that works to explore and promote the opinions of young people.

One of its most powerful projects brought together two often neglected groups in society today; the homeless and young people. The result was ‘One Story, Our Voice’ in which individuals from both these groups were able to tell the world what it really means to be homeless.

Farah tells how the project came about:

From my research I found that 1 in 10 people say they have been homeless at some point in their life.  Last year 113,260 people in England informed their local council that their status was homeless, an 11% increase over two years.

I felt compelled to do something to give voice to the unheard stories and experiences of homeless people. I’ve always been interested in the art of storytelling and the impact that it can have on people. I come from a Somali background and in my culture storytelling and poetry is the method through which we pass on our history. Before the civil war poetry was one of the most powerful methods of communication used to inform people to tackle social issues.

Along with this I noticed how popular poetry and spoken word events were in London, particularly among young people. This inspired me to tap into this market and bring together young poets and musicians to empower those homeless individuals who are often vulnerable and socially excluded from society.

The idea behind One Story, Our Voice, was to give homeless people a creative platform through which they could express themselves. Despite having no resources, through a variety of avenues including a partnership with Caritas Anchor House, a residential and life skills centre for single homeless people, the idea developed to become a community interest project involving over 40 people including 10 homeless people, 14 talented poets, spoken word artists, musicians and 20 volunteers that also included filmmakers, photographers and a DJ.

We organised seven workshops in East London where homeless people worked with the creative artists and decided how they wanted their stories to be told.

The project culminated in a high profile, youth enterprise-initiated event at Spotlight in Tower Hamlets - a mix of poetry readings, spoken word and musical performances which were borne out of the collaboration between the homeless people and artists involved in the project.

Homeless people often live chaotic and isolated lives and so working toward the event in a positive environment empowered them. It not only helped to build their confidence but it also increased their employability skills by supporting them in rediscovering and developing their soft skills. In fact during the project two homeless young people found employment. It was also wonderful to see the impact this had on the artists and the way in which they were able to turn the stories shared with them into powerful poems and music that not only challenged the perception of homeless people but also educated the audience that homelessness can happen to anyone at any time. 

You can find out more about You Press here: http://weareyoupress.blogspot.co.uk or by emailing Farah

And if you'd like to get involved in our Leaders Together project, take a look here.

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