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

Internships: a twilight zone in the workplace?

Once considered the preserve of academia and the private sector, the use of unpaid interns is increasing in the voluntary and community sector. But it can bring problems:

  • With no legal definition of interns, no status in law and no consensus about what an intern is, they occupy a twilight zone in the workplace. Unpaid interns are not volunteers: their contribution is “incentivised” in so far as it is seen by many as an entry-point into employment with the same organisation, their time is not freely given and they are often expected to work the same hours and conditions as paid staff.
  • Some voluntary and community organisations use interns to deliver the work of a paid role, without having to pay a wage – often characterising this as a volunteering role. In addition to the unethical use of interns as an unpaid workforce, there is also a knock-on effect of reducing the number of new opportunities for those seeking their first paid role in the sector.
  • Under some circumstances they can be classed as workers (even if they are unpaid) and employers will be legally obliged to pay minimum wage. Their entitlement to the minimum wage has nothing to do with what they are called – it depends on the agreement or arrangement they have with their employer.

Ask yourself this: Do you have an unpaid intern who:

  • Has a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (that contract doesn’t have to be written)
  • Is rewarded (their reward does not have to be money – it could be a benefit in kind, training or the promise of a contract or future work)
  • They have to turn up for work even if they don’t want to (they have set hours and tasks).

If the answers is yes then that unpaid intern could well be seen as a worker under employment legislation.

The range and quality of opportunities available to interns varies significantly. While some will have fantastic experiences in rewarding roles and be well supported, others will find themselves in demoralising, unrewarding work with no clear outcomes or goals.

At TimeBank we will not support or provide unpaid internships and do not believe they can be considered volunteering. However, there are some circumstances where we would both provide and/or recognise paid internships.

When we involve interns in our work we will make sure that:

  • Internships are advertised in the same way as paid positions – in a fair, open and accessible way to ensure that all potential interns have the possibility to apply
  • The opportunity is time-limited, discrete piece of work, this could be a research opportunity, a consultation exercise, or a delivering a specific campaign
  • The principal beneficiary should be the intern and the opportunity should offer tangible benefits, for example as a pathway to full-time employment or further education
  • Interns are paid a fair living wage.

We’ve put together our thoughts on all aspects of volunteering in ‘What TimeBank Thinks’. Take a look and let us know if you agree!

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Meeting the emotional needs of care leavers

Starting Together is our mentoring project, matching volunteers with young female care leavers. Starting in Southwark in May 2013, we’ve now expanded to other London boroughs, offering more young women access to this great support.

Mentors meet the young women for around five hours a month for six months, offering them practical and emotional support as they make the transition to independent living.

Young people are particularly vulnerable when they leave care and the project aims to act as a preventative measure to long-term mental health difficulties. A recent BBC report highlights this vulnerability, stating that the ‘emotional needs of children who have been in care are not being well looked after’. 

The report focuses on a study by Action for Children which reveals that 'Most young people who have been in care continue to cope with the lasting impact of a traumatic childhood. They can suffer from depression and anxiety, on top of dealing with the challenges of living on their own for the first time. They tell us that too often they feel alone with these difficulties - even when they have been helped with the practicalities of transition and finding somewhere to live.'

It calls for better ways of meeting such children's needs and warns that support must be ongoing to prevent them from following 'chaotic pathways'.

One young woman who is currently benefiting from the support of a TimeBank volunteer is Sara who was matched with her mentor, Genevieve, in September. They have already developed a great relationship.

Genevieve is helping Sara to find work, obtain her theory driving licence and learn to live more healthily. Sara has said that Genevieve is ‘friendly, motivating and patient’. Genevieve has been equally positive about the experience, saying that Sara is a ‘lovely person to be around’.

If you’d like to refer a female care leaver, please contact me to start the referral process on 020 3111 0730 or at    

Alternatively, if you would like to become a volunteer on the project, I'd love to hear from you! You can find out more and complete an application form at, or contact me on the email address or telephone number above.

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That feeling of being in a strange land, not understanding the language

Peter is a volunteer English trainer on our Talking Together project in Birmingham, which offers informal language training and mentoring to long-term UK residents who have little or no knowledge of English. He says living in China brought home to him that feeling of being in a strange land, not understanding the strange noises coming out of people's mouths ...

Once, what feels like a lifetime ago a friend told me that my English was superb. Well, yes I retorted, so it should be - I am English after all. Au contraire said she, it's the way you explain things. I, in the manner of a youth, added the compliment to my burgeoning ego and filed it away under 'things to do should world domination fail' and carried on the business of being a boy of 19. 

University followed. As did jobs and travel. And jobs while travelling. One such job took in a bit of English teaching and eventually I decided to make a fist of that teaching thing in China. Why China? Well, why not? I couldn't speak the language and knew nobody but I was me and everything would surely go my way. Surely. So off I trotted back to college and after a few months I was qualified and in this strange beast of a country with a seemingly impenetrable language. 

After returning to Birmingham I still wanted to teach English to people who might understand this feeling of being in a strange land not understanding the strange noises coming out of people's mouths in the place of words. A friend of mine had just started volunteering with a charity called TimeBank. She seemed to have not had a bad time of it, so I applied.

I was invited for interview and then I was on a Talking Together English language training course with Elizabeth, who had a sublimely energetic teaching style. The training served as a good refresher and confidence builder and way of meeting some new folk. 

Training over, it was time to gird my loins and get back into the arena of learning. Said arena was a small place in Small Heath called The Bangladeshi Women's Centre, where I was to teach a group of Bengali men. A far cry from the bling-a-ding-ding offices of China and far more relaxed. 

Thankfully there was a syllabus in place so with a little tweaking off I popped. My Chinese experience had, it's fair to say, rather knocked my self-belief. However the centre was welcoming and my students a joy to work with. Always eager to answer questions and in time ask some of their own. Seldom on time but always eager to learn and test themselves, which was really refreshing. The majority were working and had been for a number of years but for whatever reason had not had the opportunity to engage in a conventional ESOL setting.  

All of them made progress over the coming months and as a group we developed a bond. Each with our individual experiences of life being brought to one spot to pursue some sort of linguistic exchange. And exchange we did, with lessons whizzed through, not whizzed through, tea drunk, biscuits dunked and tales of how in the old country there were six seasons and tigers too. 

And so, as is the nature of things - it finished. Half of the class are now on ESOL courses at a proper smells-of-teenagers college and one even found (with the assistance of one who shall remain nameless) some voluntary work. As for yours truly? The next challenge beckons back in the world of work ...

If you'd like to volunteer on our Talking Together project, we'd love to here from you. There's lots more information here.

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It's World Mental Health today - we're putting the spotlight on veterans' families.

Today is World Mental Health Day – so an ideal time to turn the spotlight on the thousands of ex-service men and women who are recovering from mental health issues – and the families who are struggling to support them.

Veteran: a person who has served in a military force, especially one who has fought in a war

There is a general perception that a veteran is a senior gentleman who fought in the World Wars, but in fact a veteran is any person - male or female - who has served any time with any of the Armed Forces be it the Army, Navy or RAF.

Many of the veterans we see are of varying ages and would often go unnoticed if you walked past them in the street. They don’t tend to shout about the time they served in the Forces.

However, through our Shoulder to Shoulder project we hear how their lives can  be particularly challenging. Last year 22,530 personnel left the regular Armed Forces. Over 27% will have a mental health disorder.

Some families battle every day to understand and deal with the consequences of a veteran’s mental health. Whether it’s a husband, wife, son, daughter, mum or dad who is going through a difficult time,  families can suddenly find themselves as carers and are just not equipped with the knowledge, tools and support to enable them to deal with it.

“I wish I knew how to deal with it”,  “I could tell he wasn’t right but I didn’t know how to help”, “I wish someone spent time with me to tell me how to cope with his mental health” are all things I have heard from families who have got in touch with our Shoulder to Shoulder Families project.  

So we are delighted that we’ve been able  to secure a FREE mental health first aid training session exclusively for families of any veteran from the West Midlands – whatever their gender or age. It is a two day training session being held on the 11th & 17th November 2014 in central Birmingham

Mental Health First Aid for the Armed Forces Community will help families gain a better understanding of both the military culture and mental health issues and in particular to:

• Spot the early signs of a mental health problem

• Feel confident helping someone experiencing a problem

• Provide help on a first aid basis

• Help prevent someone from hurting themselves or others

• Help stop a mental illness from getting worse

• Help someone recover faster

• Guide someone towards the right support

• Reduce the stigma of mental health problems

Contact Laura Davis if you’d like to find out more or to book a place - but please note that there are a limited number on the course. 

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What does TimeBank think?

How often do you sit down and decide “this is what I think about…….X”? I wonder if we made time to weigh up the arguments or read the literature about different topics how many of us would change our stance or our vote at the next election?

It’s all too easy to just ‘know what you think’ and stick with it, not question it or why you came to think that in the first place and perhaps assume that everyone knows that is what you think and why.

Where, you may ask, is all this going? It’s because at TimeBank we’ve done exactly that -  questioned what we think about key volunteering issues - where we stand as an organisation and as a staff team. In an ever changing landscape it’s vital sometimes to step back and see if what you are saying is still relevant and even still true and make sure everyone internally and externally knows that this is what we think and why.

Take, for example, the issue of the Help to Work scheme – the potential of losing benefits if you don’t volunteer – SIMPLE, it’s not volunteering. If you have to do it, it’s not volunteering. If you are going to lose something if you don’t do it, it’s not voluntary. We’ve gone through a number of topical issues and debated what we think and put them up on our website here – we’ll be adding to it as new questions enter the volunteering world so you’ll always know what we think and why.  

In essence at TimeBank we take quite a purist view of volunteering. We believe that people, as a general rule, enter into it not with an expectation of getting something back but of giving something back. Almost always volunteers get more out of it than they put in and often in ways they never imagined– increased confidence, greater understanding of a cause or issue, more empathy with a particular group of people, something on their CV that makes them stand out to an employer. BUT that isn’t necessarily their motivation for volunteering in the first place. The clue is in the name – it’s you voluntarily giving your free time to something that you care about in order to make a difference to society.  

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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 and

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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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