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

What we've learnt from the arrival of Mason ...

Recently a member of the TimeBank team came to talk to me about a volunteering opportunity he was considering and asked if I would approve it.

It was slightly odd that he should need my permission as we are a national volunteering charity which gives all our staff five days volunteering leave and pro-actively encourages people to volunteer.

But this was slightly different and I had no idea at the time the broader implications it might have on our organisation.  

Richard had seen a tweet from Guide Dogs for the Blind asking if someone wanted to trial a new flexible volunteering opportunity looking after a young guide dog in training.  So the volunteering question he asked me was whether he could have a dog in the office.

Now as it happens I’ve had dogs my entire life – the only reason I don’t currently is because my job would mean leaving it home alone for too long - so to say he was pushing at an open door would be an understatement. But what about the others in the office – there were all sorts of things to consider; fear of dogs, religious beliefs, dislike or even the smell! So I said I’d see how people felt about it – which I did.

However it set me thinking. If I’d appointed someone who was blind, and had a dog, to work in our organisation - and we have a very clear equal opportunities policy so it’s quite possible – I wouldn’t be asking the staff if they minded having a dog, I’d be telling them that the new staff member had a guide dog.  Of course we would consider all the issues mentioned above and move people around the office to accommodate any issues but it would be a no brainer. We’d just do it. So it was an important lesson for me and our staff to think about the broader implications of what we were doing.

It also underlined a message TimeBank is constantly putting out, that it is vital to provide flexible, impactful volunteering opportunities for people to take up. Guide Dogs want to be able to include people like Richard who work full time and can’t have a dog but who would be excellent temporary custodians of their trainee dogs. By being flexible and looking at how that might work this pilot is win win for the volunteer and the benefiting charity.   

So Mason, a black lab/golden retriever cross, arrived for his first day. We’d had guidance from Guide Dogs about not looking at him, or petting him or giving him treats but just ignoring him and letting him be a working dog. After the first few weeks he’s part of the furniture - he gets dropped off after his morning training, goes off for a couple of hours in the afternoon for more training and gets picked up in the evenings. He sits under a desk next to Richard and sometimes now we can go and say hello and give him a pat. But everyone just accepts him.

So I guess what we’ve got out of it, somewhat unexpectedly, is a lesson in diversity, in accepting the ‘unusual’ and being willing to try something new and an awareness of some of the challenges of being blind and the value a dog might have. 

All we are really doing is helping Mason learn to be in an office so he can be matched with someone who will work in an office. But somehow he’s changed us for the good and he’s become a regular member of the TimeBank team who we say good morning to. Unlike them he does tend to rock up and go to sleep at his desk – perhaps not the best example for his colleagues!

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'Having someone to talk to has really helped'

Our Carers Together project has been running for over a year now, and during that time we’ve matched some 70 carers across England to online mentors and 20 carers in Birmingham to face-to-face mentors.

The numbers seem great, but are we actually making a difference to the people we support and to those who volunteer their time? We thought one way to find out was to ask!

We interviewed a carer and a mentor from the online part of the project, to see how being involved with Carers Together has affected them. These are their stories:

Marie cares 24/7 for her daughter and explains how regular online contact with a mentor is helping her in her caring role

“I don't have anyone to talk to about caring. I find it very difficult to confide in family and friends as I feel as if I'm failing in my role or making a fuss. Having someone to talk to has really helped me have an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. Caring does make me feel lonely and isolated. My daughter and I are together 24/7, she is even taught at home by the local authority so there is no respite. We tend to stay at home as she finds going out difficult and it's just easier to stay in. My mentor suggested I make a note each day when I accomplish an important action such as a phone call or sending an email. This has been very useful to me in seeing the positives that I achieve each day. They have been able to signpost me to other organisations and I feel more confident about doing so. As a result of 'talking' to my mentor I have requested a carer's assessment which I think will really help me. I definitely feel less alone as there is someone who will listen to me and I won't be judged.”

Mike is a former carer who volunteers his time to work as an online mentor with Carers Together

“For the last 10 years I worked in a hospice where I organised carer support groups so I got to know a lot about the problems faced by carers. I also cared for my wife for some years when she had cancer. I felt that I understood, from these experiences, quite a lot about caring so when I retired I decided to continue to do something in the field. Caring can be very isolating emotionally because it can be difficult to talk about what is happening. Someone at the end of an e-mail can be very useful. I’m surprised how people are able to say very personal and intimate things in an e-mail that they might find difficult to say ‘face to face’. I get a sense that for some of them it’s a huge relief to be able to say things that are a real burden. I find it very rewarding that carers are able to trust me with difficult and personal details about the stresses they are facing. There are thousands of carers out there, many of whom feel lonely and uncertain about where to go for help. Often they think that they’re the only one with the problem but if you have been a carer you will know this isn’t true. You don’t need to be an expert, just willing to try to see things from their point of view and to share some of your experience.”

If you live in England and would like to be put in touch with an online mentor or volunteer your time to help other carers, contact the project on 0121 2362531, email carers@timebank.org.uk , or click here for more information.

We also offer face-to-face mentoring if you live in the Birmingham area. 

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Volunteering with TimeBank turned into a life-changing opportunity

Moira Dennison, a mentor on our Leaders Together project, jumped on a barge on the Thames one day ... and the rest is history. I asked her to tell us about her mentoring experience.

So there I was over a year ago sitting at my desk on a rare day in the office when  I came across TimeBank - I suspect I might have been trawling the Guardian jobs pages. Moving swiftly on ...I read the following: 

TimeBank runs Leaders Together - a London based mentoring project which matches leaders from small charities and social enterprises with senior professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds.   Sounded interesting so I clicked through and registered as a potential mentor and went through the process of being accepted and inducted. Then got caught up in organisational mergers and restructures and life trundled on till one afternoon I got a phone call with a potential match.  

Was I interested in mentoring a start up in the renewable energy sector which was based on a barge moored mid Thames.  Honestly - they had to ask? How on earth could I be anything but up for it. Though when I received the email confirming the initial meeting and it came with footwear guidance I did wonder what I'd let myself in for.

Still, clad in leopard print Converse (the nearest things to the 'specified' trainers I possess), I headed up to meet Helene from TimeBank who had arranged the meeting with Jay. Now I'd obviously googled him and the project and was more than excited and intrigued.  My background has been in health and social care but I'd been a long time supporter of environmental change and had been involved in a transition town initiative.

The prospect of clambering onto the rib and going to see November just increased  my enthusiasm - actually I'd been brought up on a river and was notorious for persuading a neighbour to lend me his canoe so I could row over to the weir.  I was five ... and couldn't swim. Safe to say my parents were unimpressed by my sense of adventure. 

Going through The November Project's presentation and business plan it felt that Jay and I could work together and I could help him plot out where he needed to go next.  Truth be told - Jay has an astonishing head for business.  We mapped out our mentoring agreement and milestones and review periods but it really became obvious that Jay could use some additional capacity  as well.  So I mentored and then helped out by taking on some of the work to be done.  And that was how it started.  

Fast forward and it's the start of  2014. The mentoring with TimeBank has finished - it was a six month project - but I'm not finished with The November Project.  During the summer I came on board ( wearing sensible footwear obviously) as a Director.  Without TimeBank I'd never have come across Jay and the November Project - and although I was the mentor I have learned so much from Jay and found out that the sector skills and experiences I've been building up for years were and are transferable into a very different arena.  

Sometimes, something that didn't seem hugely important at the time - a click of the mouse, filling in a form, volunteering for a few hours each month - turns into the most amazing life changing opportunity. I can't guarantee that's going to happen to everyone who volunteers with TimeBank - but if I hadn't clicked that mouse, none of this would have happened for me! 

If you'd like to get involved in Leaders Together, take a look here.

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Thanks to everyone who took part in our Shoulder to Shoulder project in London

As Shoulder to Shoulder London comes to an end, I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all of the mentors and mentees who participated.

Shoulder to Shoulder is a mentoring project for ex-service men and women recovering from mental health problems. The project aims to reduce social isolation and increase the potential for recovery through one to one mentoring.Our trained volunteer mentors offer practical and social support, sometimes just spending time together, doing activities and having a chat; other times encouraging mentees to think about the goals they would like to achieve and then helping them to work towards them. It’s completely led by the ex-service man or woman, which makes it not only empowering but tailor made to that individual, meaning that the outcomes achieved are meaningful for them.

To everyone who gave up their time to come to inductions, to training and to mentoring meetings; to all of you who gave your support, encouragement  and ideas to someone who needed a listening ear and a bit of guidance; to those who gave something new a try and faced challenges head-on… thank you! We really appreciate all the hard work and commitment that you have put in over the course of the project. We’ve had some fantastic outcomes so before I go I would like to share a few of them with you.

To date:

  • 160 mentees have been referred to Shoulder to Shoulder
  • 113 mentors have been inducted and trained
  • 76 matches have been made

We collected feedback from everyone who was willing and used it to assess the outcomes of mentoring. The resulting evaluation showed that mentoring can be a powerful tool in bringing about real lasting change for ex-service men and women with mental health problems.

In the course of their mentoring relationships, mentees’ social isolation decreased, and their overall wellbeing, including self-esteem, improved. It was found that mentees were starting to take responsibility for their mental health.

In addition to taking part in the mentoring project and attending meetings with their mentors, many mentees were exploring self-help approaches to their mental health, as well as engaging with some of the choices they were being offered in terms of different counselling services, choice of psychiatrist, levels of medication, and opportunities to take part in e.g. residential programmes and holidays.

Their ability to think optimistically about the future, both in setting goals, and in taking small steps towards their goals, improved over the course of the project. Living skills improved, particularly in relation to public transport, budgeting and exercise, and some had undertaken further training and started job hunting.

One of the best things about working on a project like this is that when a relationship comes to an end, you get to hear about all the great things that the mentor and mentee have achieved together. It can be challenging, of course, but when both parties put in the effort and genuinely get on, it can be really transformative. Here are a few quotes from people who participated in the project:

I realised that it’s just a case of getting out and doing things. [My mentor] has given me the incentive to do things and not give up.

I was in a really bad way before – I didn’t know what was going on with me but once the ball got rolling it was a breath of fresh air. I could easily talk to [my mentor] – she was honest, never judgemental and we got on really well. I felt really comfortable around her. She was the best person for me.

I had about 10 goals before, most of which were unrealistic but I now have come up with 5 realistic and achievable ones with [my mentor]’s help. She had lots of good ideas.

I just wanted to say I think you've run a really professional, welcoming and supportive programme fantastically well. You've given me great support and guidance when needed, so thanks!

My mentee and I have got on really well, and we plan to stay in touch afterwards. I hope I’ve brought something to the relationship, that my mentee has gained trust and confidence, realised that he’s not alone and that it is possible to move forward. From my point of view, it feels like a vital and life-changing project and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.  I’ll certainly be doing it again.

I had the pleasure of meeting a very decent and pleasant person who, for reasons out of his control, needed a bit of personal support, a listening ear, someone to confide in. To be able to help someone simply by having regular, monthly chats for a few hours was an easy win for me. I also thought that the training had been excellent, and that it was a good cause for me to invest a little time in.

And, finally, a piece of advice from one of our mentors for anyone who has just started mentoring someone with a mental health problem: “be patient, don’t expect too much, be consistently supportive and work with the person to help them deliver what they want – it’s all about them, not simply about delivering goals for the sake of it.”

So thanks again to everyone who took part. It’s been an interesting, rewarding and challenging three years, and we couldn’t have done it without you!

If you are interested in being a mentor or mentee we are still running Shoulder to Shoulder in Birmingham – please get in touch with Jane Davison at janed@timebank.org.uk, tel: 0121 236 2531

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Volunteering isn't just for Christmas!

TimeBank’s Christmas Party volunteering was a great success! We had unprecedented interest in the idea - and the BBC even came to film one company who turned their party into a communal gardening effort for vulnerable residents.    

It was wonderful to hear from so many employees interested in giving something back. So when I read the research conducted by nfpSynergy about Christmas Volunteering, it was great to see that they believe it has the potential for real growth.

From clearance work in a park in Waltham Forest (in December!), to packing Christmas presents for Samaritans Purse to be sent to children across the world, Christmas Party Volunteering certainly got lots of employees in the festive spirit. Volunteers spent quality time with each other, and gave their time to make someone else happy – surely these are the moments Christmas is all about. As a project coordinator it was a pleasure to organise each project and be with the volunteers to see how much enjoyment they got from giving something back to local communities.

The research from nfpSynergy confirms what TimeBank already knows, that volunteering can be part of everyday life, and volunteering at Christmas is a great place to start! It found that charities were the biggest recipients of Christmas volunteering time, ahead of churches and community organisations. A third of respondents felt that Christmas was a time of giving and ‘wanted to get into the festive spirit’. A quarter of Christmas volunteers said the holidays gave them more time to volunteer. The conclusions from the research suggest that charities could be missing out on potential volunteers over Christmas, which is a great shame when resources are increasingly be stretched.

But of course volunteering isn’t just for Christmas – it’s something that can be enjoyed all year round. I found a really useful post on Volunteer Match’s website with some great tips on how to keep your volunteers after the festive season. Suggestions include finding out about your volunteers’ motives for helping and how to make volunteering fit into people’s everyday lives, which our essential to recruiting and maintaining volunteers in your organisation. And we definitely agree!

At TimeBank, we hope that volunteering at Christmas will have given lots more people a taste of how rewarding it can be – both to employees and the companies which engage with us to get their staff involved in their local communities.  You can get an idea of just some of the benefits here.

So whether you’re an employee looking for a rewarding volunteering experience for your team or you’re an organisation looking for skilled volunteers please get in touch with me on 020 3111 0728, or email richardg@timebank.org.uk.

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We end 2013 on a volunteering high!

How is it Christmas already? 2013 seems to have whizzed away into the ether! Once again the TimeBank team spent yesterday volunteering for our Christmas party, this year gardening and then serving Christmas lunch, playing games and singing carols with older people at the Sundial Centre in Bethnal Green. It’s been some year – and we end it on a real high!

So in true tradition let’s look back on our highlights and look forward to the future - a luxury we have struggled to do for the last few years. January saw new staff coming on board in London and Birmingham, and the launch of our Carers Together project.  By February we’d started our Engage programme, supporting young people in Tower Hamlets who are not in education, employment or training. Then it was time to induct new members of our Board of Trustees – and by April we were trialling a new concept of Data Volunteering.

May brought our incredible employee volunteering day with CEB with 450 people volunteering in one day at nine London locations, which was a fabulous day for all of us.

Do you recall the long hot summer? We do! We launched our Shoulder to Shoulder evaluation report in Westminster right in the middle of Wimbledon – remember that?! A British man wins Wimbledon – are we really still in 2013?

In September I had the pleasure of judging the Third Sector Awards which was an inspiring opportunity to see the kind of things volunteers do day to day – it was hard to pick a winner.  During those sunny months we also developed our Christmas party volunteering package – we just knew that other people would want to do what we had done and volunteer in place of their party or alongside it. We launched it with the help of some brilliant Barclays graduates, themselves volunteering, in early September, and we have been overwhelmed by the response.

That month we also appointed more trustees and in the wider sector ivo.org were announced as the winners of the bid to run Do-it, the national volunteering database – a bid that we were a second tier partner in.

October brought the exciting news from the Department of Communities and Local Government that we had been awarded £1.12m to run a major new volunteering project, Talking Together, offering language teaching to long-term UK residents who have little or no knowledge of English. This will be a huge piece of work but it confirms that we are just as strong, innovative and passionate as we’ve always been, whatever challenges we’ve faced these last few years. It was heartening to receive so many messages of support and excitement from colleagues in the sector and beyond. Meanwhile we have not stood still. In November we were interviewed by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation to achieve approved provider status for our project The Switch, which works with young people with mental health issues. The news that we had received this status was announced just last week, showing once again the quality of our work. 

In addition we can announce funding from the Lloyds TSB Foundation to pilot a project for families of ex-service men and women with mental health issues in Birmingham. We’ve expanded Engage so we can support more unemployed young people in London.  This week we’ve appointed five new staff in Birmingham to run Talking Together, who will join the TimeBank team in January. And we’ve signed the lease on a new larger office there.

I’m exhausted just remembering it all! But none of it would have happened without you, our phenomenal volunteers, our amazing staff team and trustees and our funders – so this is my chance to say THANK YOU – for being there through good times and bad, for knowing TimeBank does a great job, on time, to target and on budget and that we always put our beneficiaries first.

We simply cannot wait to get started again in 2014. In the meantime we are taking a little break to enjoy the festive season, recharge our batteries and get ready for the next leg of our journey in the volunteering world – so Happy Christmas and have a wonderful New Year. 

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Brilliant news - our mentoring project The Switch has achieved APS status

If you were in the TimeBank offices last week you would have heard a sudden declaration of: "We got APS!"

A statement that may initially cause bafflement begins to make sense when associated with the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation Approved Provider Standard or APS for short.

APS is the national quality standard specifically designed for mentoring and befriending projects. It consists of 12 elements which focus on the key management and operational areas that underpin the effectiveness of any mentoring or befriending project. In order to achieve APS, projects are required to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of each element. 

And this is exactly what we achieved at TimeBank with our mental health project The Switch. Starting life in April 2012, The Switch matches young people aged 16-18 who are leaving Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services with volunteer mentors who help build their self-esteem and confidence by spending time with them, doing everyday things like going for coffee, enjoying a hobby or preparing to get a job.

The Switch has followed the footsteps of other TimeBank mental health mentoring projects, such as Back to Life - which was awarded APS back in 2010 – by receiving this important recognition as a high quality mentoring project.

The road to achieving APS has been long and we have faced challenges, as well as triumphs. As one of the many practitioners supporting vulnerable people, I understand the emotional toil it can take. You share in the achievements and growths of your participants and volunteers, which also means you share in their lows and setbacks.

I therefore strongly believe that applying for awards and accreditations such as APS is not only important for raising the profile of the project, encouraging further funding and identifying areas for development, it’s also a terrific confidence boost for everyone involved in the project.

The final APS report states that, “The Switch project has demonstrated its ability to deliver a high quality project through the development and use of effective systems and processes alongside the hard work of its staff, volunteers and service users.”

The project was particularly praised for its impact on its mentors and the young people they supported. “The mentors reported that by taking part in the project they have gained personal satisfaction by helping others who need it, developed patience and confidence. One of the volunteers described feeling proud when their mentee went to college.”

Young people who took part in The Switch said they were “gaining confidence in going out”; that the mentoring “made me feel alive and happy” and “made me feel like I have my life back again.”

At TimeBank we are ecstatic to start the Christmas holidays with such good news and would encourage other mentoring and befriending organisations to look into gaining this formal recognition. For more information take a look at the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation website. It also runs FREE APS briefing events across the country, which are great way to find out more and ask specific questions. 

Merry Christmas!

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Be the gift this Christmas!

This year we’ve launched Christmas party volunteering and it has been a tremendous success! The response has been phenomenal and many generous employees across the UK have decided to shake up their usual Christmas party by giving something back through volunteering.  They’ve made a choice to do something a little different, knowing it can make a big difference to someone’s life.  

Last Friday I was fortunate enough to work with one of those companies who wanted to give something back this Christmas. Vertex Pharmaceuticals volunteered with Samaritans Purse to help with its Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal. The team helped at one of Samaritans Purses’ temporary warehouses in north London, helping to check and fill shoeboxes full of gifts ready to be shipped to children in Belarus.

There are more than 25,000 orphans and vulnerable children growing up without parental care in Belarus. An estimated 7,000 live in bleak orphanages – including 1,000 children under the age of three who live in 10 baby orphanages.

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The volunteers’ help was invaluable as the OCC campaign is a massive operation and relies on the help of volunteers and donations of gifts each year to make it a success, and to give lots of joy to millions of children across the world who receive the shoeboxes.

The volunteers from Vertex Pharmaceuticals did a fantastic job on Friday.  They got stuck into their tasks straight away, checking and filling shoeboxes, as well as loading the boxes ready to be shipped with great care and attention. These are simple tasks, but by giving their time the volunteers ensured they’ll be putting a smile on lots of children’s faces this Christmas.  The volunteers spent quality time with each other, and gave their time to make someone else happy – surely these are the kind of moments Christmas is all about!

Merry Christmas!

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