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

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, 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

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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 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.


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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The Advent of Treats - looking after your wellbeing

The coffee cups have turned red, TV adverts are reducing us to tears and every spare bit of land has been turned into an ice rink. This can only mean one thing … it’s Christmas!! 

It may be the season of joy and jolliness for some of us, but not for all. For many it can feel as if the financial worries, family tensions, relationship problems, grief and trauma that we cope with all year combine forces to hit us in one ridiculously large bow wrapped package come December. So I’m going to talk about the ‘Advent of Treats’ and suggest some ways to improve wellbeing and look after yourself during the Christmas period.

The Advent of Treats began life last winter as a way to combine my passions for crafting, my love of Christmas and my constant desire to treat myself. The core idea is to adapt an Advent Calendar to include 25 different ways you can treat yourself – one each day in the run up to Christmas. Whether you’re at work, 50 miles from home or in a bad financial place, there should be a way you can give yourself a little ‘pick me up’. Looking after your mental health and wellbeing doesn’t have to take hours, cost a fortune or affect your responsibilities.

One in four of us are living with a mental health problem. For many people dealing with depression, anxiety and isolation, Christmas can really heighten these feelings. Last Christmas the Samaritans received around 15,000 calls to their helpline every day. 

There is a very simple and effective way to give yourself a daily treat and boost your mental health – using ‘The Five Ways to Wellbeing’ model. Developed by the New Economics Foundation (nef) from evidence gathered in the UK government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing, The Five Ways are a set of simple actions we can do in everyday life to promote wellbeing.

These actions are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give:

  • Connect …

With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them.

  • Be active …

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy; one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

  • Take notice …

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are on a train, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

  • Keep Learning …

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, as well as being fun to do.

  • Give …

Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and will create connections with the people around you.

I hope I’m able to inspire others to create their own ‘Advent of Treats’ and to think about the little things in life that help to make you feel better. To start your thinking I will list a few treat suggestions and ways to play the game.  But whether you take up the treat challenge or not, I do implore you to think about your own mental health and ways in which you can improve your wellbeing. From picking up the phone and calling an old friend, to taking a walk and enjoying the view, we can all do things everyday to make us feel better.

Suggested treats:

  • Enjoy a glass/mug of a favourite beverage you don’t have every day
  • Eat a favourite food 
  • Be active … or if you exercise every day, your treat could be a day off!
  • Hug someone 
  • Make contact with someone you haven’t spoken to for a while
  • Enjoy a really long catch up with a friend
  • Give someone an unexpected bunch of flowers
  • Make a Christmas card for someone
  • Watch a favourite tv programme
  • Listen to a favourite album
  • Find out about something new
  • Look through a memory box/photo album
  • Read for an hour
  • Visit a famous landmark

How to play:

Just think of 25 treats that work for you. Be creative, ask people for help, adapt your plans and make new discoveries. And remember that the point is to enjoy yourself, so don’t stress out in order to fit in a treat! The idea doesn’t only have to fit the Christmas Advent Calendar – it can work at any time of year. Maybe do 31 treats in January when things are dark and gloomy. Or even 365 days of the year. It’s not the packaging that’s important but taking little steps to improve your wellbeing.

Becky is project co-ordinator for The Switch, TimeBank's volunteer mentoring project to support young people making the transition from children's to adult mental health services. 

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Helping small charities to raise funds

Leaders Together is a project designed to help small charities and social enterprises in London to become more sustainable by matching them with mentors and also giving them free training courses at the TimeBank offices.

A month after our first session about fundraising we returned, with a few new guests, to sit back down and learn about approaching local businesses.

There are many different fundraising methods out there, but talking to people in the community seems the hardest to do. Donations from individuals ok - but what about that local business that just opened around the corner or the coffee shop where you’ve bought your pastries for years?

It is scary and it can go wrong - but it can also go very right and you have not only created a possible income for your organisation, but made your community involvement greater by increasing your supporter base.

To do it right, we tried to draw up some kind of step by step explanation to put five hours of role playing and brainstorming into perspective:  

Step 1: Research your target business

Find out everything about them. You need to know if they have ever supported a charity, and have the time, the capacity and the money for it. Secondly, you need to find out who the decision makers are. That might be one person, a group of employees or stakeholders. Whoever it is, that's who you need to sweep off their feet.

Step 2: Ask the right questions

You did your research, so now you know everything there is to know about the company. You're ready to ask the right questions - informed questions that show you have done your research and that you are serious about working with them.

Step 3: What is in it for me- WITFM

As much as you need to know what you can gain from partnering up, you need to know AND tell them what benefits they will gain. Whether it is volunteers you are after or money, you can tell them that if they work with you, they can polish their image, give back to the community, develop employee skills or help with employee retention.

Step 4: Protect your image

Your research should have shown you if the company you are trying to approach has a bad reputation. You don’t want your own image to get hurt. If you find out that the company you are approaching is obviously not interested (mind body language) while you are having the meeting - leave graciously. Thank them for their time and make sure they remember you as that ‘nice person with great ideas’ even if they couldn’t help.

Step 5: Closing the deal

Imagine everything went alright; you like them, they like you and you are about to leave the room. Make sure you have the next meeting already scheduled, ask them how long it will take for them to make a decision and what you need to do in the meantime. Exchange all possible names, mails and telephone numbers to stay in contact and thank them for their time.

If you need help making your charity sustainable or know a social enterprise that could benefit from Leaders Together, do give us a ring or drop me an email at The fundraising training session will now be accompanied with a monthly coffee morning at the TimeBank London office, open for all questions on fundraising, including bid writing and reporting. The sessions are available to all Leaders Together participants.

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The Government has backed TimeBank to deliver a major new language project

Today we are in the hugely exciting position of announcing our success in being awarded a grant of £1.12m by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

This is to run a brand new project to support long-term UK residents with little or no knowledge of English, by offering a variety of engaging, informal and flexible English language learning opportunities, together with mentoring in essential skills such as IT, employment and access to health and other services.

This is a huge project. We’ll be recruiting and training 70 volunteers to support around 1,300 residents – many of them women – in practical language skills that will enable them to do vital, everyday things like visiting the doctor or communicating with their children’s school. Our volunteers will train other volunteers, so that way we’ll build in sustainability.

And it’s a vital project. 60% of people believe that not speaking the language is the biggest barrier to integration.

We’ve called it Talking Togetherbecause quite simply, using our innovative volunteer-led model, its goal is to empower people to talk together, to be part of the wider community and to flourish and develop in the environment in which they live. Our project will be based in the Midlands – adding to our already flourishing projects in the area.

It is simply fantastic news for TimeBank and the very nature of the bid (which includes an enhanced version of our social franchise model originally developed for our very first mentoring programme Time Together) shows that we have constantly learnt and evolved as an organisation. We know just how much volunteers can and want to deliver given an interesting, challenging and well managed opportunity to do so.

It shows that our reputation for delivering quality, innovative and impactful projects on time, to target and on budget is not only intact but soaring! Those of you who regularly read our blog will know that TimeBank has had a challenging couple of years – but we’ve focussed on what we’re good at, continued to deliver what we say we will and believed passionately in what we were doing and the importance of supporting our beneficiaries. Today’s news only endorses this belief.

We have many people to thank for helping us on our journey so that we were able to pitch for such an ambitious project including our staff team, trustees, volunteers and funders so a big shout out to all of them. There is of course much to do to get a project of this size and complexity off the ground and we’ll be working hard in the coming weeks to do so.  I’ll keep you regularly updated as we do - but today we might just allow ourselves a little celebration!

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