Blog

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

Local volunteers are helping us to shape our language courses

Our Talking Together project offers informal and flexible language teaching to long-term UK residents who have little or no knowledge of English. 

The programme is fundamentally based on working collaboratively; with our delivery partners, who manage the processes of engaging with and supporting learners in close liaison with a project coordinator, all the way through to potential volunteers who are being trained to deliver the programme.

So we were all really excited to involve our first cohort of volunteers in shaping our super-intensive ‘train the trainer’ course for language trainers and to find out what they think.

We had a nice mixed bunch of volunteers and everyone was clearly motivated to get stuck into the content. The day was led by Alex from Elevation, who’s been a joy to work with and she delivered with aplomb. We had lots of fun, plenty of challenges and experienced a good chunk of minor anxiety as, in turn, we were each put on the spot and asked to deliver a session.

We kind of knew it already but now we could see that creativity, thinking on your feet and being able to truly respond from where people are, while keeping a good eye on the wider group, were all super-key qualities. We learnt a lot by participating as a team so when the "happy sheets" came out towards the end of day two we were already feeling confident and better informed about the challenges our volunteers will face. 

We were even happier when we saw the  feedback. Several great improvements were suggested and we’ll integrate them into the  next version, plus an overall aggregated score of 9.6/10! But we won’t be resting on our laurels … that remaining .4 score on the door is important to us.

So with our delivery partners all lined up and ready to go, next for us is ensuring the best possible matches with volunteers, scheduling the first set of pilot ‘learner courses’ and getting started. With pledges of more learners than we can probably manage at the moment we’re all excited at taking on what will probably be our biggest co-ordination challenge yet.

Want to get involved? Find out more about our Talking Together project here

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Southerly go back to school to inspire children to read

Staff from Battersea company Southerly went back to school on Friday to create an exciting reading corner at Falconbrook Primary School.

The creative content agency volunteered to transform a part of the school library into a castle complete with fairy lights and cushions, to encourage children at the school to read. They see volunteering as an ideal way to spend time together as a team – and give something back to their local community. 

Shelley Hoppe, CEO of Southerly, said: “We could have had a whip round in the office and contributed money to charity. But we wanted to use our creative skills to bond as a team, have fun and do something to make a big impact somewhere nearby that really needed it.”

Our chief executive Helen Walker joined the volunteers to help create the reading corner and take part in a film that Southerly are making about what the day achieved for local children.

What a transformation - the finished reading cornerLocal branches of Homebase and B&Q in Wandsworth very generously donated materials for the volunteers to use on the day. And as you can see from the photos, the finished result looks great!

We love organising employee volunteering challenges for companies that want to make a difference in the communities where they live and work. It was a real pleasure to work with Southerly as they are a great team of very creative and generous people. They really cared about making the best reading corner they could, and all this effort showed in the fantstic quality of the finished reading corner.

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Mental health carers - an unseen majority

Carers are often presented as a hidden healthcare workforce - something that is finally being recognised by the new GP carers' champions.

This is a tried and tested way of raising the profile of an issue within primary care, and is something that has been successfully done with GP specialists in mental health.

However, describing carers as a hidden healthcare workforce creates an image of an army of people providing physical care. This is only a partial picture. Carers Together supports large numbers of people and we were quite surprised to find the most likely reason that the cared for person needs care is mental health.

A carer isn’t just someone who performs the physical task of looking after someone - they also shoulder the burden of feeling emotionally responsible for that person. We can probably all empathise with those who have to get up and down throughout the night taking someone to the toilet, but it is perhaps more difficult to imagine the impact of years of worrying about a person. 

Imagine spending every evening worrying if someone is going to come home. Half anticipating a call from the police or the health service telling you your son, daughter or husband has tried to take their life. Imagine being told by a loved one that they feel unsafe to be around people; that they are too frightened to go outside; that their food is being poisoned or that they know that you hate them. Not every mental health issue produces these extreme scenarios but they do create specific difficulties for the carer.

Why? If someone has a physical problem the carer feels that the clinical treatment of that problem is the responsibility of a doctor. While the Government suggests this is true of mental health issues too, a carer’s experience can be very different. Mental health is still a Cinderella service, support is extremely varied and all too often comes nowhere near meeting the needs of those with mental health needs.

Unlike physical care, people, especially parents, feel responsible for the mental health of those they care for. The belief that if you could just do the right thing, the cared for person would be alright, can be psychologically crippling.

In addition if the central issue is mental health, life can be as chaotic for the carer as it is for the person suffering the condition.

Despite the emotional hardship there is little recognition of what carers for people with mental health issues are facing. Even within carers groups the difficulty in articulating the daily grind of looking after someone with a mental health issue means that there is a doubt about being a ‘real carer’. Our experience has told us that carers for those with mental health issues are crying out for help. Let’s hope they get it.

Find out about the support we offer to carers - both face-to-face and online - through our Carers Together project.

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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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