Blog

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

Engaging with ex-service men and women on Remembrance Day

TimeBank’s Shoulder to Shoulder project in Birmingham has recently started up a monthly drop-in for ex-service men and women to find out more about the mentoring that we offer, and to have a coffee and a chat with other veterans.

On Monday November 11 - Remembrance Day - we'll hold the next drop-in, the third since we set it up in September, so veterans will be able to drop in informally for a coffee and a chat on this day of remembrance for service personnel who gave their lives in the First World War and in conflicts since.

Shoulder to Shoulder offers one to one mentoring support to ex-service men and women who have had difficulties adjusting to civilian life and are recovering from mental health problems, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.

The project is delivered by TimeBank, which has 13 years’ experience of delivering effective mentoring projects, in partnership with the Royal British Legion and leading veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.

On average 20,000 service men and women leave the Armed Services every year. 27% experience mental health problems - 20% as a result of traumas during active service, which have a lasting and devastating impact on their lives.*

The problems that such veterans face are complex and they can spiral, potentially leading to serious drink and drug problems, physical health problems, relationship breakdown, homelessness and offending.

Leaving the military is a huge culture shock, as the structure, hierarchy and comradeship of military life is left behind and the uncertainties of civilian life are confronted. This is a jolt for many but for those dealing with mental health difficulties it is much harder to adjust and progress into the future.

Having a mentor creates the opportunity for a veteran to meet regularly with someone who understands, is an objective listening ear and can offer practical support so the veteran can address some of the difficulties they are having, whether it is with benefit forms, getting out of the house more, or trying to find work.

Shoulder to Shoulder is repeatedly recognised as a valuable and vital service for veterans but it’s not always easy for them to get involved, considering the difficulties they might be having. This is why we have set up the drop-in so that a veteran can call in informally and find out more about what we can offer over a coffee, without signing up. It’s also an opportunity to meet other veterans who’ve experienced similar problems.

We also recognise the difficulties that partners and close family members supporting a veteran can have and the impact it has on the whole family, so we are offering the same mentoring and drop-in service to partners and close family members as well.

Shoulder to Shoulder takes referrals for veterans & their families from across the West Midlands.  For more information about the Drop in and Shoulder to Shoulder mentoring take a look here or contact Jane, the Project Coordinator on 0121 236 2531, email janed@timebank.org.uk

* Mental Health Network NHS Confederation briefing November 2010, issue 210.

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Recruiting new trustees is a challenging task, but it's vital to get it right

It’s Trustees Week and in a super timely fashion TimeBank was able to announce the appointment of three new trustees to strengthen our Board

Recruiting trustees is always a challenging task – as with appointing staff, it’s absolutely key to make sure that you have the right person with the right skills, prepared to do the job and stick with it.

We’ve been very lucky in recent years as we’ve sought to refresh our Board on an on-going basis – we always do a skills audit first to see what we have already and as the charity has evolved, which new skills we need. We then go out and target those skills and it doesn’t have to cost money – social media, circulating information as far and wide as you can through contacts, volunteers, staff,  other trustees, our own website and useful free sites like ivo.org as well as specialist ones like TrusteeWorks, Trusteenet and Trusteehome.

You have to make sure your advert is inspiring and your paperwork informative and engaging. If it’s dull and dry that’s how people think the Board will be and let’s face it we’ve all come across dull and dry Boards in our time! We then interview as many candidates as we can and I’m involved along with the chair and another trustee as personality plays an important  part and it’s vital we can all work well together.  

Induction is next on the list. It’s comprehensive and in several parts – a formal day with financial and legal responsibilities (our auditors and lawyers are fantastic and do a slot for free), business plan, brand guidelines, how our Board works, what our Chair needs from trustees etc - then we always try and build in a sandwich lunch with staff so trustees aren’t seen as ‘removed’ from the organisation.

I meet with each new trustee one-to-one at their convenience so it may be during work hours, over lunch or a drink to talk through the way I see TimeBank, what they want out of the experience as a volunteer and what I need from them as CEO. Put simply, I try to build a strong mutually open relationship.  Finally they are invited to observe their first Board meeting where they are voted onto the Board formally. It sounds onerous but it’s not - and it means everyone knows what to expect and becomes part of our TimeBank family. They know what their responsibilities are and are able to ask questions in different environments so they can be confident that the role is for them.

So as Trustees Week kicks off it set me thinking about why I entered the charity sector in the first place – it was as a volunteer trustee for a tiny charity and my job was to help them get charitable status. It’s a long time ago now and I learnt a huge amount as well as, I hope, giving something back. Perhaps now is the time for me to volunteer to be a trustee again. Having been CEO of a national charity I think I know a lot more about what is needed from a trustee (and what isn’t!) than I did back then. So, any takers?

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Inspiring children to try sport - and Marcus to become a teacher

Engage is our brilliant project for unemployed young people in East London. We support them to deliver their own community projects and recruit volunteer mentors to help them plan their futures.

Marcus wanted to give local youngsters the chance to try sport and we're thrilled the experience inspired him to start training to become a teacher. Here's his story  ...

"I got involved in the Engage project because it looked like a good opportunity to do something positive with my time. Plus the TimeBank coordinator who first informed me about the Engage project at a Job Centre Plus event in Tower Hamlets seemed so enthusiastic about it and reassured me that it would be an all-round good experience.   What I enjoyed about the opportunity was that I had the free rein of being able to come up with my own idea, developing it into a project and executing it, although still being provided with excellent help when necessary.

My project was about taking the local youth (aged 7-12) out of the immediate local area and providing them with a new experience which allowed them to play a variety of sports in a safe environment.  I ran a small Fitness for Children project where children could come and try different sports activities and have nutritious snacks. This was to encourage children to take up sport and also to eat healthily. 

The project was initially supposed to be a one day event, but I have since had many calls from participants asking to make it a regular occurrence. Before delivering the project I was anxious because I'd never led my own project before to such a level. During the project I began feeling confident about it as the plan started coming together and I gained faith in the people around me that if I ever had trouble in my project I would have all the help I needed.

After the event finished, I was extremely satisfied with the results and the experience as a whole, as I met a number of new delightful people during the process and my project went down so well. 

Engage has also matched me with a mentor to help me with next steps. From this I would like to get general life advice, especially relating to university studies and fitness training as my mentor has achieved his degree and is now working in a related field. I would also like to develop in my fitness training as this is also something that he takes pretty seriously, so it would be nice to help motivate myself in that way. 

Throughout the process and my time in the Engage project from TimeBank, I have been amazed by the amount of help provided by those involved, especially Aklima, who helped me to gain practical work experience in a primary school, which was a vital part of me starting my journey to higher education. Overall I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone involved in the Engage project because it has given me an experience which both helped me develop my skills, learn new ones and gain confidence in previously unknown areas."

If you'd like to support young people like Marcus to get into education, training or work, why not volunteer as a mentor on the Engage project? Take a look here.

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Caring - exploitation or choice?

A recent animation funded by the Gates Foundation highlighted the ‘exploitation’ of carers across the world.

Exploitation in this case means unpaid labour that is ignored by policy makers but clearly benefits industry and governments. Rightly pointing out that the burden of this work falls disproportionately on women, who are 10 times more likely than men to provide unpaid care, the piece offers the view that anyone voluntarily caring for another person, who is not sufficiently remunerated for the activity or supported by Government policy decisions, is being exploited. 

It is interesting to consider this in relation to carers in the UK. Although rarely expressed in these terms, there is a level of anger among carers of both sexes that hints at a sense of exploitation.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) offers three definitions of exploitation: the first is to make full use of and derive benefit from. This seems to chime with current Government policy. The message is clear: ‘We know there is a problem, but the State cannot provide.’

The second definition offered by OED: to make use of (a situation) in a way considered unfair or underhand. The situation here is a sense of obligation, love or commitment to the person being cared for. The sense of exploitation comes from the motivation this provides to undertake complicated and arduous work for little or no financial reward.

The third definition offered by the OED: to benefit unfairly from the work of (someone), typically by overworking or underpaying. This  highlights the hidden benefits to society from a carer’s role. When someone cares for a family member it means there is less call on the State’s resources.  If we consider the welfare of its vulnerable citizens to be the responsibility of the State, exploitation seems embedded in the structure of caring for a family member.

But this does not chime with the experience of carers. We have more than 150 carers involved with our Carers Together  project and none of them say they feel  ‘exploited'. But they do express  anger, largely with Government, about the lack of support they receive in their role. Equally when asked ‘Why did you become a carer?’ large numbers respond with: ‘I had no choice". The focus of the anger and the sense of injustice suggests that they do not believe the State is honouring its obligations to the more vulnerable members of society.

Perhaps the reason carers do not claim to be exploited is that they are primarily motivated by love for the person they are caring for. It is in this context our mentoring takes place. Navigating degrees of willingness, obligation, poverty and exhaustion are part of the mentoring task and it is by finding a balance - between acknowledging the way in which our carers are exploited, and that in some way they freely choose their situation and must work to make the best of it - that our mentors succeed. 

TimeBank's Carers Together project offers face-to-face and online mentoring to carers. It aims to reduce social isolation, improve emotional well-being and help carers cope with the stress and strains of caring. If you’d like more information, take a look at www.timebank.org.uk/carers-togetheror email Stephen at StephenR@timebank.org.uk

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Top tips for recruiting and supporting volunteers

The world of volunteers and volunteering has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Perhaps the most interesting change for me has been the move away from the collective contribution of thousands of individual volunteers to the language of mass participation. Volunteers and volunteering has morphed from informal activity at a local level into 'community engagement' or 'active citizenship' and even the 'big society', with an emphasis on how volunteers can contribute to public service delivery.

However, one constant has been the struggle faced by some volunteer-involving organisations to recruit and retain volunteers.

Nearly 10 years ago l was lead author for the now lost Volunteering Compact Code of Good Practice. The Volunteering Code was part of a national agreement between the Government and the voluntary and community sector and set out how volunteers and volunteering should be described, supported and encouraged. It contained undertakings and commitments for the Government, public bodies, and volunteer-involving organisations. As a document it had its shortcomings, but looking back I was surprised by how relevant some of those undertakings and commitments still are … and depressed at how often volunteer-involving organisations fail to meet those undertakings yet still question why they are so unsuccessful at recruiting volunteers.

So drawing from the Compact, these are my top 10 tips for volunteer-involving organisations recruiting and supporting volunteers:

  1. Challenge yourself to examine your overall purpose, values and objectives – and focus on how involving volunteers might relate to them.
  2. Ensure you have both the time and resources to support and train volunteers, and that you can provide something that will make their volunteering a valuable experience – for example increasing skills and confidence as well as supporting finding ways back to work.
  3. Identify a named person or groups to be responsible for volunteer involvement, and for monitoring and reporting on it (ideally appoint a paid Volunteer Manager).
  4. …also identify a trustee board champion for volunteering.
  5. Encourage the involvement of volunteers in on-going decision-making and include them in internal communications, so that your volunteers are acknowledged as important partners and stakeholders in your organisation.
  6. Volunteers, while not paid staff, should have many of the same entitlements as employees – clarity about their roles and responsibilities, induction, managerial supervision and support, and relevant training and development opportunities.
  7. Adopt clear policies regarding the payment of expenses. Volunteers should not be out of pocket because of their voluntary activity. Volunteers are entitled to reimbursement of all reasonable expenses. Many volunteers are reluctant to claim, so make sure you encourage them to claim.
  8. When preparing funding proposals and submitting bids, recognise that while volunteering is freely given it is not cost free. The full costs of involving volunteers should be included as legitimate overheads in full cost recovery.
  9. Look at your current volunteers – do they reflect the community of interest/location/beneficiaries in which you work? Tackle barriers to ensure that volunteering is open to all.
  10. Challenge yourself to offer opportunities that match potential volunteers’ motivation and abilities and that are diverse and inclusive – don’t just dress up the jobs that no one else wants to do as a volunteering opportunity!
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Community projects can grow into small businesses ...

Engage is our exciting project for unemployed young people in East London. We support these young people to deliver their own community project – and provide a mentor to help them plan their futures. Romie came up with the idea of face painting for children, which she now hopes to turn into a business ...  

"I studied Art & Design at college, so for my project I wanted to do something which involved art and creativity. I really enjoy painting and doing media makeup so I thought to put the two together and do face painting for children which is fun and creative.

152 I delivered the pilot project at a church in Tower Hamlets where a group of home educated children come together to do group activities. When I arrived on the day, after the children had finished their activity, I started the face painting (which took about 10 minutes to paint a face). I hadn't really done much face painting before, so this was a good opportunity to practice designs. It was good to do something fun for the children and it was nice to see them enjoy the activity and this is why I would say my pilot project was successful.

I also became a bit more confident in my face painting so I attended a Sports Day in Leyton in East London and did a face-painting stall there.  As part of the project, I then did my final face painting session at Stepney Greencoat school in Tower Hamlets as part of its school fun day.

The project helped me in different ways. While I was undertaking the formal training, during each session someone came in and talked about different areas of delivering a project like planning and costs. This really helped me because I'd never have thought about these tasks before I started with Engage. 157

Delivering my project has really encouraged me to want to start a face painting business for children's events, so I am glad I was involved. I already have some face-painting equipment, a banner and business cards so this gives me a good start.

I am currently looking for apprenticeships in childcare and I have also done a couple more face painting events for children's parties."

If you'd like to support young people like Romie to get into education, training or work, why not volunteer as a mentor on the Engage project? Take a look here.

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Should charities think more like businesses?

TimeBank’s Leaders Together project matches small charities, social enterprises and community groups in London with free business mentoring to help them build their capacity.  And what many of these organisations want to learn about is fundraising.   

Unfortunately, I am not writing my first blog to give you the secret formula. I don’t know it and TimeBank doesn’t either.  Every small commission, big foundation site or training blog will have millions of tips to give you: what to write, what not to say, always to call and enquire and never rush your bid writing.

But at a recent Leaders Together workshop on fundraising we wondered if all this advice focusses a little too much on the charitable perspective.

‘Good fundraising is good branding’ – that’s a very scary statement that puts a lot of charities off. There are other words that the charity sector doesn’t like to use: ‘sales’, ‘marketing’ and the general idea of having to think like a BUSINESS to get ahead. But it is essential for small charities to realise they have costs like rent, electricity and employees … no organisation can run at a loss and every charity needs to earn enough to cover those overheads and continue its good work.

The first step towards this realisation is that good businesses get ahead. The good ones are structured, have lots of ideas and know how to market themselves well. This applies to big charities as well as small ones.

Fundraising is multifaceted - whether you write bids, appeal to major donors, rattle the collecting tins or approach local businesses it’s all the same. You need to know your facts as only good communication skills will bring you one step closer to the cheque you need to pay your bills.

At the workshop, some of the fundraising problems raised by organisations included: ‘Where should I look for bids?’, ‘Why wasn’t my bid successful?’ and ‘How do I know what my funder wants to read?’

Here are the top tips we came up with:

  1. Take it back to the basics. Firstly, you need to evaluate which fundraising method works best for you
  2. Fundraising is about relationship building
  3. There are five essential components to writing a good introduction: you have to say what you do, who you help and how you do it. You need to provide evidence that the problem exists in society and provide tangible results of the impact of your work
  4. Know your numbers: the more facts you have about your field, project and community, the more credible you will sound
  5. Your supporters are probably right in front of your nose, already giving you donations or volunteering for you

Due to popular demand and great feedback, there will be a Part 2 of this fundraising workshop later this month for everyone who is involved in the Leaders Together project, so we’ll bring you more top tips. And if you think your organisation would benefit from free professional support, or you are interested in joining the project as a mentor, do take a look here

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Changing our attitudes towards mental health

The news pages, Twitter and blogosphere have reacted in great force to the ‘mental patient’ fancy dress costume controversy. From football players to spin doctors, it’s seems that everyone’s talking about mental health. But is it enough?

Three of the UK’s biggest retailers Asda, Tesco and Amazon were criticised this week for selling ‘mental patient’ and ‘psycho ward’ fancy dress costumes. And rightly so. A blood-spattered straight jacket with axe accessory should never be synonymous with someone living with mental health issues. There are those that would argue it’s just a ‘joke’ - that it’s exaggeration and make believe. The problem with this argument is that these ‘mental patient’ costumes are harmful. They exacerbate the extremely damaging and unfounded stigma of mentally ill people as ‘violent and a danger to society’.

According to Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign run by leading mental health charities Mind and Rethink, over a third of the public think people with mental health problems are likely to be violent. In fact 95 per cent of homicides in the UK are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with a mental health problem, yet someone with a mental illness is four times more likely to be a victim of violence. 

So the stigma may be unfounded but its effects are very real and very damaging.  It isolates people from friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, employers, teachers, services and everyday life activities. As Time to Change explains: “People often find it hard to tell others about a mental health problem they have, because they fear the reaction. And when they do speak up, the overwhelming majority say they are misunderstood by family members, shunned and ignored by friends, work colleagues and professionals or called names or worse by neighbours.”

This shouldn’t be happening. If one in four of us have experienced a mental health problem then why is it such a taboo subject to talk about? If at least one family member, one colleague in the office, one football team mate has struggled with depression, anxiety or delusions then why aren’t we doing more to help?

The funny thing is helping couldn’t be easier. We just need to talk. If you know someone who has been struggling with their mental health, ask them how they’re doing. You don’t have to be a professional to talk about mental health, you don’t need to offer therapeutic advice or provide a ‘cure.’ Just be there for them, as described in Time to Change’s campaign Time to Talk  which provides some really easy to follow tips for talking:

  • Talk, but listen too: simply being there will mean a lot.
  • Keep in touch: meet up, phone, email or text.
  • Don’t just talk about mental health: chat about everyday things as well.
  • Remind them you care:  small things can make a big difference.
  • Be patient: ups and downs can happen.

The simple act of talking can be a light in the fog to some people. Knowing that someone cares, understands and is non-judgemental makes a huge difference. As Project Co-ordinator for TimeBank’s mental health mentoring project ‘The Switch’  I’ve seen this difference first hand. The Switch matches young people who are living with mental health problems and leaving Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), 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.

One young man, 18 year old Dean, told me that the best things about having a mentor was that: “I could talk about how I was feeling, but we could also talk about normal things, like music and TV.” Dean went on to explain that his mentor helped him to trust people and become more sociable. Nine months of mentoring and Dean has gone from being unable to leave the house on his own or access services and with no plans for the future, to a young lad who can walk to the high street on his own, is able to trust and access other services, and who has the confidence to apply for internships and think about the career he wants.

So I’m going to set you the easiest of homework – talk. Because trust me, one quarter of the UK population is waiting for it.

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