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

Volunteering to remember those who served their country

This week we are commemorating 70 years since the D Day Landings as well as, later in the year, the Centenary of the First World War. 

It is important that we remember those ex-Service men and women who have served their country in more recent conflicts too, so they can go on to lead productive civilian lives.

Veterans can face a whole range of difficulties after leaving the military, from unemployment to relationship breakdowns and mental health difficulties. Having a mentor can prevent these problems from spiralling and help people to get back on the right track.

As the Shoulder to Shoulder Project in the West Midlands gets closer to the end of its pilot, we’ve been looking at what works best and what we want to develop beyond the pilot. The Shoulder to Shoulder Drop-in which we set up last September has really grown - starting as simply a way to find out about mentoring and developing into a social network, a chance to sit down with other services who attend on a regular basis, like the Royal British Legion and Poppy Factory, as well as hearing from guest speakers like the Warrior Program or the local volunteer centre, BVSC.

Our volunteering day came out of one of these talks when Kim from the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) came to talk to us about the site and the many ways that people can volunteer to support it. Kim inspired a group of veterans to sign up to a day volunteering in the grounds.

So on a rainy day last Wednesday, six veterans, two mentors and two TimeBank staff members boarded a mini bus in Birmingham and headed north to Alrewas in Staffordshire, the home of the NMA. With the main Armed Forces Memorial set atop a hill within the 150 acre site, it’s quite a stunning place. There are hundreds of memorials dedicated to regiments, squadrons and corps across the Services, both military and civilian. There are 50,000 trees, planted since 1997, many dedicated to individuals who have given their life in service.

The grounds are predominantly maintained by volunteers and so James, the Grounds' curator, is always keen to hear from groups and individuals who want to offer their time. 


Despite the weather, after a warming cuppa we all cracked on, clearing six beds which make up the Royal British Legion's Women's Memorial and planting 100 golden grasses.

206 The day also created an opportunity for the guys to find the memorial commemorating their own regiment and to take some time to remember lost friends.


Overall it was a very positive day, great to be part of and a strong direction for the Shoulder to Shoulder project to go in.

Here's what the veterans and mentors said: 

'Thank you for today. Really good day. Emotional times. Can't thank everyone enough,' said Ian. 

'Had a brilliant day, thank you so much for inviting me along,' said Deb, a mentor.

'If you plan another day I'd love to be part of it. I felt a lot of pride being part of the group; it was nice to give a bit back. I think you've really started something here,' said John.

More volunteering days for veterans and mentors will be organised over the summer.

Shoulder to Shoulder offers ex-Service men and women, who have had difficulty adjusting to civilian life, a one to one mentor for a specified amount of time. We take referrals for both veterans and their families from across the West Midlands.  If you are interested in getting involved as a veteran or as a mentor, take a look here or contact Jane, the Project Coordinator on 0121 236 2531, email

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The incredible difference that 300 CEB volunteers made over one day in London

This time last week it was a beautiful sunny Friday – the sort of day when you really wish you didn’t have to sit in an office all day. How fortuitous then that it was the CEB Global Impact Day and TimeBank had set up six volunteering opportunities for 300 of their staff across London. 

As Chief Executive you usually get the best jobs and seemingly I had – my role was to visit all the projects – well actually five of them as when the team had worked out the logistics I could only get round five in time (you have to remember we are a charity and CEO or not I don’t have a chauffeur driven car to take me round the place!)

The morning hadn’t started well when I realised just HOW orange our T shirts were and how visible I’d be for miles around, never mind on my epic tube and train trip across London. But as it was a beautiful day there was no excuse to put a jumper over it so I just held my head high and headed off.

First stop was Selby Trust in White Hart Lane. It was a pretty easy journey from my house and I was there in time to hear the volunteers briefed and start off their jobs for the day. The Selby Trust was set up by local people who transformed former school premises into a thriving community centre and the volunteers were soon busy creating a food growing garden, building raised beds and painting rooms and car parking bays.


I then headed down to Kings Cross by the canal to an amazing project where volunteers had already made a huge difference, painting, clearing, digging and cutting. They had even discovered a 'bug hotel' for which they prepared new bedding.

The idea that slap bang in the middle of central London we are cultivating our ecosystems and ensuring biodiversity for future generations is incredible – it’s just off Caledonian road and I must have driven past it a gazillion times over the years. How fantastic it is to have your eyes opened to London.

Now though it was time for me to continue on my trek, this time to Canning Town where local MP Lyn Brown was due to visit and thank our volunteers. We also had the local press coming so it was important I made it on time.

By the time I reached the Core Landscapes project just after midday the CEB volunteers had achieved a huge amount – indeed, Nemone Mercer, the horticultural nursery manager there, said she was astounded how much they had done and hadn’t expected that much from the whole day – wheel barrows were coming across an exceptionally busy road to cover wasteland with soil to set the temporary garden on.


Lyn duly arrived, not only with her assistant but also her dog which revelled in the attention of the photographer, volunteers and of course me. It’s so good to see a local MP care about her community and want to help and she really showed an interest in the project, the volunteers and TimeBank.

Grabbing a sandwich en route, my tour of London took me next to Southwark Park where our 50 CEB volunteers were making nesting rafts to float in the pond where the other half of the team had donned waders and cleared and rebuilt the bank earlier in the day. It’s a fantastic setting and dependent on volunteers to help make it such a great space for the public.

Tempted though I was by the ice cream van parked nearby I knew there was one more site to visit so off I went to Peckham. Here the volunteers had completely revitalised a community space, rebuilt sheds, painted walls, planted vegetables and transformed it so much I thought the local organiser might cry!

They’d just finished when I arrived and covered in paint and soil were gathering their things to head off to CEB’s thank you bash at the Oval. There was such as buzz around the place and it was amazing to see how excited they were by their achievements.  

Finally I headed off to our very own TimeBank bash at Kings Cross to thank the project co-ordinators and hear how things had gone in South Park in Fulham, the one project I didn’t get to. However our Chair Andree Deane Barron had visited, welcomed local MP Greg Hands and helped volunteers to spread manure - I think I won out by missing that one!


I don’t often have the opportunity to visit our projects in action and I certainly don’t often get to visit five. I was hugely inspired to be reminded of the incredible difference that 300 people can make in one day across London.

So thank you to CEB, thank you to our community partners and thank you of course to the TimeBank team who made it happen and who all wore their orange T shirts on the day too – I think our table was quite visible in the pub!

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Ex-servicemen and women need our support ... and so do their families

We wanted to give our new Shoulder to Shoulder Families project a start point … an event … and make it an opportunity to meet with families and potential volunteers. So we planned a small low key occasion to mark its start.  

This was to be a practical event enabling us to gather information on what mentors want and, more importantly, on what family members need.

A mixture of people came along - current volunteers, potential volunteers and family members. One of our potential volunteers was an ex-serviceman who gave us a real insight into his experiences of leaving the Services and what he and his family had to deal with.

Everyone found it interesting – and for us, his input was invaluable. He spoke about the difficulties he had in doing simple things that many take for granted, for example registering for a GP when you have no NHS number because the whole family have only ever used military doctors in their adult lives.

Or having to choose your clothes after years of being told what to wear.  

The difficulties older children have when they are older than school age with no friends in a new place.

How hard it is to go from a high rank where you are called ‘Sir’ and your wife ‘Ma’am’ to being just like everyone else … 

We discussed how most military leavers’ packs don’t provide information for the wider family - they are very much focussed on the service leaver.  That’s understandable - but the family are also leaving their homes and all they know, with little support.

Finally and most importantly we had a useful discussion about mentoring itself. We agreed on the benefits of having group sessions that would provide practical support and advice to families but also opportunities for us to provide some structured training and talks to help families build their lives here in the West Midlands.

The session was enjoyable and really informative for us. Now we will be starting to build on those conversations to create a project which is valuable and as supportive as is needed.

Families of ex-service men and women face unique challenges in understanding and dealing with the issues their partners, sons and daughters are going through. They may also have been located in a variety of towns and countries so find it hard to settle into a new community.

Shoulder to Shoulder Families recruits and trains volunteers to act as mentors to help tackle isolation and signpost them to services to help. Take a look here for more information. 

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Choosing the right partner

Given the recent, and quite justifiable furore about the quality of care provision in England, it was a privilege to visit an organisation that gets it absolutely right.

Erskine has been caring for veterans since 1916, providing nursing care for elderly veterans in specialist homes across Scotland, but also offering support, housing and employment opportunities to veterans of all ages.

Two years ago TimeBank brought together a group of all the key players providing or commissioning support for veterans across the central belt – the first time many of them had been in the same room. We wanted to discuss the possibility of delivering Shoulder to Shoulder in Scotland, but to make sure that we did not tread on any toes or duplicate existing services.

Just as important was to find a delivery partner that was the leading provider in its field and shared something of TimeBank’s vision and values. Immediately after the meeting Erskine came back to us, keen to pursue the idea and develop a working partnership. Two years on and we are now recruiting a Project Co-ordinator to deliver our Shoulder to Shoulder programme in Erskine.

From the outset the partnership has been sustained not only by openness, honesty and communication, but also a good understanding of the two organisation’s culture, vision and values. Surprisingly, to me at least, was how close the two very different organisations are in those terms – like TimeBank, beneficiaries are at the heart of what Erskine deliver, and they, like TimeBank, are happy to be held to account for the work they do – doing what they say they will do.

On every visit to Erskine l’ve been impressed by the friendliness, the team work and commitment to get things done to the highest possible standard from everyone you meet – from the porters to the Chief Executive. The new TimeBank Project Co-ordinator will be based in Erskine and will benefit from having a fantastic working environment and culture around them – and hopefully they will be able to impart a little of the TimeBank culture too!

As you will notice from the picture, Erskine offers something of the best of the old with forward-looking innovation - this amazing building is apparently the oldest gothic piggery in Europe and to the rear is Erskine's state of the art conference and training facility. 

You can read more about our new project, supporting ex-servicemen and women and their families in Scotland, at Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine.

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Buzzing with ideas

Yesterday the whole TimeBank team from both our offices in London and Birmingham were at our Away Day. The day was organised, prepared and run pro bono by our friends at leading innovation agency Happen.

We’ve worked with Happen before but it’s a few years since we’ve had a full Away Day like this and the first since many of our new staff joined us so we were really excited about what we could achieve.

Everyone has different views on the value of events like this but when they are run well in a friendly and engaging way they can’t fail to be a success.  In advance we’d been sent our ‘Muse books’ a little booklet that set out the day and asked questions for us to ponder and research – where is our sector going? What are new and upcoming government initiatives that might impact on our sector? What can we learn from other charities? We were also asked what TimeBank does really well – a question that is easy to answer if you are the CEO: “everything”! But more of a risk when asking your staff team – what if they don’t think we do anything well?! 

So we arrived all prepared. We’d read the business plan and we had our books, our ideas and our creativity. The Happen offices are designed to be a comfortable, innovative and crucially, given some of our staff had never been to a day like this before, non-threatening environment. Sally-Anne and Gabriel just guided us through the day – by the afternoon, helped along by endless sugary products and a fantastic lunch we were down to the hard work – creating four new projects that we could develop back in the office to take TimeBank to the next stage in our journey in this new challenging environment the charity sector finds itself in. Before we fed back to everyone some of our trustees had arrived to share with us why they volunteer for TimeBank and to learn from the team the different ideas and themes we’d worked up during the day.

The enthusiasm and ideas were fantastic – everyone got to work in different teams throughout the day.  For the first time since our office expansion in Birmingham everybody met everyone else, putting faces to names and learning about their new colleagues. We have an amazing group of people at TimeBank and days like yesterday remind you of just what an outstanding resource our staff are and how many hidden skills we have lurking within that we can tap into as we grow in size and ambition. The day ended as all good Away Days should with drinks and nibbles and some socialising with our colleagues. Whoever says that Away Days are a waste of time should see just how far they can take you towards your goals and aspirations – no idea is wrong and everyone can contribute. And if you are wondering – staff reported that there were lots of things TimeBank does well, phew!! 

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Congratulations to EE!

TimeBank has worked with EE since 2012 to deliver a digital skills employee volunteering programme nationwide. Our partnership began in 2006 when TimeBank started to provide T-Mobile’s employee volunteering programme, and over the years it has evolved towards skilled based volunteering.

As part of this we’ve delivered fun and informal events such as Techy Tea Parties when EE employees show older guests how to make the most of technology and the internet over a cuppa!

So we’re naturally very excited to hear that EE has won a Prime Minister’s Big Society Award for its digital skills volunteering programme. David Cameron said: “Whether it’s creating an email account to connect with friends and family, or learning how to use an iPad, EE’s ‘Techy Tea Parties’ are demystifying technology and giving people the skills to get online.” 

Since its 2013 launch, EE has held 68 Techy Tea Parties, with over 565 employees volunteering to improve the digital skills of 861 people. Techy Tea Parties have been held in 28 different locations across the UK and there are plans to further expand the project this year. EE employees don’t need to be tech experts – it’s about spending time with someone from their local community.

Dan Perlet, Director of Corporate and Financial Affairs at EE, says: “Digital inclusion is an important issue for us – one in five people lack basic online skills and nearly seven million people in the UK are not currently online. They are missing out on a huge range of benefits, from keeping in touch with family and friends to saving money and accessing information and jobs. TimeBank’s employee volunteering programme has helped us to develop digital skills-based volunteering among our staff to help local communities make the most of technology and being online, such as our popular techy tea parties.”

If you are a charity or community organisation and you think your members, service users, staff or beneficiaries would benefit from attending a Techy Tea Party to improve their digital skills, please email or call 020 3111 0728.

And if you’re a company and would like to get your staff involved in volunteering, do get in touch!

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She made me believe I could pursue my dream career

City Opportunities Mentoring is a TimeBank project which matches care leavers with City Workers to support them with tasks such as writing job applications, practising interview skills, networking, job shadowing or gaining work experience.

Starting in September 2013, the project has matched 13 mentors and young people who meet for around five hours a month over six months.

One of the earliest matches was between Gurleen Virk, a final year law student at London SouthBank University and Saghar Roya, a solicitor working near Liverpool Street. Saghar took up the offer of a mentor after attending a five day work skills programme at the university. That gave her a taste of City life and she decided that she'd benefit from the help of a mentor to support her in her ultimate goal of becoming a lawyer on graduating.

Saghar had volunteered previously and now she had more time on her hands, was keen to offer support in a way that would use both her professional and personal skills.

Gurleen and Saghar have been meeting for several months now and are both enjoying the mentoring experience. Saghar has been supporting Gurleen with her college work, including help to draft a revision timetable and feedback on her final year dissertation.

In future they plan to focus on finding Gurleen a work placement and Saghar will help her to research companies, polish up her CV and practise interview skills. Gurleen says Saghar is a very ‘determined and motivating’ mentor whom she saw as a role model and who made her believe that it was possible to aim for her dream career. She says Saghar is very approachable and always encourages her to ask questions and be in contact whenever she needs support.

Saghar is having an equally positive experience, saying that Gurleen is ‘lovely to work with’.

If you would be interested in becoming a mentor on City Opportunities or you are keen to refer a young person to the project, I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at or on 020 3111 0730.

And if you would like to know more about our City Opportunities mentoring project, take a look here

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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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