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

We experience the benefits of corporate volunteering

A few weeks ago a random email landed offering TimeBank the opportunity to be a beneficiary of corporate volunteering.

Now as regular readers of our blog will know, Employee Volunteering is one of our core areas of work, particularly skills based volunteering which helps community partners to move forward in a way they simply have neither the time nor sometimes the knowledge to do.  But this put the boot on the other foot – we were to be the beneficiaries.

I can think of nothing better than embedding a belief in the power (and fun) of volunteering for both the individual and the company from the very moment an employee walks through the door.  So, all credit to firms which immerse their future leaders into the charity sector from day one. We were well briefed and had to provide our graduate banking team with a social media challenge, support them to do it, evaluate them and attend the end of project presentation. There was also an added element, which the natural competitor in me latched onto: there was to be a winning team out of the 16 groups of graduates matched with a charity. So for me there could only be one winner from the moment we embarked on the project – TimeBank doesn’t ‘do’ losing!  

And so one Friday morning a couple of weeks ago our graduate team arrived – very smart, very enthusiastic, extraordinarily polite, business-like and ready to take on the world (remember how that felt?). I worried what they’d think of our slightly shabby building where the lift comically takes you to whichever floor it feels like rather than the one you have pressed. Fortunately we had two things to win them over – chocolate biscuits and a fantastic brand new initiative we wanted them to work up a social media campaign for: Christmas Party Volunteering. They loved it, they got it, they instantly had lots of ideas and they were as competitive as me!

The thing about this scheme is that they have to fit it in around their intensive graduate training programme working in lunch hours, evenings, weekends – just like people who volunteer normally. We agreed a process of communication via email and they came back to us that evening with their first thoughts and various things they needed from us. On Tuesday I headed off to Canary Wharf at lunchtime to film a video with them for their twitter campaign and we’ve been filming our staff team too. Over the next few days they put the film, the plan and their ideas all together for the start of the campaign today. So watch this space I’ll tell you how it goes……

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Christmas Party Volunteering - a much better way of spending the party budget!

Last Christmas I asked the staff what they wanted to do, pointing out that we had what could only be described as an infinitesimal budget for a party but that I was keen we did something. It shouldn’t have surprised me that they came back to me with a brilliant idea – they suggested that we volunteered (and of course they had sourced some ideas) and then if we paid for a cheap lunch they’d cover their own drinks. 

I bang on in every talk I make about how we walk the talk at TimeBank - how all our staff have five days volunteering leave, how all our trustees are volunteers and how it’s part of our DNA. Here once again was another example of really passionately believing in what we do. And so it was on a cold wet December morning I found myself with my entire staff team in a Crisis warehouse packing up crates to be sent to nine different temporary shelters that were being set up over Christmas.

It felt good, it felt right and it was a classic team building experience. Then, in time honoured tradition, we went to the pub and headed out for a curry. It cost us very little in cash, took no more time than a Christmas lunch would have and we all headed home for Christmas feeling that we’d made a difference to someone less fortunate than ourselves.147

From a business perspective we learnt how another charity manages its volunteers, how they welcome you, thank you and power through the inevitable health and safety messages. Some things we thought we did better others that we could learn from and bring into our own programmes. It also brought our team together after a challenging year.  Everyone I spoke to that holiday was bowled over by what we had done – by the desire to do something positive with our ‘party time’ and everyone said “I’ll suggest that next year at my office”.

So it struck us as a good idea to make it really easy for anyone starting thinking about their Christmas party to put together an ‘off the shelf’ volunteering package that arranged it all for them and secured a discount in a local restaurant or pub for anyone volunteering on a TimeBank Scheme (and yes I know it’s only September but last week alone we had nearly 2,000 hits on the Christmas volunteering pages on our website, so I know you are thinking about it!).

So here it is - our half day volunteering/party pack. You volunteer for a morning or afternoon at a charity, usually but not exclusively on a Christmas theme – feel free to bring those comedy reindeer antlers if you feel so inclined. And then go out for lunch or supper in one of the nearby locations we have sourced. We’ll do it all for you for a one off fee starting at £250 + VAT. We’ll check out the health and safety, the risk assessments, we’ll liaise with the charity and give you a full briefing pack in advance, including lists of what you will be doing, how you can split your teams, elements of competition you can create if you want and of course the good you will be achieving whilst you do it. 150

All you need to do is turn up and make a difference in your local community this Christmas before going out for a slightly slimmed down party already feeling on top of the world – isn’t that a better way of spending the Christmas party budget?

If you're interested in learning more, take a look at  our Employee Volunteering page or download our Christmas Party Volunteering flyer here

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Volunteering does have a price

At TimeBank we receive many calls and email enquiries regarding groups of corporate employees wanting to get out of the office and do an activity as a team. This is absolutely great and I guess I would be out of a job if they all wanted to go paint balling instead …

However, very quickly the queries start to focus on costs. In fact a common question will be: “Are there any costs involved?”

TimeBank is a charity that provides a quality service to broker volunteering opportunities for corporate volunteers. We are here as experts to work with companies to genuinely give back to their communities and have a rewarding volunteering experience.

We offer companies carefully thought out volunteering projects with a wide range of community partners from environmental challenges to Reading Corner projects in primary schools. We source a suitable community partner, check health and safety, conduct risk assessments, and complete evaluation from volunteers and community hosts, as well as managing press/PR. We also work with companies on longer-term bespoke projects that fit in with a company’s CSR objectives to really create a long lasting impact and legacy in the local communities where a company operates.

But there are of course costs involved in providing this service. TimeBank has to pay its staff to research and source these opportunities; to organise the day and be there to coordinate the activities.  Perhaps the company would like some photos of the day, some social media coverage, news stories, and press releases. For environmental projects costs for materials and tools will also need to be factored in.

And naturally TimeBank has to pay rent for its office and provide computers, phones, equipment and training for its staff just like commercial companies do. So it is always surprising to me that many companies expect us to source and manage their volunteering day out for free. They often don’t have a  specific charity or cause they would like to support; they just have a vague idea that they’d like to “give something back”.  

Maybe I would be writing a slightly different blog if TimeBank regularly received proposals in which a company approaches us with a range of skills they can offer, like highly valuable legal knowledge, marketing, or IT skills, with a clear idea of the outcomes and impact they would like to achieve. In this scenario they might even suggest that their employees want to give a regular commitment of time as well!

On some occasions the companies that get in touch with us have already contacted charities and community groups directly. They have been informed of the costs and then they contact us hoping we might have some need of volunteers for free. Now to me that doesn’t sound like wanting to “give something back”…

There is still a belief among many that volunteering is free – that it just happens and requires very little support to help it develop and thrive. But I believe that for it to function well, volunteering needs just the same sort of organisation, management and support as paid work.

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Behind the scenes at the Houses of Parliament

Having recently joined TimeBank one of my first tasks was to help organise our launch for the evaluation report of our Shoulder to Shoulder project at none other than … the House of Commons! This was an interesting experience and not without some surprises.

Shoulder to Shoulder is a mentoring project for ex-service men and women recovering from mental health problems (read more here) It reaches across a range of sectors (military organisations, mental health services, Government departments, charities) so there were a fairly diverse group of people to invite.

Next was a site visit to check out the room.  This was my first time in Westminster Hall, the oldest building in Parliament (built in 1097) and it really was impressive. The meeting rooms are very ornate and I was impressed to see tv screens up, showing the results of the latest votes in the House.

After we had agreed the layout and furniture, there were a few bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, with lots of different departments to contact. But everyone was helpful and I got there in the end. Then there was wine to order, name badges to prepare, IT support to think about and an evaluation report to print!

The TimeBank team arrived at Parliament bright and early after some interesting stories from our London cabbie. We cleared security minus a sharp corkscrew and set up and waited for the guests to arrive.

The speeches and presentation went well – Andrew Bingham MP, TimeBank Chief Executive Helen Walker and Orla Cronin, who evaluated the project, discussed the findings of the Shoulder to Shoulder report, which confirmed that ex-service men and women recovering from PTSD and other mental health issues felt more positive about their lives after taking part in the project.

Then to everyone’s surprise one more unexpected guest popped up from under a table – a mouse! Apparently there are quite a lot of them in the nooks and crannies of the Palace of Westminster. It’s said that a mouse even upstaged Winston Churchill when he was delivering a mighty speech once. Instead of all eyes being on him, they were trained on a small brown creature which was slowly crossing the floor of the Commons from the Government to the Opposition benches …

Thank goodness that didn’t happen at our launch. But it does seem that no matter how well prepared you are, you can’t legislate for something unexpected happening!

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Old is Gold

Engage is our exciting project for unemployed young people in Tower Hamlets in London. We support these young people to deliver their own community project – and provide a mentor to help them plan their futures. Rema talks about the fantastic recycling idea she came up with …     

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My decision to take part in the Engage project stemmed from my love of volunteering and being involved in community events where people can really come together.

When I heard about Engage I thought it sounded like an unmissable opportunity. Through the programme, I developed the idea of launching a social enterprise where recycling can be implemented into fashion. The concept was to encourage people to make the most of the things they have. What I was hoping to achieve by the end of the project was to create awareness and confidence of re-using belongings.

So I organised a swap shop event in Tower Hamlets, where residents in and around the area were invited to bring and buy items.  During the planning stages of my project I was very nervous - I had no experience of managing a project in the past so it was a bit of a novelty for me. However, the great amount of support that was provided really helped me through.

My project plan changed from time to time as things did not always go to plan. Despite this the project turned out better than I initially expected which I was very pleased about.

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I enjoyed the project as a whole, but what I enjoyed most was the support and guidance everyone was given.  Through Engage I have also been matched with a mentor. I wish to gain knowledge and skills from my mentor, learn from their experiences and develop my project into an established brand. 

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EE employees share their digital skills in local communities

TimeBank continues its partnership with EE (T-Mobile & Orange) to deliver a digital skills employee volunteering programme nationwide.

Within the programme we have delivered fun and informal events such as Techy Tea Parties when older guests can learn how to make the most of technology and the internet over a cuppa! However, this employee volunteering programme is not just about having a piece of cake and a chat about Facebook. Within the programme EE employees have shared their digital skills in a variety of ways – and they were recently out in Bristol as Technology Support Squad volunteers for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

As Technology Support Squad volunteers EE employees visit people who are blind and partially sighted to help them make the most of IT and technology in their homes and lead more independent lives. Ruth, a designer in EE’s Technology Directorate, has recently been on callout in Bristol to a RNIB client.

This lady wanted help transferring videos from her security CCTV system to a memory card. Sadly she needed the footage as evidence of neighbours causing malicious damage to her property. Ruth was happy to put her digital skills to good use in a new way.

Ruth said: “Lovely lady, she was very grateful for the help and generous with cups of tea!” Volunteers are contacted when there’s a beneficiary within a local radius, and then the volunteer calls them to arrange a visit. The callouts are on demand but average once or twice a month.

Through volunteering you can put your skills to good use, but it doesn’t mean you have to change your life. As in the case of Tech Support Squad volunteers at RNIB, you can fit volunteering around your schedule and make it part of your lifestyle. And most importantly a rewarding volunteering experience happens when a volunteer gives quality time and skills in their local community.

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Am I a carer?

I often see or hear people questioning whether they can call themselves a carer and if they’re allowed to access ‘real’ carers’ services.

Since the Carers Together project started I’ve received more than a hundred applications from people who would like support from an online mentor. Several have questioned if this is the right project for them, because they’re not sure if the type of caring they’re doing is serious enough or if it even falls under the category of caring. It’s a sentiment that is also frequently expressed on the new members section of the Carers UK forum: people precede their posts with “I don’t know if I can be classed as a carer”; “I was shocked to discover I was a carer”; “I’m not sure I should be posting here…”

Parents of children with disabilities have told me that they’ve always identified themselves as parents first and carers second, which means they’ve taken longer to access services marketed towards carers. Likewise, when speaking to partners and relatives affected by somebody else’s drug or alcohol use I’ve found that this too is a group who don’t immediately identify themselves as carers despite often providing physical, mental and financial support.

At Carers Together, I’ve received many enquiries from people caring for loved ones with mental health difficulties; again, this is a group of carers who can often feel the label doesn’t apply to them, as they believe (or have been told) that providing emotional support isn’t as valid as giving physical support or personal care.

These examples suggest that people in supportive roles who don’t identify themselves as carers could be missing out on vital services and support, and as a result will continue to struggle with the all-too-common isolation that carers experience. It’s therefore been really interesting to look through all the applications I’ve received from people requesting support and see such a wide range of caring backgrounds.

Not only are people caring for partners, children or parents but also other family members or friends, and a few are also caring for more than one person. The range of conditions are also extremely varied: they include cancer, autism, dementia, personality disorders, ME/CFS, pain conditions, Down’s syndrome, alcohol misuse, depression, arthritis, MS, learning difficulties, schizophrenia and many many more.

I now hope that previous carers with experience of the above - and more! – will acknowledge that they were ‘real carers’ and consider volunteering with us. If you think you could support others who are in a similar situation, we’d love to hear from you. Take a look here.

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Capturing the volunteering legacy of the Olympics

Three things this week have prompted me to write this blog – on Tuesday I was heading to a meeting and as I came out of the boiling hot Tube at Goodge Street I walked past none other than Lord Sebastian Coe, the man who was the Olympics – and almost certainly the only man in London still wearing a jacket and tie and looking unfazed by anything least of all the weather as he headed into the Tube. 

Secondly last night I caught the sound of that music on television – the intro to every Olympic programme on the BBC with clips of the aforementioned Lord Coe telling us how our Gamesmakers made the Olympics, and still felt those goosebumps of pride and excitement. Finally this afternoon I’ve been invited to attend Join In’s volunteering celebration concert at the re-opened Queen Elizabeth Park. Join In is the charity set up to capture the legacy of volunteering from the Olympics.

Now I have often said that we could have captured the legacy better and sooner but when I reflect on my blog this time last year it was all about getting behind the Games and not harping on about what could have been done better – so, time to listen to my own advice and start celebrating just what we have achieved this last year.

At TimeBank at least three of our volunteer mentoring projects have had to close applications for volunteers as they are over-subscribed and there’s very definitely a buzz around the world of volunteering that we haven’t seen since before the Government cuts back in 2011. I also think that we’ve changed the image of volunteering – people no longer perceive it as something that ‘only older people do’ or is restrictive because of the time commitment.

There are so many ways that you can make a difference to your local communities and make change in a positive way. And don’t forget the value to the volunteer themselves, learning new skills, meeting different people, engaging with communities they never normally would. I don’t think that there is any doubt that the Gamesmakers had an impact on the perception of volunteering or the desire of people to volunteer. It’s our job to make sure people then move from wanting to volunteer to actually volunteering and for that they need help and support to get the right role that suits them, their interests and their lifestyle.

So back to this afternoon’s event, of course Seb will be there (I think I can call him that having virtually met him at the Tube) and the Minister for Civil Society and of course Boris, the Mayor of London – I’m envisaging quite a bit of ‘Dad’ dancing to McFly and maybe embarrassed laughter at Eddie Izzard – But one thing I know for sure everyone there will be committed to and striving for an increase in the number of people volunteering, celebrating those who already do as well as remembering  those who made our Olympics. 

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