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

Using data for social impact

We’re excited about our very first data volunteering event in London this weekend, when data scientists are volunteering their services to help third sector organisations extract real value from data.

Charities often create huge amounts of data and know that they could transform the way they deliver services if they were able to analyse it in detail. And a number of charities are already exploring the potential of open data intelligence to support their campaigning and advocacy,improve fundraising and offer more effective and targeted service delivery.

But many charities do not realise that data analysis could help them to be a lot more effective, or have the resources to investigate it in detail and find out exactly what their data needs are.

This will be an opportunity for charities to access data expertise they might not be able to afford, and for data scientiststo use their skills to help charities to perform better and make a real social impact.

The challenge is always how to bring together these two groups of people. But we have extensive expertise of matching professional skills to volunteering opportunities. We’ve been connecting businesses and communities for the last 13 years, delivering programmes for EE, BT, Ernst & Young and the Cabinet Office to name just a few. And at TimeBank, we’ve always believed that the very best volunteering comes about when people do what they are best at.

So we partnered with FlyingBinary and Charity IT Leaders to design this event. On Saturday, the charities will define the ways they’d like their data to work harder, on issues from NHS reforms to youth unemployment. Then the experts will get to work, analyzing the data over the weekend to help the charities tackle their problems.

We hope this collaboration will give data scientists a chance to have a real social impact, and voluntary organisations the knowledge to maximize their impact.

We'll be tweeting over the weekend to let you know how the event is going - look out for the hashtag #DCSociety. And watch this space for a report back on how the data scientists coped with the charities' challenges!

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Carers need support, too

Over the last few months I have spoken to nearly 100 carers about their lives, their struggles, their achievements and what they would like to see change. And the one thing I’ve noticed is how they talk about their lives.

Everything is referenced to caring. It’s not just a task, it’s a vocation. More than once I have sat in a room with six people with over 100 years caring experience between them. Not once have I heard someone say “I wish I could stop and do something else with my life.”  It’s as if this would be like wishing away something that is important in defining who they are.

Part of the struggle of making caring integral to your identity is acknowledging your own need for care. Our mentoring project Carers Together specifically requires carers to identify themselves as needing support. But whenever I ask carers what they would like, they always ask for something for the person they are caring for- better medical co-ordination, confirmation over Disability Living  Allowance changes or something else to help the cared for person.

Even when the request seems to be about the carer, such as: “I need help with my patience”, this is often about providing better care for someone else. This is great to hear, it’s a true expression of altruism and people have sacrificed very large proportions of their lives to help someone in need, but it does make it difficult for carers to make time to receive their own support. If who you are is someone who looks after other people it can be difficult to be ‘selfish’ and make time for yourself.

Carers get told repeatedly that they get need to make time for themselves and many have said to me: “That’s a great Idea, in theory.” Lots of this reflects the practicality of not having someone  to take over the work they are doing, but some of it comes down to the challenge in letting go of the perception of themselves as being the person who does the looking after. Accepting help from Carers Together is an acknowledgement, not just that you need practical assistance, but also that you need the support of another human being.

Much of the project is aimed at addressing the isolation that carers face. Part of this isolation is not having emotional support from other people. Sometimes it is possible to be strong and just get on with caring and then things change. Problems appear on the horizon, the future becomes uncertain and the need for someone to talk to becomes keenly expressed as worry, tiredness and feeling isolated. Carers too often find themselves in this position and soldier on. Perhaps if you’re in this position you can accept that everyone needs to be cared for, especially when you are doing so much caring yourself.

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Delivering Engage in Tower Hamlets

We're very excited at TimeBank to be co-ordinating a new youth project called Engage in Tower Hamlets. 

Tower Hamlets has one of the largest and fastest growing youth populations in Europe, while also having the highest levels of unemployment in London.  According to Tower Hamlets Council, a third of its population is of Bangladeshi origin and half are under the age of 20.

The project aims to involve 10-15 young people who live in Tower Hamlets and who are not in education, employment or training, and support them through an accredited training and mentoring programme to gain the skills and knowledge they need to be more employable.  The programme will also enable them to implement their learning by delivering a community project of their own in Tower Hamlets. 

The 10-week programme will provide the young people with a basic knowledge of project management, finance, communications, marketing and evaluation - skills that are transferable to any sector of employment. These skills can then be applied in the project that they choose to deliver.  Participants will also have the opportunity to take up one-to-one mentoring which will help them to identify ‘next steps’ and how to achieve them.  We aim to provide a targeted mentoring service where young people are able to access mentors from a range of sectors, rather than a ‘one size fits all' approach.

We hope this training and mentoring programme will help these young people to develop skills and knowledge and increase their confidence and motivation - all of which should help them into further education, training and/or employment. 

If you'd like to get involved in this project, take a look here

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Addressing the mental health needs of ex-service men and women

Two reports on the BBC website and in the Guardian this week have highlighted the challenges faced not just by serving personnel in the armed forces, but also for reservists, territorials and ex-servicemen and women.

This resonates strongly with our own experience on our Shoulder to Shoulder mentoring project, where we recruit volunteers to support ex-servicemen and women living with mental health problems in the community.

Where once it was accepted wisdom that it would take a significant period of time for PTSD to impact veterans lives, we are now working with much younger veterans – many in their 20s.

They will usually be living with a wide range of mental health problems in the community, often exacerbated by unemployment, homelessness and substance misuse – and a significant proportion will also have spent time in prison.

We are developing links with prisons to try and ensure that referral pathways are in place for veterans leaving the prison system - we know our intervention makes a difference to a veteran’s sense of wellbeing, trust and hope for the future.

If you’d like to know more about Shoulder to Shoulder take a look here.

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Helping older people get online

TimeBank is currently co-ordinating EE’s digital skills employee volunteering project. TimeBank has had a long and successful partnership with the organisation since it began managing employee volunteering events for T-Mobile in 2006.

The focus of the project has moved from team volunteering days to digital skills-based volunteering – helping local communities to make the most of technology and being online.

One of the key events of the project is the Techy Tea Party. Techy Tea Parties aim to demystify technology such mobile phones, digital cameras and iPads, address older people’s fears about using the internet, and demonstrate how easy it is to get online and get connected. Techy Tea Parties are informal and very sociable with plenty of tea and biscuits!

Last week the latest Techy Tea Party took place at EE’s offices in Paddington. Guests from Age UK London arrived armed with questions about the latest gadgets and how to stay connected. If either the volunteers or guests were nervous about meeting each other they certainly didn’t show it. As soon as the guests were in the room everyone started chatting to each other with no need for an introduction from the lead volunteer! The enthusiasm of both the guests and the volunteers was great to see.

People shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for help when seeking knowledge and information. An informal event like a Techy Tea Party allows skills to be exchanged freely. One of the guests offered to teach an EE employee yoga, as she was so happy with the information she received about how to take better pictures on her new digital camera. 

Pandora, another guest, said: “I don’t know where else I would have got this help in such a friendly and sociable environment.”

Volunteering doesn’t have to be a big time commitment; it is about the quality of the time given. The EE employees and guests had just over an hour together, but the guests left feeling inspired and the employees felt satisfied they’d given the guests valuable new skills.  

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Supporting small charities and community organisations in London

We were thrilled to receive continuation funding for Leaders Together for two more years. This will make Leaders Together (our capacity building mentoring project for the leaders of small charities, community organisations and social enterprises in London) one of the TimeBank's longest running volunteer mentoring projects. 

From the early days when it started back in 2007, solely supporting Refugee Community Organisations, Leaders Together has developed and expanded to support third sector organisations right across the board, from tiny community groups to charities with incomes up to £500,000 per year.

The recession has been tough for all organisations, and in many ways the smaller you are, the harder you are hit. Leaders Together provides organisations with the opportunity to look at things in a different way. A mentor isn’t there to do the work. A mentor doesn’t necessarily decrease your workload (at least not in the short term). But what they do do is share valuable experience. They ask questions, offer options, show you tricks of their trade, and most importantly allow you the headspace away from the day-to-day project delivery - with which we all get so bogged down - to think strategically about your organisation.

But don’t just take my word for it. We heard from Eleanor, one of our mentees, earlier this year. Following six months with her mentor, her organisations has won a two year grant from a trust, received their first corporate donation and obtained several small grants. She says: “I can see a massive impact from the mentoring process. I now feel that our organisation is more professional, higher-profile and the most stable it has ever been.”

Over the last two years, we have matched over 73 leaders of small organisations with a mentor, delivering support in areas as diverse as fundraising, strategic planning and leadership skills to make sure they are able to run their organisations as effectively as they can and become as sustainable as possible in this difficult environment.

And the aim over the next two years is to make the impact of the project felt as far as possible across London and that we reach as many small grassroots organisations as we can.

If you are interested in receiving mentoring support, you can read more here or get in touch direct with the project coordinator, Claire.

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There's been a great response to our Carers Together project

Our new project to support carers, Carers Together, has really got off the ground quickly.

There's been a great response to the call for carers to pass on their skills and experience by acting as online mentors to other carers.

It’s not surprising, given what we are hearing in the carers groups - changes in the benefits system and other changes affecting the services available to support carers are really starting to hit home. Experienced carers know this can be a time of great stress and are ready to lend a hand.

At the moment we are really focusing on recruiting face-to-face mentors in the Birmingham area as many of the carers we have met really want and value meeting someone and receiving support in that way.

We know carers are going through tough times - Carers Together offers someone to help think things through and make sure you get the best of what’s out there.

If you'd like to know more about the project, take a look here.

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A week of great news for TimeBank!

This week the good news is flowing in and it would seem that good news breeds good news. Two significant funding bids, one for the continuation of our Leaders Together project from City Bridge Trust - capacity building our own sector - and one for a brand new mentoring project for young women leaving care, in partnership with the Institute of Psychiatry, came in on one day!

Throughout everything, crisis or not, we have continued to deliver our renowned volunteer mentoring projects and employee volunteering programmes, on time, on budget and to a very high (externally evaluated) standard.  We have set up a new quarter of a million pound pilot of a mentoring project to support carers funded by the Big Lottery Fund – and we’ve even opened a second office in Birmingham …

What irony then that Third Sector chose this week to drag up a story from 2011 about us losing our funding! Sorry guys - but TimeBank is thriving.

So what’s our next move? Well, we are talking to a brand new partner about developing a cutting edge mentoring scheme with homeless people, and we are about to launch Engage, a new project working in Tower Hamlets with young people who are not in employment, education, or training.  We haven’t rested on our laurels or expected Government funding to suddenly come back on stream – we’ve reinvented ourselves, refocused and diversified our funding streams – we may not be totally out of the woods but the phoenix is certainly rising from the ashes…

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