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

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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Becoming a TimeBank Trustee - volunteering to support volunteers!

We were delighted to welcome Lorna as one of our Trustees in January. She describes what inspired her to volunteer to join us.

Like a lot of people, 2012 was a big year for me in terms of volunteering. I moved house, meaning that I couldn’t stay as a Governor of the school I’d been working with for the last six years. I was lucky enough to work as a Gamesmaker at the Paralympic Games. And my eye was caught by an advert to say that TimeBank was looking for new Trustees.

As someone who was looking for a new volunteering opportunity, this seemed perfect. I knew of TimeBank’s great reputation through other charities I’d worked with professionally, and the idea of being a Trustee, with the opportunity to use some of my career skills in a positive way, really appealed. The selection process was tough – as it should be – and I was delighted to be offered a chance to join the Board of Trustees at the end of it.

Since then, everything I’ve learned about TimeBank has only made me more enthusiastic about working with them. The existing Trustees are passionate and supportive of the organisation, with a wealth of experience, and the other new Trustees seem every bit as keen as I am, with a range of extremely useful professional skills!

But most importantly, the commitment of the staff to TimeBank, and their belief in the value of volunteering and mentoring shines through in everything they do. The new Trustee induction to TimeBank last week was fascinating and informative, and the opportunity to meet the staff inspiring – clearly everyone loves their work, and feels strongly about how TimeBank can make a difference.

So many charities are finding it hard in the current funding environment – and TimeBank is no exception. But with such dedicated staff and supportive Trustees, there seems to me every reason to feel optimistic about the future. I’m very much looking forward to working with TimeBank as a Trustee, and hopefully seeing their amazing volunteering and mentoring work go from strength to strength.

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Being valued as a volunteer

Back in July I shared with you the perks of volunteering. I am sad to say that my time at TimeBank has now drawn to a close. But here are some last words…

What was meant to be a three month placement at TimeBank ended up lasting seven months. There are many reasons why I chose to stay on. Firstly I felt very much part of the team.  Its staff were exemplary in how they welcomed and included me - treating me as one of them. I was given my own workspace with a functioning computer and phone, and my own email account. I was invited to attend the organisation's away day, all its staff meetings and office parties and after work drinks. These may appear to be rudimentary aspects of office life that should go without saying. But I mention them because I've done work experience at other companies that failed to provide me with even a regular desk to sit at.

Secondly, a lot of thought had gone into making my experience at TimeBank valuable. Every month or so, my supervisor would invite me to sit down and together we'd assess what it was I wanted to achieve and by when. My manager took a great interest in making sure that I was always learning something and not just posing as the proverbial office girl shackled to the photocopier or coffee machine. There was absolutely none of that! In fact, I was more likely to be the recipient of a nice cup of coffee than the one making it!

I was valued as a volunteer and am very grateful for that.

Although my work consisted mainly in building up skills in the area of communications, I found that most of the skills could usefully be applied to many other lines of work. For instance, who doesn't use social media these days? I learned how to use Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to the TimeBank website. I learned how to create and edit videos for YouTube. I learned how to write press releases for local and national media. I learned how to create copy for the website. I even got to help organise a parliamentary event at the House of Commons where TimeBank explained the benefits of employee volunteering.

Speaking of which, I got a taste of employee volunteering myself on my last day at TimeBank. The team spent a wet morning in December sorting out books, games and art supplies at the Crisis warehouse in South London, for distribution to homeless centres over  Christmas. What a great way to cap a brilliant year.

TimeBank certainly knows how to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.

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2012 - what a year!

2012 - what a year! This time last year I can honestly say I didn’t know how we’d get through it. But it’s been absolutely amazing.  We’ve seen people and projects come and go and we’ve constantly explored the next steps we can take in volunteering. 

Who can possibly talk about 2012 without mentioning the Olympics? The Gamesmakers made volunteering the thing to do and as Lord Coe has said, they ‘made the games’. But let’s not forget the achievements of all those volunteers who don’t wear a purple and red uniform to spend time transforming people’s lives.

Back to Life, our first ever mental health mentoring programme, came to an end but what a legacy it left - not just the people we have supported through the programme but applying that learning to new projects - Shoulder to Shoulder for veterans and The Switch which started early in the year to support young people transferring from children’s to adult mental health care.  The Lottery came up for TimeBank (literally) in June when it funded our brand new Carers Together project, a face-to-face and online mentoring programme. This not only has the potential to change the way we think about volunteer mentoring but also prompted us to open our Birmingham office – so now we are a two office charity which surely can’t be bad!

We have focussed on our business development and fundraising and seen some really interesting trends in the way companies are recognising the benefits of employee volunteering. We hosted an event at Westminster with companies and MPs to promote what we do and we’ve engaged dozens more volunteer mentors, so we really are doing something right. Closer to home our chair of 12 years the lovely Paul Jackson retired and handed the reins of TimeBank into the eminently capable hands of Andrée Deane. And to cap it all we have been interviewing for new trustees to join the board and what an amazing group of candidates we met.

Just before Christmas the whole staff team volunteered with Crisis to help them prepare their homeless centres for the holiday period.  Who needs a party when you can do that! I love that we genuinely want to walk the volunteering talk. (Of course we did go out afterwards and let our hair down a little!)

I’d like to add a couple of personal highlights – talking about volunteering on Sky News during the Olympics was great fun. And yet to come is my Christmas address to the nation on Christmas Day! OK, I’m not the Queen and it’s on at 3am but if you are just coming in from a party or the kids have got you up because Santa’s been, switch on to Radio 2 for a little festive volunteering cheer.

Just in case you miss it - from me to you: our volunteers, our future volunteers, our funders and supporters and my incredible staff - have a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS and a volunteering filled New Year!


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