Blog

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

What IS mentoring?

The term ‘mentoring’ gets used a lot. For Simon Cowell and friends it’s a large quantity of hair dye, smoke machines and arguing. This is thankfully not the case for TimeBank’s latest mentoring project, The Switch.

Instead the term ‘mentoring’ is used to describe the support, encouragement and inspiration that volunteer mentors provide to young people aged 16-18 who are living with mental health issues like depression, anxiety or self-harm.

At the time of their mentoring these young people will be making the transfer from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to those designed for adults, or beginning an adult life independent of mental health services.  This is a time that can leave some young people feeling uncertain, abandoned, overwhelmed and hopeless. But support from a TimeBank mentor can make a world of difference.

“But how can a mentor make a difference?” I hear the cynics ask. Quite simply is the answer. Mentors give five hours a month for 6–12 months to spend time with their mentee. They go out for coffee, try something new or enjoy a hobby together. Basically the mentors give dedicated, purposeful and impartial one-to-one time to someone who needs that extra bit of help. Mentoring for The Switch is about helping a young person to reach achievable goals; it’s about taking small steps and realising their significance. It’s being the person who will patiently make bus journeys with a young person, going a little further from their comfort zone each time. So eventually the young person can make these journeys (and many more) without needing support.

Mentoring isn’t a fix for mental health issues. But it can help a young person to understand that they are not defined by their mental health background. That they are able to access different and exciting activities, meet new people and improve their emotional well-being. It’s important to note that mentors are not counsellors. Mentoring is not a therapy session; it is an opportunity to talk and share but not to delve into the mentee’s mental health and psyche. Mentoring is also not a dictatorship, it’s not an opportunity to tell someone how to live their life and the decisions they should be making. It’s about being a good sounding board, potentially suggesting options but always allowing the mentee to come to their own decisions.

So, if you want to make a difference, have five hours a month to spare, enjoy spending time with people and trying new things, please find out more and apply to become a mentor for The Switch.

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New mobile phone app helps volunteers and opportunities to find each other

TimeBank has been working on a particularly innovative piece of work with SONY and Do-it to develop +U - a mobile phone application. 

It makes it easier to find one-off volunteer opportunities on the go by enabling potential volunteers to search opportunities, sign up to them, invite friends to join and check in - all from their mobile phone. You can read more about this new initiative here and download it onto an Android smart phone from here.

Organisations with one-off volunteering opportunities can make them available through the app by uploading them onto the Do-it website. For further information and support on how to do this contact Rosie.Longden@youthnet.org

You can see the Story of +U so far here:

 A spokesperson for the Teenage Cancer Trust said: “At Teenage Cancer Trust we rely on the generosity and support of our volunteers to help raise both funds and awareness of our work in helping young people fight cancer. Do-it.org.uk is a key resource in recruiting volunteers all over the UK and we think this new app will enable us to reach many more volunteers who can give their time to Teenage Cancer Trust.”

 

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Is it really a year?!?

It’s interesting how different kinds of drama and crisis in all spheres of our lives are measured or remembered.

On the train this morning I caught sight of the date and wondered why it stuck in my mind. I realised it was one of the most challenging days in my professional life when the Office for Civil Society decided not to renew our strategic partnership. This, in our plan (and thank goodness we had one!) was our worst case scenario and involved immediately downsizing our organisation, running a campaign to challenge the decision and worst of all sharing the news with an incredibly dedicated and talented staff team.

So one year on where are we? We’ve certainly been through a challenging year and had to lose some very talented people and completely change the way we work. We’ve honed down the route to our vision to make volunteering part of the fabric of everyday life and a rewarding experience for everyone involved. With our board’s support, encouragement and involvement we’ve considered options like partnerships and merger – But we are still here, still delivering amazing programmes, still working with vulnerable people, still helping people to volunteer and change their life as well as others and still as passionate as ever about volunteering.

The interesting thing, looking back on it, is the way we reacted to the challenge – it took all of us different ways and lengths of time to get there but now we know who we are and we are happy in our new skin. We are a smaller organisation but we have a new business plan which will take us back to sustainability without core government funding, and enable us to grow responsibly in this new difficult economic world in which we live. Our focus is on two areas of volunteering: our mentoring projects tackling complex social problems with a volunteering solution and working with corporates to deliver their employee supported volunteering. It’s what we are good at, have a reputation for and deliver to a high standard. We know that because our funders tell us so. This does not preclude us returning to other areas of our work in the future, nor to reacting to opportunities should they arise but allows us to focus on areas we know we can develop now and maximise the numbers we can help. It means all of our jobs are a little bit different we all have to do more with less but like many in our sector our belief in our product and our worth makes it all the easier to share the load as a team.

So in true TimeBank tradition I brought in cake to celebrate! One year on yes, we are smaller and different - but stronger, wiser, prepared for our new future and no longer afraid but excited about what it will hold.

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'A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way,' John C Maxwell ...

Last month we held the first training day of the year for our Leaders Together mentees. It may have been Valentine’s Day, but with her roses left at the door, Penny Daly, a director at the consultancy Red Ochre, led us through a day’s exploration into the world of leadership. Given the audience (leaders of small charities and community organisations), this topic was of huge importance and, as one of the attendees said after the event, it’s all too easy to forget your own values & vision of leadership when you are actually in the day-to-day running of an organisation.

After a short activity (think netball-cum-juggling – certainly warmed the cockles on a chilly February morning!) Penny used a variety of tools to give us the opportunity to take a step back from our organisations and think about leadership as a concept. Although our collective brain was a bit fuzzy to start with (sorry Penny – apparently it’s harder than you think to come up with a list of 'great leaders'), we soon got into the swing of things and lively debate ensued about characteristics of a great leader. Great leaders – are they born or are they made? A bit of both, we decided. The morning was more theoretical and took us back to basics, considering the kind of leaders we would/could/should be but the afternoon was much more participatory, giving everyone the opportunity to share their various experiences and discuss the challenges faced as a leader of a small organisation.

Interestingly, we all achieved similar results in the Insights® model: “What Sort of Leader Are You?” questionnaire coming out mainly green/blue (the more caring, encouraging, patient, cautious, precise and questioning traits). Perhaps that’s part of being in the voluntary sector, or perhaps it was just coincidence, but it gave rise to an interesting debate as to the importance of bringing the competitive, demanding, purposeful, dynamic, persuasive characteristics into our roles in order to be effective leaders. Running a charity, community group or social enterprise still requires the leader to be focused and strong in order to make sure the future vision for the organisation can be realised. I think this was one of the most important lessons that we took away from the workshop. As Winston Churchill said: 'Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.'

To find out more about the Leaders Together project, whether you are a leader of a small charity, community organisation or social enterprise looking for a mentor to support you or you are a senior professional who would be interested in volunteering your time to support someone, please do get in touch.

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Shoulder to Shoulder in Birmingham is so popular we're expanding!

Last year the Shoulder to Shoulder project was expanded to Birmingham, and it’s going from strength to strength.

The project includes a weekly drop-in centre where ex-servicemen and women can come for coffee and advice or just a chat with friends. In just a few months it has become a huge success with well over 20 regular members every week. In fact it’s growing so fast that we’re now having to look at expanding it to two days a week to cope with demand.

The veterans seem to be enjoying the opportunity to meet up and chat. They’re hoping to set up football and rugby teams and a weekly gym club.

And we’re achieving some great results. Our first big success was helping one ex-serviceman who was living in temporary accommodation to register with a housing charity. It was fantastic when he received an offer of accommodation soon after.

Shoulder to Shoulder in Birmingham has received close to 40 referrals in the last month alone, with eight ex-servicemen matched with volunteer mentors. I think this project shows just what a difference a bit of friendship and support can make.

Shoulder to Shoulder is a TimeBank mentoring project in London and Birmingham. It matches volunteers with ex-servicemen and women who are recovering from mental health problems. Around 20,000 service personnel return  to civilian life every year. Most resettle successfully – but nearly 20% have a mental health problem resulting from traumas and injuries they experienced during active service. This doesn’t just make adjusting to life after the military difficult. It can also lead to homelessness, unemployment, loneliness, relationship issues and physical health problems. Find out more here.  

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10,000 Olympics volunteers start their training

Now on a freezing cold Saturday at 7.30am, I’m not going to lie to you, I would normally be comfortably snuggled under my duvet – but this weekend I was stirring my porridge in anticipation of heading to Wembley. There are normally two reasons I to go to Wembley: Take That and football. But on Saturday I was heading to the London 2012 Games Makers orientation training at Wembley Arena.

I’ve been lucky enough to sit on Locog’s volunteer advisory body and it was in this capacity that I was attending. Walking up Wembley Way there were literally 10,000 people starting their journey to volunteer at London 2012. 

The statistics are incredible: a quarter of a million applicants, and so far 80,000 interviewed and 55,000 offers made. Yet to get to the magic number of 70,000 there’s still work to be done and that’s before the training starts. This weekend’s four sessions (that’s 40,000 people over two days) was the start of the training – the next phase will be training for their actual role at the Olympics.

It’s no mean feat to get 10,000 people in a room but to use that three hours usefully had clearly taken a great deal of planning and it was inspiring stuff. Of course we started with Seb Coe – the one person we all associate with 2012 and he is as convincing in the flesh as in the films and interviews we were shown. He is someone who is genuinely committed to delivering the best experience possible and who believes passionately that without volunteers there is no sport in this country and that our Games Makers will “make the difference between a good games and a great games”.  Eddie Izzard also played his part and Jonathan Edwards and Huw Edwards and a whole host of others worked through the expectations of and for the volunteers.  And we got a viewing of the uniform that everyone will wear – ‘practical and bright’ with ‘British’ themes (it’s red and purple and takes inspiration from the Grenadier Guards!)

As I headed home on the Tube with my ‘How to be a Games Maker' pack I felt slightly embarrassed that I was the only one clutching it who wasn’t a volunteer. But it didn’t make me any less inspired by what I had heard or excited about the incredible spectacle of the biggest volunteer force this country will have seen in peacetime and the potential for its legacy too. Our experience tells us that if you have a positive volunteering experience you’ll go on to volunteer again and again and after seeing the time and energy being put into our 2012 Games Makers I can only imagine that they will want to make volunteering part of their lives on an on-going basis and that can only be a good thing. 

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What happens when mentoring turns into friendship?

When the first phase of our Back to Life project was evaluated by Órla Cronin Research, Órla  highlighted the importance of setting clear boundaries between mentoring and friendship. Even though we establish these at the start of the relationship, some boundaries start to take a back seat, losing focus in the relationship.

Back to LIfe matches volunteers aged 18-35 with someone of a similar age who is recovering from mental illness and needs support. The two meet up and spend time together. They might go for coffee, take part in sport, see a play. As the relationship develops it can start to become more like a friendship. The main difference is that in mentoring, the focus is on achieving defined goals within a clear timeframe.

We wanted to reinforce this to new volunteers on the next Back to Life project. So we asked Annemarie Freude-Lagevardi, who runs befriending schemes and delivers Mental Health First Aid training in the Royal Borough of Chelsea & Kensington, to organise a workshop for us.

It was a really interesting session, with Annemarie discussing different problems mentors might face, such as being asked to reveal personal information or to lend money. 

She presented the mentors with a number of situations and asked what they would do. For example, you and your mentee discover you have a passion for playing music and start jamming together. You are spending more and more time together - way over the five hours expected each month - and goal setting has been forgotten. You as a mentor start to regret what has happened - what do you do?

The workshop also discussed issues around confidentiality and what to do if your mentee confides in you (There are NO secrets says Annemarie!) The mentors talked about how to redefine boundaries if they had shifted - or how to end the mentoring relationship and continue as friends if that's both want.

It was a really useful workshop, re-emphasising what we already cover in our own mentoring training but in more detail. We'll certainly be revisiting this issue as it's such as important one for our volunteers as they enter into mentoring relationships.  

 

 



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Have you caught the Christmas Bug?!

I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported us this year – and to wish you the best Christmas ever.

You only  have to read the evaluation report from TimeBank’s own Back to Life project to realise what a huge difference volunteers make to people’s lives.

The external researchers who compiled the report said they found that young people recovering from mental illness built confidence, improved their quality of life and felt more ready to engage with society after taking part in this volunteer mentoring project.

One young woman said: “Before, I’d be in agony, I’d be in bed, and that is what my mentor helped me with. She got me out of the house, talking about it and it helped me get some ideas of what I wanted to do and put them in place.”

What isn’t always recognised however is how much volunteers themselves benefit from the experience. You can go into it with the desire to help people – or to enhance your CV. But pretty soon many volunteers find they get so much out of it that they don’t want to stop. It becomes addictive.

We encourage volunteers to rate their experiences on our ‘Trip Advisor’-style review system. People tell us how their confidence has increased, they’ve made new friends – and even improved their health. (In fact, recent research shows that volunteering has a whole range of health benefits, from helping you sleep better to boosting your immune system!)

Apparently, two-thirds of those who volunteer at Christmas ‘catch the bug’ and go on to volunteer again.

And that is the best news ever, because charities really do need volunteers throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

So why not make volunteering your New Year resolution?  If you sign up to the gym you probably won’t go, so sign yourself up to volunteer instead – you’ll get much more out of it.

Happy New Year!  

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