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

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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Shrinking classrooms and developing work skills

There’s a (rare) joke in the corporate responsibility world:

Q. Why are classrooms getting smaller?

A. Because of all the corporate volunteers re-painting the walls every week.

Not exactly Oscar Wilde, but it does make an important point as employee volunteers should never do work that’s not necessary and team challenges should be, well, challenging.

Team volunteering can certainly be done better, but I worry that there’s a danger of losing an important volunteering driver if we focus exclusively on individual opportunities and skills-based volunteering. There needs to be a blend of activity and going out as a group is a great way of getting new volunteers started, lifting morale and building stronger teams.

Last week, at TimeBank, we piloted a new team challenge model which met a clear community need and developed business skills while retaining the team bonding and fun elements. As ever, there will be tweaks, but the feedback’s been overwhelmingly positive from all parties.

So, what did we do?

We decorated a classroom and, frankly, it was a bit smaller after we finished! However, this was a bit different, because:-

  • Our team of volunteers from Nectar worked with the children to brainstorm ideas for a creative and inspiring reading environment.
  • A group of the volunteers went out in the community “apprentice-style” to find extra materials to help realise the children’s ideas.
  • They worked to a tight deadline to make sure that the project was finished on the day and children could see the results.

This was all possible during a fast-moving half day that had something for everyone. From the company point of view, it was great to see that skills as diverse as empathy and planning were developed. Creative minds had plenty to keep them busy, while project managers and negotiators also had a role to play.

Do  get in touch if you are interested in skills-based team building – we’ve plenty more ideas in the pipeline!

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Time to Give!

Last week our wonderful volunteer Despina told us how she started volunteering on the Back to Life project, which supported young people recovering from mental health issues. As the project comes to an end, Despina tells us how much she gained from the experience.

Meeting my mentee Tasha (not her real name) was a great experience and I am so grateful I was matched so well to someone I would grow to like and feel so at ease with. Fighting my natural shyness and finding strength in my enthusiasm and curiosity I went to that first meeting. I was as fidgety as I can be and, no doubt, bright red, but felt calm and positive.

My mentee and I seemed to be as talkative, inquisitive and friendly as each other and as soon as we started talking, both sighed in relief at how uncomplicated our first conversation was. After the introduction, we were left to our own devices and clicked immediately.  We were lucky to have so much in common and our personalities matched without clashing.

To me it felt like I was meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years and discovering their beautiful personality all over again.  Looking back, I believe the reason this relationship started off so smoothly was because our relationship structure  was explained so clearly so we had the nature of a mentoring relationship clear in our minds. There was no confusion as to the interaction between us and very quickly we intuitively understood boundaries and openly discussed them to help us achieve our goals.  

At first, we agreed on and set the goals we wanted to get out of the mentoring relationship, both personal and practical. Later on we tweaked and readjusted those as needed and before we knew it found ourselves having our last few sessions. We had no problem being open about what we would do and not. In our time as mentor and mentee, we planned activities but also had impromptu meets. We walked around parks, rode bikes, must have had coffee pretty much everywhere, visited the Dragon Cafe where we watched poetry, a play, listened to music and made friends, went to museums, exhibitions, made things, ate things, and broke long weeks into digestible chunks, encouraging each other to be honest and express ourselves creatively. Sometimes it was difficult to tell who was the mentee and who was the mentor as I learnt so much from Tasha.

Unexpected life circumstances often stopped us from meeting up, but I feel we managed to pull through and come out the other side. There were tough times and there were times of joy, but none of it would have been feasible without the support of the Back to Life project co-ordinator who was there to help at any time of the day and with any problem we encountered.

Closing our relationship, we have achieved most goals we set out to do, have developed as people, and have seen our relationship get stronger. I feel happy to have been part of Tasha’s life and I feel proud to have been her mentor, looking at the tremendous progress she has made herself, despite what life has thrown at her. I have never met such a mature and strong woman and I hope she never loses her sense of humour, and has all the luck in the world as well as all the puppies and nail varnishes her heart desires!

Tasha taught me to laugh,to be myself, to be positive but realistic, remember my boundaries and not be scared to love life and people around me, even if life situations don’t go as planned. Apart from gaining new skills and valuable memories, through the Back to Life project I gained a dear friend.

Back to Life has now come to an end, but if you are interested in volunteering as a mentor, do take a look at our other mentoring projects.

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What's it like to be a volunteer mentor?

Have you ever thought of becoming a volunteer mentor but were uncertain about what it would entail?  As our ground-breaking Back to Life project comes to an end, we asked one of our volunteers, Despina, to recall her own experience.

Volunteering was something I’d thought about a lot, particularly when filling out endless forms found everywhere from the Jobcentre to Facebook ‘fun’ personality questionnaires. So I googled: ‘mental health’; ‘volunteer’; ‘opportunities’; ‘London’. I was a little nervous what the Internet would decide I was to do. Then I clicked and opened a link that caught my attention: TimeBank. ‘Be yourself. Be a volunteer’.  I certainly liked that motto, I thought. I wanted to get involved.

The project which caught my attention was Back to Life, a mentoring project for young people starting again, following mental illness. I thought of my life and how I had been supported by my own mentors. I clicked the link and filled out a form. Then anxiously my fingers finally pressed send. I finished my tea and smiled out the window full of anticipation and excitement, hoping I’d hear from them soon and that they’d like me.

So many questions flooded my mind: ‘Would I be a good mentor? What would it be like? How was this relationship with a new person going to develop?’  I was filled with questions as well as excitement and anticipation.

When the project co-ordinator called, I was reassured. To be honest I have not had an interview more comfortable, inspiring and empowering before. All went well and I was booked in for training.

The training Saturday came and walking into TimeBank’s office was a lot more nerve-wracking than I’d anticipated. As soon as I walked out of the lift, however, the sense of belonging returned. I wanted to be part of this so much and I admired the organisation’s dedication and effortful work in the community. My thoughts on meeting the team were that they were warm, welcoming, friendly, people with beautiful hearts and care about the world but still remaining practical, pragmatic and to the point.

 We started our training like excited children about to learn how to make something new. The volunteers were from all walks of life. Our trainer and project coordinator efficiently prepared us for our role as mentors whilst passing on her energy and enthusiasm. We learned about the nature of the project, about mental health, about the organisation, but (perhaps unexpectedly) we also learned about ourselves, how we deal with life situations, what our expectations and our personal limits are.

After the second day of training, I felt I had made new friends and was confident I could do this. What impressed me was the constant support from the TimeBank team. Apart from very good contact with our project coordinators, there were frequent meetings for all volunteers, matched or not yet, to meet up and support each other, as well as specialised training on relevant topics that would be helpful resources for our mentoring work. In these sessions we got a chance to exchange views and advice and share our experiences.

 After a short wait I was finally matched to my mentee. On receiving the news, I almost clapped my hands with excitement. Of course I had initial nerves, but I knew I had the support I needed from TimeBank and the knowledge to perform my task.

Look out for the next instalment of Despina’s blog to hear how she got on!

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