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

Employee Volunteering - Do you dig it?

Ask most people to define employee volunteering and you hear verbs such as building, digging, planting and painting. It’s just the way it has always been done.

I’m not saying charities don’t appreciate some sweat and muscle but here at TimeBank we like to look outside the (just assembled and painted) box and try to offer a more rewarding kind of Employee Volunteering: an experience that inspires and motivates and leaves both volunteers and beneficiaries with lasting memories and new skills.

At TimeBank we are granted five days per year volunteering leave which is way above the national average of two but because we are passionate about volunteering we like to be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. In previous jobs, volunteering for me has been defined by how dirty my clothes were, how many cuts adorned my hands and how much my back ached. However this was all about to change……

Recently I attended a digital workshop for AgeUK in Hackney. No training was required and the only brain cells I needed were the ones I needed every time I use my computer or check my phone (which is a lot!) It was only two hours of my time but I could tell that for the ‘silver surfers’ it was an opportunity to interact and learn and spend some quality time with a fresh face. I helped someone to sort out the contact list on their phone, reducing the list from over 100 down to a manageable 30. I also spent 30 minutes checking for security updates on a laptop. It wasn’t a lot to me but it was very important to them. The best part was chatting over a cuppa about the joys of London, the best pubs to go to and being shown a Facebook page with a picture of one of my companions as a three-year old, dressed as a sailor for the Queen’s Coronation! It was one of the most satisfying afternoons I have spent in a long time and left me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside my digital soul.

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The impact of our Futures Together project

TimeBank's Futures Together project in Birmingham supported older Muslim women to increase their English and computer skills. As it draws to an end, project co-ordinator Shaida Riaz assesses its impact.

Our Futures Together project in Birmingham has been lucky enough to build a great partnership with Bordesley Green Girls School; a beacon of success in the local community. With this work coming to a close I’d like to share the project’s story…

The school provides excellent services for the local community and working with the Community Support Officer, Michelle Hughes, we were able to use their fantastic computer suites in the newly built state of the art sixth form, to offer our basic IT workshops.  We started off with one session a week but later introduced another session which enabled more beneficiaries to attend. 

With the school having a great standing in the community and being a female environment it was certainly easier to recruit beneficiaries.  However, I soon found out that being interested and confirming attendance and actually turning up were two very different things! Many of the women who we were keen to attend had family or childcare commitments which meant that a lot of my time was spent working around these and persuading the women to make time for themselves even if it was just for one session.  It was a bit of a struggle to get the women to actually attend, but this is a common problem engaging with the older Muslim women’s community in the area, and one I knew I would come up against.  However, the sessions themselves were so engaging that once the women attended one session they often returned for another couple of sessions, sometimes bringing a neighbour along too. 

It was important to incorporate English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) into the computer sessions as many of the beneficiaries either had no English speaking and writing skills, and some were attending ESOL lessons at other times.  This meant many of the ladies learnt to spell their names and addresses for the first time in our sessions, which was an amazing accomplishment, especially for women who have been in the country for many years. 

The sessions utilised the skills and enthusiasm of local volunteers, and used TimeBank’s tailored computer toolkits, and there was often a real sense of pride from the women once a section was completed. 

The volunteers were great and found the sessions extremely inspiring; I think this quote from a volunteer says it all...  “I really feel that I am giving something back to the community and it only takes a few hours a week!  I think doing something like this will give these women a sense of pride and a lot of confidence, and the best thing of all is that I have learnt so much from the women too.  I have heard stories about the struggles they faced and how they overcame being illiterate, something as simple as going to the doctor’s surgery was a big issue for many of these women, something we take for granted today.  When I spoke to one of the ladies I realised that although they have become accustomed to life in England now, learning to use a computer is even more important for them as they realise how it has become a big part of society and they don’t want to be left behind.  I have heard some amusing stories too and have  learnt new phrases which I will be taking away with me, it’s just a great way to spend my time and I am glad I was a part of this great project, thank you TimeBank.”  (Sofia Ali – Futures Together Volunteer)

The Futures Together project has been a great success here in Birmingham, short but inspiring for many.  With more time dedicated to outreach work and working with key players in the Muslim community such as Mosques and local community centres, I really believe the Futures Together project could be a great permanent fixture in these local communities and that there are many women in need of such a great and worthwhile project.

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Communication is the key!

Here at TimeBank we’re always on the lookout for organisations who would like to work with us to support their beneficiaries using our mentoring model.

By working together effectively we can enable more people across the UK to receive one-to-one support from a volunteer mentor.

We’re currently exploring the possibility of working with Penrose who have been providing help and support to ex-offenders and people with mental illness for over 40 years and provide thousands of support interventions every year. From our initial meeting it looks like our similar approaches to project delivery mean this could be the start of a great partnership – so watch this space!

In the meantime, Penrose are looking for a volunteer to help out with communications at their office in Holloway in North London. If you’d like to know more take a look at their website.  

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What is key to a productive mentoring relationship?

Since I started working on Shoulder to Shoulder, our mentoring project for ex-service men and women, we’ve been lucky enough to receive applications from would-be volunteer mentors with a wealth of skills. 

Many of the volunteers have mentored or been mentored themselves, even if they don’t regard it as mentoring.  Mentoring is something the majority of us have experienced at some point in our lives, be it with a teacher, family member, or employer. Even so, many people seem to have difficulties when I ask them what a mentor is and what a mentor does. 

I think that each mentoring relationship is unique and it’s up to each person in the relationship to work out what works for them. That said, there are some things that are common to each mentoring relationship. Gerald Egan teaches something called the Skilled Helper Model, which is a three-stage process to support people to resolve a particular problem or to access a resource.  There are some key elements of it that I think are central to any productive mentoring relationship:

  1. Giving people time to find out what their problem really is.

Resist the urge to start action planning as soon as a mentee mentions an issue they’d like to work on.  Practice your active listening skills and encourage them to explore the issue further.  What can start off as a time management issue (I have too many obligations and I don’t know how to fulfil them) could instead be about control and helping a mentee regain it in their lives.

  1. Be creative in your approach to problem solving.

There are lots of different approaches that you can use including mind mapping using words and/or diagrams to describe the issue.  The mentor can then gently challenge the mentee by asking them to explain what’s on the page or by asking them to develop particular ideas.  It’s important that the mentee explores as many options as they can before they settle on a best fit.

  1. Be specific in the goal that you set.

The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) method can be really useful as you can go through and make sure each criteria has been fulfilled before the mentee attempts the goal.  If the time frame is very long term it might be an idea to divide the goal into something more readily achievable. Before embarking on the goal ask the mentee how committed they are to seeing this goal through on a scale of 1-10.  If it’s less than 8 it’s probably a good idea to go back and re-evaluate the goal.  Ask the mentee if this goal is really getting to the crux of the issue.

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Nunhead Cemetery Volunteering Day

TimeBank recently organised an employee volunteering day at Nunhead Cemetery for the Consumer Indirect Team at Everything Everywhere. Their task was to clear undergrowth and bushes – and to build a large pyramid for stag beetles! Their verdict: ‘A truly rewarding day in so many ways.  We recommend this activity and day to anyone.’

To support ‘giving something back’ our Consumer Indirect Team led by Roger Fletcher decided to help an amazing cemetery in Peckham with a day of hard labour.

Having arrived at the cemetery we were greeted by the warden, Jon, who looks after numerous parks around South London.  He was delighted by our support. Despite various bad backs, we had a strong team of  Roger, Andy, Jon, Matt, Ged, Kiran, Lotty, Jenny and Victoria. All ably assisted by Ian Wheatley from the Compliance and Fraud team.

Jon first took us for a tour of the cemetery. This was the greatest surprise of the day. We had no idea what a beautiful place this really was.  A fascinating Victorian Cemetery steeped in history and unbelievable monuments. The first grave was dug in 1840 and the final burial was about 100 years ago. It was then abandoned for many years and this neglect led to the cemetery changing from lawns to meadows and eventually woodland. It was reopened in 2001 after lottery funding and it is now a nature reserve.

We were set two tasks for the day: building a large log pyramid for stag beetles, then clearing undergrowth and bushes. Teams were allocated and the hard work began!

Stopping only for delivered pizzas which delighted the council staff, we worked through the day.

With a great deal of camaraderie and laughter (sometimes enough to wake the dead!) we finished the tasks. The best part of the day was the team work, undiscovered skills and the learning we can use back in the normal working environment. We are all in need of bonding and there really is no better way of seeing that come into practice than a hard day’s manual labour.

A truly rewarding day in so many ways.  We recommend this activity and day to anyone. Please try and help Nunhead Cemetery stay as peaceful and beautiful as it is now, and should be. We also challenge anyone to build a better log pyramid...


The Consumer Indirect Team!

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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

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. 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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