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

'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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Supporting people into work

WANTED: Volunteers who can spare one or two hours a week to mentor unemployed people in Westminster

Volunteer Centre Westminster has recently secured funding from The Big Lottery to deliver a “VolEmploy Mentoring” project.This project will address the issues of unemployment and social isolation in the area by improving the employability and life skills of individuals through mentoring. Over five years, the centre aims to recruit 200 mentors who will support individuals by providing them with access to volunteering, mentoring, training (on job related issues) and development and, in addition, build up their confidence, break down barriers to work and help them develop life skills.

Full training, support and supervision will be provided by Volunteer Centre Westminster, in Praed Street, Paddington.

No qualifications are needed, but volunteers will preferably be employed and have knowledge of job applications, CVs and interview techniques.

For more information, call Yohannes Hagos on 020 7087 4351 or email

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Live Q&A - Tuesday 27th of September, 1-3pm: Encouraging community action in deprived areas

"The less deprived parts of the country have a much higher prevalence of local voluntary organisations than the more deprived areas" and "in the less deprived areas, there were many more organisations that did not receive any money from central or local government than those that did; in the most deprived areas, this pattern was reversed."

These are some of the finidings of research from the University of Southampton

In the Guardian's live Q&A panelists will examine the barriers to community action in deprived areas. Questions explored will include:

• What the barriers to community action in poor communities are and how they can be overcome

• How local groups in deprived areas can combat reduced government spending

• What support is available for groups attempting to help deprived communities

You can leave your questions in the comments section, or come back to join the discussion live from 1pm to 3pm on Tuesday 27 September.

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Mentoring with the Cherie Blair Foundation

The Cherie Blair Foundation works globally to provide women entrepreneurs with access to business development support, networks, finance and technology.

At TimeBank we value the role of mentoring as a way to engage and support people and I am happy to announce that the Cherie Blair Foundation is now recruiting a new intake of mentors for its Mentoring Women in Business programme. We are pleased to promote this programme and encourage you to become a mentor from October 2011. At that time, mentees from Kenya, Swaziland, India, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and UAE will join the programme and will be matched with successful entrepreneurs and professionals, worldwide. The programme has had some great results already - see what you could achieve here!

This is a unique opportunity to develop your mentoring skills and support female entrepreneurs in developing and emerging markets. Mentoring requires your commitment, time and dedication. Your participation in the Mentoring Women in Business programme will require a minimum of one hour of your time every two weeks for 12 months. Mentors are asked to provide a minimum contribution of £100per year to support the programme.

The application deadline if you wish to be considered for the next phase beginning in October is 23rd September.Click here to Apply Now!

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