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

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. 

Add a comment

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.  



Add a comment

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!  

Add a comment

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

Add a comment

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.

Add a comment

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!

Add a comment

Volunteering beyond the riots

This has been a difficult week in London. No one can possibly condone the violence that has erupted or the damage that has been done or the heart that has been ripped out of so many communities.

BUT there are positives to come out of it and mostly around volunteering - I hope this government takes note. It has been a very powerful message to see volunteers motivated by an incident in their community to take action and make a difference. To sustain this over time we will need organisations like TimeBank to help people find the right opportunity and support them into making changes in their community long term. Clearing our streets is fantastic, keeping them clear, inspiring and supporting our young people in a meaningful way, providing the facilities they need, that is what will get to the heart of the issues we have seen, and that is why we need organisations like TimeBank to help make it happen. Just take a look at Junction49 our youth-led website to see what young people are already doing together to make their communities better with support from our helpdesk and each other.

In my own community in Walthamstow, a respite centre set up and run entirely by volunteers, has been up and running all week for community workers, police and other emergency services to have a cup of tea and some food in a comfortable safe environment as they work 24 hours a day to restore and then keep calm in our borough. This has been supported and tweeted tirelessly by our local MP Stella Creasy who has kept everyone informed about what is happening, where and advising calm when rumours of non-existent riots start doing the rounds – and she invited Mr Cameron to see it for himself yesterday!

Last night I walked home to see volunteers from the local residents association clearing flowerbeds in time for the village in bloom judging (!), stopping only to chat to the extra police who were patrolling our streets – and this is less than half a mile away from the shops that were looted and fires that were started. This is not what the news channels show of the East End but it’s why I live here and it’s why I’m proud of how our communities have risen to the challenge of the last week and why I am determined to ensure organisations like TimeBank continue to support volunteers when everything calms down.

Add a comment

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

South Africans are celebrating former President Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday.

His foundation has urged people to do 67 minutes of volunteering on the day - to represent the 67 years he devoted to South Africa's political struggle.

"If a man could dedicate 67 years of his life to doing good for the world, imagine what we could achieve if everyone just gave 67 minutes of their time to do the same," said Achmat Dangor, the head of the foundation.

South African companies, charities and celebrities have all announced their volunteering plans for the day.

Mr Ban urged others around the world to do the same. "The best way we can thank Nelson Mandela for his work is by taking action for others and inspiring change," he said.

So go on people, have a look on our website and see what you can find to do to celebrate the life and contribution of this amazing man.

Add a comment