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

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.

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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.

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On your bike

Are you a lover of the outdoors?

Sustrans, the charity who enable people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day - have a great volunteering role for you.

Active Travel Champions are part of an Olympic Inspire marked project that is playing a big part in getting more people walking and cycling in the run up to the Games.

Active Travel Champions are volunteers acting in their own settings helping people to be more active, happier and healthier through walking and cycling. You might organise bikes rides, health walks, active travel action days or give people active travel advice through information stands, display boards and talks. You can choose what you'd like to do based on how much time you can spare

You'll get full training and support from the Sustrans volunteer team. If this sounds like something you'd like to do, take a look at Sustrans website for more info and to apply.

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Putting Junction49 on the map

Our youth programme, inspires and supports young people aged 13-25 to set up and deliver projects, campaigns and events around the issues that matter to them. 

One of the best things about it is that any young person, no matter where they live, can access our online platform and get support from wherever they are in the UK. Thanks to our web developer, Ben, you can now see just how far we've reached with this map - which really does span the whole of the UK.

What we love is that because Junction49 is an online platform, geography is irrelevant to getting involved and supporting someone with their idea.  So whether they're one of the masses in London or Newcastle, or a lone Junction49er in Northern Ireland they can all still comment on each other's ideas, sharing advice through the marvel of the interweb, to set up some truly fantastic projects.

If you're aged 13-25 and want to set up your own project - Junction49 could be just what you're looking for.

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Lots and lots of Leaders Together

Keeping me busy this week has been the planning of our very first Leaders Together networking event which took place this morning.

It was a great collection of mentors, mentees, support organisations and TimeBank staff getting together to celebrate and discuss the achievements of the programme thus far, the sucesses of various mentoring pairs, the challenges in the sector and most importantly the opportunities for support that are available out there. This event was planned to coincide with Small Charities Week which celebrates the valuable contribution of these small organisations in our communities. This milestone provides a great opportunity for us to reflect on what we do, how we work and how we can best support small organisations to support communities better.

I would like to thank everyone who attended and made the event what it was; even though it was quite early (I hope the breakfast made up for it!). I would like to thank in particular my lovely mentees Natalie and Greg, and mentor David for their input and all the support organisations who attended including Small Chartities Coalition, London Voluntary Services Council, Olmec, Red Ochre and Social Enterprise London.

If you are interested in taking part as a mentor or mentee to support a small community organisation please visit the Leaders Together website.

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Refugee Week, 20-26 June

Refugee Week is a unique opportunity to discover and celebrate the contributions refugees bring to the UK.

TimeBank has always done a lot of work with the refugee community - initially with Time Together our flagship mentoring programme that ran nationally. Its success led to a change in government policy which means that every refugee was given the chance to have a volunteer mentor. More recently we have run Refugees into Teaching in partnership with the Refugee Council providing free information, advice, mentors and guidance to refugees who want to work in the education sector.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention. In order to mark the occasion and link it to Refugee Week 2011, the theme for this year will be 60 Years of Contribution. Stories and case studies about the contributions that refugees have made to Britain over the last 60 years are being collected. If you have any interesting stories or photos on this subject to share, please contact Refugee Week coordinators.

During Refugee Week loads of events take place across the UK, all of which explore refugee experiences. Whatever you’re into - be it arts, music, food or just meeting people in your local area - Refugee Week will have an event for you. Visit the Events Calendar for this year's events. If you want to volunteer at one of these events contact your National and Regional Coordinators who should be able to tell you about different volunteering opportunities in your area and how your skills and expertise might be used within different contexts.

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Public Administration "Select" Committee

This morning I attended the Public Administration Select Committee at Westminster.This body is conducting an inquiry into the Big Society and it’s the first time I’ve attended in person.

Today they were hearing from ‘Think Tanks’ and the Cabinet Office. There were four 30-something witnesses with seven slightly older MP’s listening and asking questions – all were white, well educated men. Umm, where was the diversity?

As a voluntary sector CEO delivering the Big Society on a daily basis and, as you know, a casualty of spending cuts, I was surprised not to hear a debate about how the Big Society could work – but instead there was a lengthy debate on different theories and how they might be put into practice or how they had failed or might succeed – localism, mutualism, pluralism, blah blahism.

I came away not really feeling that the question ‘What is the Big Society’ got answered. It might have been more helpful to discuss in basic terms what the outputs and outcomes are going to be or quite simply what will success look like and how can we measure it – at least to those of us who have ever planned a project or written a funding application.

But that wasn’t what really made me leave Westminster depressed – it goes back to my first point about diversity. We had the young pretenders theorising to the men in power - I wonder if we might have heard a very different debate with a more diverse group involved?

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Read, read and read some more

I read last night in the London Evening Standard that the paper is launching a campaign 'Get London Reading' - to do just that and tackle illiteracy.

Astonishingly, one in three children doesn't own a book and one million working adults aren't able to read. Those are some scary stats, particularly as the UK is one of the top developed nations.

It was especially great to read that one of our partners, Volunteer Reading Help has joined forces with the Evening Standard to run the campaign. They're appealing to volunteers to go into schools and support children who are struggling to read.

I, along with some of my colleagues, have done this kind of volunteering before. We get five days a year to volunteer, so a few of us at TimeBank signed up with Southwark Education Business Alliance to go along to a local school to support some of the children with their reading. It was great to meet the children and feel like you're playing a small part in their development. Also, because we took it in turns to go it really was a very small amout of time out of our days (very do-able, if you don't have much time to spare).

The campaign has been really successful already - with 400 people getting in touch to be a mentor or donating money. Apparently VRH has been inundated with enquiries since yesterday but if you're not living in London, the charity may still need your help. Don't forget though, it might take a little while to get started because of CRBs or training but it will be worth it in the end. As proved by one of VRH's volunteers who left a review on our website:

"I cannot think of any activity that has been more rewarding than my work with Volunteer Reading Help. You spend 90 minutes twice a week working individually with three children at your local school, usually reluctant readers, to help them become more confident in their reading and inspire in them a love of books. To see them grow in confidence and achieve higher levels of reading over the year is a joy. You know that you have made a difference in their lives - sometimes a really big difference. And the children themselves teach you so much in return - with their imagination and enthusiasm. VRH is an incredibly well run organisation and they make everything easy for the volunteer. Make a difference to a child's lifelong chances. Volunteer with VRH."

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