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

How do you decide?

Volunteering....there are so many different things to do. Where do you start and how do know if it's the right thing for you?

If you know us, you'll know we've had our search and ratings tool, aka volurater, up and running on our website for a while now. So, you can do a search and find volunteering locally and rate the voluntering you did or are doing. But, why are we doing it?

1. It gives volunteers looking for a role a really honest opinon so they can decide if it's for them.

2. It will help to improve volunteering in the sector by giving volunteers the chance to feedback their (honest) opinions and for the organisations who they volunteer for, to act on their feedback and improve the quality of the experience - if need be.

We've had some great feedback from our projects, as have some of our friends including these lovely quotes:

"I enjoyed this experience very much, i feel like i made a big difference to my mentee's life and i gained many skills such as communication and teaching skills." Futures Together mentor

"Back to Life has been one of the most rewarding and challenging volunteering roles I have taken on. I have felt fully supported and encouraged by TimeBank staff and would recommend it to anyone."   Back to Life mentor

So, if you volunteer - review it and help someone else to find the right volunteering for them. Or, if you're trying to decide what to do, check out the reviews for some honest inspiration

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Long live the librarian

In this era of Government cuts many services that we have come to depend on are now under threat or disappearing altogether.

Our libraries are definitely on the endangered species list so I was delighted to read in yesterday's Guardian that Oxfordshire County County will not be closing its six libraries in the Witney area. At the same time, however, I was dismayed to also learn that it would be at the expense of cutting professional staff leaving the libraries to be run by volunteers.

At TimeBank we are passionate about volunteering and are dedicated to promoting it as adding real value to society, but we would never advocate replacing skilled, trained professional staff with volunteers. This is absolutely NOT what the Big Society is all about. You wouldn't want to visit your doctor only to be told that they'd been laid off due to cost savings but there were volunteers at hand to help with your ailments.Years of hard work and training is what makes people experts and specialists; their jobs can't be learnt over night.

Apparently the shadow libraries minister, Gloria Del Piero has asked culture minister, Ed Vaizey, if he has any plans to run the House of Commons library through volunteers. According to Del Piero "he has not replied so I presume he does not." That, I think, pretty much sums it up.

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Today is the day

What a beautiful day to mark the beginning of Volunteers' Week. The sun is shining, it really lifts your mood doesn't it?

So, this sunny day is the first day of a week celebrating the huge efforts of our volunteers. The official Volunteers' Week website is a great place to see what's going on up and down the country giving volunteers some appreciation for all their efforts.

We run our own projects and from everyone at TimeBank we'd like say a massive THANK YOU to all our volunteers - past and present for the difference they've made to people's lives. Here's what one of our mentees from our Back to Life project had to say about having a volunteer support him:

"I've made such a massive improvement since I've been meeting Emma. Having a mentor though is the perfect supplement to everything I get from my nurse and therapy."

So, if you're a volunteer - don't keep it quiet, tell someone about it. You can review your volunteering on our website -  someone else can see what you really think about your volunteering and perhaps it'll inspire them to get year we want to be thanking even more volunteers.

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Be a 2012 Olympic Torchbearer

If you know someone who's an inspiration or who has made a big difference to their community (or both!), now is your chance to say a huge thank you.

Nominate them to be one of 8,000 individuals who will be Torchbearers, carrying the Olympic Flame across the UK during the Olympic Torch Relay in 2012.

All you need to do is nominate them - explaining why they're an inspiration. So long as they're aged over 12 and a UK resident they could be in with a chance to take part in this historic day.

The Olympic Flame will arrive into the UK from Greece on Friday 18 May 2012. The Torch Relay will start at Land’s End the next morning, with about 110 people a day carrying the Olympic Flame during its 70 day journey towards the Olympic Stadium in London.

Nominations are open until 29 June, but if you know someone who deserves this wonderful recognition, nominate today.

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TimeBank pleased to see volunteer rating in Government White Paper

The Government White Paper on Giving, out yesterday, outlines how the Government, organisations and businesses can work together to make it easier for people to give time and money.

So, like many organisations in the sector we've been looking forward to seeing what this Giving White Paper would offer. With 10 years of volunteering expertise under our belt, we put forward our own ideas (through the Green Paper), especially around giving time. In fact, some of our responses were not just ideas but established activities that are already improving the volunteering experience.

For example, TimeBank’s ‘Volurater’ a Trip Advisor style rating and review system allows volunteers to review their experiences volunteering at any opportunity for any organisation. This information helps other volunteers decide which opportunities are right for them as well as provide valuable feedback to the organisations providing the experience.

The White Paper has come up with the same idea as follows: "We are used to rating services and even people on websites such as TripAdvisor and eBay. This sort of technology can also be used to help volunteers to build up personal reputations and testimonials to create ‘giving CVs’ and provide them with comfort and guidance, and may prove more powerful and much less bureaucratic than conventional checks and balances."

It goes on to say that, like our rating and review system - local knowledge of citizens gives them the chance to rate the value and safety of organisations and their activities much better than distant regulators.

And secondly, TimeBank’s MP volunteer scheme, which already has a significant number of MP endorsements, also outlined in response to the Green Paper, has seemingly gained the Prime Minister’s approval as he encouraged MP’s to volunteer in his speech on the launch of the White Paper yesterday.

We look forward to seeing how the Government’s White Paper pledges develop. Whilst it may be flattering to gain endorsement of something we're already delivering, we hope that funds ensue to enable us to develop and improve our offer. The ultimate money saver will be to use what we and other organisations have already put into place rather than re-inventing the wheel!

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Donate a day

The breakfast programme Daybreak has launched Donate a day week.

Big names such as Simon Cowell and the Prime Minister David Cameron are backing the campaign to get people to give a day to help a worthy cause. From volunteering in a charity shop, doing a neighbour's shopping, transforming a piece of waste ground, or simply offering an older person some company.

It's a good way to get people involved in volunteering that might not have volunteered before. It's also a great way to get to know your community better and help someone at the same time. In fact, if you're a regular volunteer reading this you'll know that some opportunities can take a while to get started because of training or simply finding the perfect thing for you.

It would be great to see more people going from donating a day this week to donating many more days in the future. If you do get involved in this scheme then please review your experiences on the review section on this website.

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It's on its way

1-7 June, aka Volunteers' Week will soon be upon us (along with sunshine too, hopefully). It's a great time for organisations or individuals to say thanks to their volunteers.

As a volunteer you can get involved in the weeks' celebrations. The Volunteers' Week website lists events going on that you can get involved in or as an organisation there's lots of resources to help promote the week.

If you're feeling a bit creative why not design a t-shirt? You could win £500 of John Lewis vouchers and 10 t-shirts for the charity you volunteer for.

Enjoy and don't forget to tell us what you got up to via twitter or Facebook (just search for TimeBank). You can also leave a review about a volunteering opportunity on our website.

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Volunteering on water

British Waterways has reported that volunteering for their organisation has increased by two-thirds in the last year. They are the body that is responsible for the upkeep of Britain's 2,200 network of canals and rivers.

Clearly that's a lot of mileage for one organisation to cope with and maintain, so they rely on the help of volunteers to keep our waterways safe and accessible for everyone to enjoy.

If you're not an out-doorsy sort of person and not keen on hard, physcial labour, then there's plenty of other volunteering activities you can get involved in. If you're a bit of a boffin on the quiet then you can indulge in a bit of historic research or there's working the front-desk at one of the canalside museums. Other opportunities include assisting with restoration or helping out on a community boat, enthusing the local population about the heritage of our waterways.

And this isn't just the domain of country-folk. Did you know that half of the population live within five miles of a canal or river?

If this floats your boat, visit to find out more.

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