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

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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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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