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

We're still in business but it's been a tough few months

I wrote a blog in early March about the devastating news we received from the Office for Civil Society (OCS) that we had been sifted out of the Strategic Partnership application process.

This meant that we would no longer be in receipt of vital core Government funding. We had bid for £500k which would enable us to continue our work in helping and encouraging people into volunteering. Something we've been proudly doing since 2000.

Of course we had planned for this eventuality in our budget forecasts, but like all scenario planning reality is a very different animal altogether. Along with my senior management team, we resisted knee-jerking and took some time to review our priorities going forward and what sort of staff structure would be needed to deliver the work. Undoubtedly this exercise also included seeing what activity was covered by core costs.

We took our plan for a slimmer TimeBank to our Trustees and staff for a month long consultation. Now that period is over it is with huge regret that we have had to let some of our talented and committed staff go. As you will have read today in the media this has meant 11 staff redundancies. Most of these staff members are in our IT, digital and communications teams which have been historically funded by core Government money.

Our focus is now centred on delivering our innovative volunteering project portfolio - like Shoulder to Shoulder, Back to Life and Parents First - as well as developing new projects which address a key social issue using the skills of volunteers. We're also still very much committed to running  Employee Volunteering schemes which are now showing real signs of growth.

If you are a volunteer or a beneficiary of one of these projects please be reassured that we are 100% committed to delivering the scheme in its entirety.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my staff for sticking with us through an unbelievably challenging time - they have been with us all the way, knowing that difficult decisions lay ahead. But these difficult decisions will buy us precious time to keep going until the funding climate becomes clearer.

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To our digital volunteers - thank you

We run two projects, Parents First and Futures Together that match volunteers with people from different backgrounds and age groups - helping them to get online. And, we've just finished our other digital inclusion project Digitall. You can watch our short film about how we're tackling digital inclusion here.

Over the last few years our volunteers have helped hundreds of people get to grips with computers and discover the wonders of the net, so we'd like to say a big thanks. Take a look at what people got out of getting involved in Digitall or Futures Together.

Of course, we're not the only ones involved in digital inclusion. The National Digital Conference which happened over the last couple of days was celebrating the 1,200 Digital Champions who've helped get people online. The aim was also to encourage a fully ’networked nation’ so that society, economy and the latest technology are linked through partnerships with Government, industry, charities and individuals.

Myself and Hannah, headed over on the first day to find out more. Like any good conference there were some celebs; Gloria Hunniford and Stacey Soloman as well as speeches from Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, Mark Thompson, Director General, BBC and Paula Vennells, Managing Director, Post Office Ltd, as well as a keynote address by the PM, David Cameron.

It was really encouraging to hear that there was so much energy and enthusisam  to get the 9 million people online who aren't already - all by 2012. If you fancy helping someone get online, you don't necessarily have to join an organisation to do it - just a computer and lots of enthusiasm. Pass IT on is a useful resource if you want to go it alone and keep an eye out for our very own digital inclusion toolkit coming soon.

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All creatures great and small

A few colleagues and I have just had a lengthy discussion about pets (all in the name of volunteering of course).

We discussed everything from Ray's cat who ate potato skins and cucumber (I know, weird!) to cats chasing (and be-heading pigeons) to the very sad day when you hear the news that your moggy 'whiskers' or 'scruff the dog' isn't much longer for this world.

The discussion started when Andy said he'd never seen his friend so distraught as the time he heard his family pooch was really ill. We concluded, and I don't think this is a new fact, that we are in fact a nation of animal lovers and our pets are well loved family members. Put your love of animals to good use and volunteer - find out different ways to get involved.

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Have a go heroes

The national charity Help for Heroes which raises money for wounded ex-servicemen and women, is seeking 11,000 volunteers to help with its biggest fundraising drive yet - Tesco Helping Heroes.

During the weekend of 1-2 July there is an opportunity for you to donate an hour of your time to collect money outside Tesco supermarkets across the UK.

The volunteering days form part of the Help for Heroes One Hour for Heroes appeal which everyone, from politicians, companies, sportsmen and women and actors will donate one hour of their time.

As well as collection volunteers outside the Tesco stores the charity is also looking for Regional Collection Coordinators and Store Point of Contact volunteers.

For more information visit the website.

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Does anyone say dib dib anymore?

In London alone more than 7,000 young people are currently on club waiting lists and there are thousands more right across the UK.

They are waiting to join organisations like the Air Training Corps, Army Cadet Force, Boys Brigade, Community Fire Cadets, Girls Brigade, Sea Cadet Corps, St John Ambulance as well as the Scouts and the Girl Guides of course because there aren’t enough adult volunteers to help run the groups.

Summer is on its way and what better way to get involved and get into the outdoors through this kind of volunteering.  There are so many benefits for the young people that take part in uniformed groups and evidence shows that the young people who do participate in uniformed groups have better school attendance and attainment, and are less likely to offend or behave in an anti-social manner.

If you don't like uniforms, you could always volunteer with the Woodcraft folk - read what a volunteer said about it on our website.

Come on then, dib dib and all that.

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Boys, boys, boys

It's a big generalisation but I would say us ladies are the ones who like to shop 'till we drop. Well, now it seems more men are hitting the shops. 

Unfortunately, it's not to get out that credit card and buy us lovely More men are volunteering in charity shops, at least for the British Heart Foundation anyway.

BHF's latest volunteering stats show that a third of all volunteers in shops are now men. This is a massive 100% rise in men volunteering. It could be down to unemployment going up (if you're reading this you already know how great volunteering can be for your skills) or that there are more BHF furniture and electical stores, traditionally manly areas (apparently!).

But, whatever the reason, it's great and long may it continue. Whoever you are, many organisations would value your time in their retail shops. Take a look at information on our website about finding your local charity shop. Or if you'd like to volunteer for a BHF shop, sign up here.





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Help break the world record...

Create the Guinness world record for bunting – made of Fairtrade cotton – to highlight the injustices faced by cotton farmers in the developing world!

The Fairtrade Foundation is looking for volunteers with skills in using a sewing machine and/or seamstress skills from now till 12 May to sew bunting onto a tape. This will be used to help raise awareness of the problems faced by cotton farmers in areas like West Africa, who rely on being paid a fair price for their cotton to secure their livelihoods.

A minumum of four hours of commitment is required and they will be working through weekends to beat the record! All would be welcome to Battersea Park on 14 May to see the bunting displayed around the park.

Come along and be a key part of the Fairtrade Movement, working with others to highlight trade injustices faced by cotton farmers. Contact, Sarah Jewell at or 020 7440 7681 if you are interested.

Read more here

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Friday 20 May - Digital Day

Adult Learners Week is happening from 14 - 20 May. It's the UK's largest festival of learning with the aim of getting adults of all ages and backgrounds to give learning a go.

It can involve anything from learning photography or cooking to discovering the powers of the net or understanding digital technology. And, speaking of digital technology, this year Friday 20 May is now England's first Digital Day.

We run a number of mentoring projects which match volunteers with lots of different people who want to get online. As a volunteer, you could also do the same on Digital Day. Just take a look at our digital resources to find out how you could run your own event - there's lots of useful resources to get you started.

Imagine what the world would be like without emails, Facebook, Twitter or your mobile? Well you could unlock these mysteries and help someone take advantage of all these tools. 

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