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

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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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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