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

Shoulder to Shoulder

The government this week unveiled new measures to improve the care for troops experiencing mental health problems, including a free 24-hour helpline and more dedicated nurses.

These new services came as a result of reforms recommended by a review published last month. The review also calls for better health screening and new networks of voluntary support. And here at TimeBank we're ahead of the game as we'll soon be launching our latest mentoring project - matching ex-service personnel experiencing mental health issues with volunteer mentors. Shoulder to Shoulder will be launching next month, so watch this space!

You can't sign up to volunteer yet but we're looking for a Project Coordinator to oversee the project.

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Young people lead The Big Society way

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David Cameron delivered his 'call to arms' speech yesterday at the Conservative Party conference where his Big Society vision took centre stage. But his rallying cry was greeted with silence and even Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has admitted it will be chaotic.

But it really doesnt have to be all doom and gloom. Our very own Junction49 project which inspires and supports young people to develop their own community projects, campaigns and events, is living proof that The Big Society can actually work. All they needed to bring their ideas to life was a little help from their fellow volunteers and some tips and guidance from us.

Since the project started in September 2007, nearly 8,000 young people across the country are registered, well over 1,000 community project ideas have been generated and a quarter of these ideas have been delivered.

Take a look at just some of the great things they've been up to:

Young people have been doing some incredible things in their local communities.

Should we all be taking a leaf out of their book if we are to help Mr Cameron's Big Society vision really happen?

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That's how many people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. That number doesn't even include the husbands, sons, mums (the list goes on) who are affected by their loved ones news. Unfortunately, nearly everyone you speak to knows someone who's had breast cancer or the big C in one form or another - me included.

There are ways to do your bit. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and fundraising is obviously essential to support charities like Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer do the amazing work they do.

However, if you're looking for a fantastic way to volunteer, how about this? If you're a qualified beautician (or know someone who is) Look Good Feel Better need volunteers. For a few afternoons a year you will help run beauty workshops for women who have undergone invasive and appearance changing cancer treatments. Find out more about getting involved.

I wish I were a beautician.

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Volunteering away from home

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Changes to the immigration system in 2008 may be having an impact on volunteers coming into the UK.

Many of us know someone who's volunteered abroad on their gap year or as part of a career break or extended holiday.

But did you know that lots of people come here to the UK to volunteer too? Volunteering England is the national development agency for volunteering and supports, enables and celebrates volunteering. I work for Volunteering England's policy and information team and we are looking at the impact these changes may have had on volunteers coming into the UK.

If you've come to the UK to volunteer from outside the EU or EEA, or know someone who has, please take a couple of minutes to let me know how you found out about getting the right visa and what the experience was like. You can do this through this online survey and you can take part anonymously.

Details from the survey will help me find out how the system works for individuals, and whether visas are actually affecting volunteering. The survey should only take a few minutes of your time and if you want to find out more about volunteering abroad, take at look at our website

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Know a great volunteer?

We let you know recently about the vinspired national awards - where you can nominate an outstanding young volunteer for one of thier eight awards.

Just to let you know they've extended the deadline to Wednesday 6 October. So go on, now you''ve got an extra six days to nominate there's no excuse not to!

Go to their website or call 0800 089 9000 to request a paper form.

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Is it really a fair cop guv?

The Metropolitan police is the UK's biggest force and they, like the rest of us are having to think how they can save money. 

The governments spending review will reveal all on October 20th, and the Home Office which is the government department responsible for funding the police has to make cuts.

One of the ideas is that anyone intending to join the police would have to volunteer as a volunteer special constable for 18 months. 

If people intending to become police officers are forced to volunteer as special constables - perhaps its time for all police forces to stop using the word volunteer. 

I know that this is quite a unique role unlike those of most volunteers, as you have a duty to the crown once you wear the uniform. But let's stops bandying the word around, after all volunteering should be independently chosen and freely given and volunteers should complement and not be doing the job of paid staff.

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LGBT Festivities

88 LGBT flag.jpgGFEST- Gaywise Festival is an initiative of Wise Thoughts arts charity and is the UK's only dedicated London based cross-arts fesitval. It celebrates and champions the work of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) artisits. It's taking place from 8 - 12 November at various venues across London and this is your chance to be part of it. 

The festival has three main strands: short film screenings, performances and a visual arts exhibition combined with a range of workshops, talks and debates.

You could volunteer as an art show invigilator, supervising and monitoring access to the gallery space, a canvasser/show usher, engaging with audiences and ensuring they have an enjoyable experience at festival events or as a publicity distibutor to help promote GFEST - Gaywise FESTival 2010 events and activities.

If you'd like to volunteer, submit your details via this online application

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Lone surfing

The number of older people living on their own who use the internet has really grown over the last 10 years.

In 2000, just 11% of single pensioners had internet access at home - now almost 40% are online.

I think it's fantastic. No need to pop out for a pint of milk. Gone are the days of going to your bank to pay a bill. For older people without family or friends nearby they don't have to feel alone anymore. Ok, it's no substitution for human contact but lets face it, it helps.

One of our mentoring projects, Digitall, has been helping all sorts of people (including older people) to get to grips with computers and the internet. Young volunteer Hema supported the young at heart Penny. Penny is now on Facebook. She emails her family over in Canada and has become 'cool grandma' to her grandkids. Brilliant eh? Take a look at our film about them here

So, if you know an older person who lives alone, give them a hand to get surfing so they're not so alone anymore.

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