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

Volunteers' week

Heidi, TimeBank's resident PR guru volunteers at  The Connections at St MartinsVW2010_logoonly in central London.  She helps out in their activities room, making sure people can access the computers to find a hostel, apply for a job or simply surf the net for free.

She says,

"It’s really opened my eyes to the reasons why people can become homeless too, which makes me think very differently when I pass a homeless person in the street now. It was hard at the beginning, very emotional but I deal with my emotions better now and enjoy talking to them just like anyone else, or playing a game of scrabble or helping someone be patient and calm when trying to piece a puzzle together."

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Volunteers' Week

me drumsIt's Volunteers' Week.  So we're celebrating volunteers -including TimeBank staff who give up their time to make a difference.

Andy works in our fundraising team and volunteers pretty much every Friday. He leaves work an hour early to volunteer at Kids Company, the children’s charity that supports vulnerable children in London.  

His main role is to help out as an activities leader at the after school art club, supporting the kids with their work as well as crowd control! He’s also a professional musician and plays in a band, so he lends his talent to run a drums and percussion class for 4-11 year olds every few months too. The kids absolutely love him.

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Supermarket chat

© Simon Shek

I'm a bit suspicious of supermarket checkout assistants who try and chat to me. I think they've been told to chat to their customers by their managers.

Usually I get asked 'how are you today?'

Sometimes, I get asked ''what are you going to cook with those ingredients?'

Yesterday, I got asked 'what do you do for a job?'

We had a great chat about volunteering, but when I asked him whether he'd ever volunteered he said, 'yes, but never unpaid.'

Maybe I need to improve my communication skills.

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Blooming beautiful


Sunshine, a beach, waves lapping on the shore and not forgetting fish and chips. What better way to spend a weekend than being on Brighton beach. The only thing I'd change? Pebbles for sand. Pebbles hurt. One thing that I appreciated was a nice clean beach, which Brighton is, on the whole. The sea doesn't actually look so clean. Needless to say, I wasn't tempted into the brown waves.

Beaches don't keep themselves clean. I'm guessing local councils have that job but I did wonder about how you'd get involved. I couldn't think of anything nicer than being by the sea (preferably in the sun but lets face it, if you wrap up warm in winter it would still be great).

So, if you're lucky enough to live by the sea and want to do your bit for the environment get involved with the Marine Conservation Society and do a beach clean.

The salty breeze in your hair and sun on your back - I wish I lived by the beach.

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My Volunteer Time

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The benefits of being a media volunteer

NewspapersThis morning at 7:20 am I heard Helen (not her real name) talk about  our mentoring project for young adults experiencing mental health issues on BBC London radio.

It was all to coincide with a new report by the Mental Health Foundation revealing that modern life is making us more lonely - with one in ten of us often feeling lonely and half of us thinking that people are getting lonelier in general. As the Media Officer here I often find it hard to find great case studies to promote volunteering and particularly volunteering on our projects  - not just because people are often hesitant to share their experiences with the media but also because the issues we might be tackling through volunteering can often be quite sensitive. Such as mental health.

That's why I was so lucky to find Helen. She'd been meeting her volunteer mentor for just over a couple of months and had some really heart warming things to say about how her mentor had helped her feel less lonely and how she'd become the "perfect supplement to her nurse and therapist." Helen really wanted to share her positive experience of having a Back to Life mentor and raise awareness of the project amongst other young adults who might be feeling lonely and could benefit from having a mentor as much as she had. Her desire to get involved really touched me - it shows just how much the project has helped her and how she's so keen for others like her to get that help too.

Listen to Helen on BBC London Breakfast Show with Gaby Roslin & Paul Ross

Charities are always looking out for volunteers to be what they call a 'media volunteer'. Someone who wants to tell people about their experience through the media to help promote a campaign they're running or just to provide the human aspect to what they do. And if you're a volunteer then you can always contact me to tell me about your experience - anything interesting and newsworthy. I'm always all ears!

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Diary of a refugee's mentor

Faduma<img class=I keep meaning to start a diary of my volunteering - it's so easy to forget the little things you do that have an impact in some way.

I mentor a refugee through one of our projects to help her with things that as British citizens we take for granted - like renting a flat, getting work experience, finding out about great places to visit and simply practicing her English so she can eventually get a job over here.

I really love it. I can't tell you how much I've learnt - things like understanding the benefits refugees are entitled to and learning about the political unrest situation in her country. Cultural things like learning how to make yummy tea made with crushed cardomon seeds too. I've also learnt about how hard it is to live in London if English isn't your first language and you're not familiar with how things work.

Even during our meeting last week - in the space of two hours we still didn't manage to find the cheapest option of how to travel from South Croydon to Brixton, despite asking at the underground station, looking on the TfL website and calling the TfL number. And even just going to a local library to sit and practice her English grammar was impossible!

As a mentor you have to be careful not to just do things for your mentee - it's all about helping them to do it for themselves so that they feel independent and confident. For example, she wanted to find out how much housing benefit she was entitled to so that she could rent a place of her own. I explained that she could try and ring the local council and I told her the sorts of things she needed to ask. It would have been far too easy for me to just ring the council for her. I think she really appreciated that. She was so happy that she'd managed to find something out for herself. You see, it's the small things that can make such a difference. And they all add up.

Refugee Week is actually coming up from 14-20th June and people are asked to get involved in the Simple Acts campaign. So have a think and then pledge your act - help them reach their target of completing 20,000 Simple Acts by World Refugee Day on 20th June. What simple act could you do to help a refugee feel more part of our society? One idea might even be to pay a visit to this wonderful looking refugee art event exhibition on the Southbank on 13th June...

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Pensioners' playground

Playgrounds these days c pflyChildren - move away from the playground.

Hyde Park in London is home to a new free gym to encourage the over 60s to get fit. They'll be able to do a stint on a cross-trainer or use the body-flexer, free runner, sit-up bench, flex wheel or static bike. Phew, if they get through all that lot they'll be ready to take on a marathon.

I think it's a brilliant idea. It's equally important to keep your mind active too as you get older.  One of our projects, Digitall gets more older people surfing the net (it's a lot less strenous than a session in a gym) with the support of a younger volunteer to show them the ropes.

With Silver Surfers' Day tomorrow it's the perfect time to grab a gran, take a walk to your local UK online centre and show them the wonders of the World Wide Web. Exercise and brain activity - what more could you ask for?

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