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

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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Meet Wenlock and Mandeville

mascots-for-london2012-home-page-nweCreated from from the last drops of steel left over from the construction of the final support beam for the Olympic Stadium, the London 2012 mascots were launched this week.

It's made me feel excited. The launch of the mascots feels like one step closer to the games.

And if you, like me want to get involved and volunteer at the games then the official volunteer programme launches this summer.  But you can get started now by being part of Changing Places.

Changing Places aims to use the power of the Games to inspire communities to improve public spaces – for example parks, open spaces and watersides.

Oh and if you fancy keeping up to date with what Wenlock and Mandeville are up to, visit their website and follow them on Twitter.

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Qualifications through volunteering

charityThose of us that volunteer understand how rewarding it can be.  I’m all for that warm fuzzy feeling inside but you can also get tangible rewards like qualifications through volunteering.

If you are interested in volunteering in a Red Cross charity shop there is a variety of NVQ qualifications on offer to you.  You can attain up to a level 3 in Retail Skills and you can also attain NVQs in Customer Service or Team Leading.  Of course you don’t have to do the qualifications but its nice to know that its there if you wanted to do it.

If you are interested in finding out more about this contact the manager at the Red Cross charity shop near you

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On Your Bike!

duchamp on flickrI went to visit a friend in Bristol recently and remember walking past some sort of community bike workshop thingy. I couldn’t work out exactly what it was at the time and now this article in the Guardian has revealed all.

The Bristol Bike Project works with refugees and asylum seekers – taking in unwanted bikes which are then fixed and taken away by the service users themselves. As the founder of the project makes clear, transport can be a real issue for those waiting for refugee status and this is a way of not only providing them with free transportation but of offering skills based volunteering. I think it’s a really amazing project and it would be great to see more like it spring up around the country.

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You're fired! Now get back to school" src="/sites/" alt="Image taken from" width="175" height="185">Dun, de dun, de dun, de dun, de dun, de dun, de dun, de, de dun, de dun, de dun, de dun , de dun, de dun,  DE! Can you tell what is is yet? That's right, it's the sound of Alan Sugar being nice.

The BBC are doing a junior version of The Apprentice in case you've got no idea what I'm blogging on about. It seems everyone's favorite Eastender, famed for not mincing his words, has decided that teenage tears on prime time TV might not do his reputation any favors.

If you'd rather take the role of Sir Alan's two sidekicks Karen Brady or Nick Hewer (Margaret's gone off to do her PhD), then you and your colleagues should check out Young Enterprise. They work with young people, business volunteers and schools nationwide and run a number of business-education programmes through the support of local and national business. The programmes enable young people to gain personal experience of how business works, to help them understand the role it plays in providing employment and to be inspired to improve their own prospects.

We run an employee volunteering scheme for T-Mobile where we help their staff to volunteer in their local communities and we've had a really positive repsonse from those who volunteered on the Young Enterprise programmes.

Probably best  to resist the urge to say 'You're fired.'  Especially in the primary schools....

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Big Society

Big SocietySo we now have a new Government. Depending on your voting preference you may think this is a great thing, or you may not. However the bottom line is they are going to have some ideas on doing things differently.

One of the more interesting ideas from the Tory Party is "The Big Society". The Big Society is centered around building society from the grass roots and using civic and volunteering action to better serve the needs of the nation. Cynics say that this is just code for making cuts and dropping services that should be provided by the state. But done well it could be a more progressive, people centered and cost effective way of tackling social issues and building stronger communities.

Whatever your view we have yet to see how this will effect the volunteering sector. Will it be a big boost to the value and effectiveness of volunteering, will our work become more important than ever? Or will it mean the loss of government support for the current volunteering infrastructure?

For now we will just have to wait and see how the idea is developed up. But whatever the outcome it is certainly a chance to develop new and better ways of serving our community.

Will you participate in the Big Society or as somebody said to me the other day, perhaps we are the 'big society' already?

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