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

Spirit in the snow

vicarage @ toes are cold but my heart is warm. It's been lovely to see that the snow and freezing temperatures has seen kindness spread across Britain. Friendly folk have given out hot drinks and food to drivers stuck on roads for hours at a time and 4x4 owners have used their sturdy vehicles to get much needed meals on wheels to people who can't get out and about.

They might not call themselves volunteers, but they are. Wouldn't it be great to keep the community spirit and the volunteering going? But, as we're due to have a couple more weeks of this horrible weather check on your neighbours and keep the kindness going.

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Banking behind bars

prison cells c openphoto.netThis week I read about the Co-operative bank giving prisoners bank accounts. It struck me that this was an everyday thing that I take for granted but could have so much impact on the lives of prisoners.

The Co-op have found that having a bank account can reduce re-offending by half. It's positive, real life changes like this that make the difference.

Prisoners are also doing it for themsleves, in peer to peer schemes. The Toe by Toe Reading Plan, run by the Shannon Trust is a project where prisoners become mentors and are trained to encourage and support other prisoners with little or no reading skills.

You can also support prisoners, have a look at Prison Advice or Prisoners' Families Helpline

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New Year's resolutions

chocolate c commons.wikimediaIt was literally two minutes past 12 on New Years Day that I thought of some resolutions for 2010. People love New Years resolutions - I'm not the biggest fan.

They're a great idea in theory but do they work?  There seems to be loads of pressure to have really good ones and it's usually to stop doing something (eating chocolate, smoking) rather than to start.

People give up quickly - ask someone a week later and they've come up against an obstacle, given up or can't even remember what they were (that's what you get for thinking them up at two minutes past 12!).

Having said all this,  I do have a couple of New Year's resolutions and I'll share one with you. Here goes......I would like to do lots more volunteering - to make it a very regular part of my life.  I reckon I've got a pretty good chance of doing it too if I follow these handy hints.

* Get a specific contact name of the volunteer coordinator or relevant person so that it  can be chased up
* Have the last five years of addresses to hand to avoid the delay of filling in your CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) check
* Register for the TimeBank monthly newsletter for lots of different volunteering ideas and to sign up to this blog
* Do some research and think about what to do before  looking
* Pay a personal visit to the local volunteer centre to find out about local volunteering opportunities there and then
* Don’t be afraid to say no to an opportunity
* Be patient - all good things come to those who wait!

So, why not you give volunteering a try? It beats trying to give up chocolate or going on a diet, I'd struggle with those myself. Let me know how you get on - after all, a bit of support works wonders for New Year's resolutions (so I hear).

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Having a break

 ice park El Chico438@ flickrI reckon volunteering to do the washing up after the Christmas dinner doesn't count, so yes, I'm going to have a break.

But Sam's volunteering with a local homeless charity near her parents, Kate's going to cook the family Xmas meal while her mother volunteers, Alex is off to Anguila and Juliet's off to have a baby (though we're secretly hoping she'll become our researcher on what volunteering you can do with your child!).

Volunteers deserve a break too - so enjoy yours if you're planning one and we'll be back in January.

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Holiday thoughts...

As TimeBank winds down for the Christmas holiday I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year and to say thank you to all of our volunteers and partners for helping to make it such an incredible 2009.

This year we've supported thousands of people into volunteering opportunities, and we've added a number of new projects to our portfolio, from young people not in education employment or training  in Sunderland to muslim women in London.

Behind the scenes we’ve also spent time working on a new strategy, vision and mission to take us into our second decade in 2010. We are hugely excited about what the New Year holds for us and hope that you will continue to be involved and share all the new things that are to come in our 10th anniversary year.

From all of us at TimeBank have a wonderful holiday and a volunteering filled New Year!

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Catch the last post

From the Library of CongressToday is your  last chance to get your greetings cards in the post before Christmas (weather permitting). 

You could add one more to your list this year.  Between 1 November and 31 January Amnesty International asks us to send a card to offer hope to someone in danger or unjustly imprisoned. These cards can also help keep them safe and play a small part in bringing about change.

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Hello, Polly Toynbee speaking

Newspapers generally have a Christmas campaign and it seems that the Guardian is no different, and this year they've got some of their star columnists, including Polly Toynbee  volunteering to answer the phone on this Saturday's Christmas appeal.  This appeal is to fundraise but I found out that the South London Press is encouraging its readers to volunteer this Christmas.

It's great to see the media get involved in volunteering at Christmas. You can too, on our Christmas page.

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Bring back national service?

'Serving your community should be woven into every stage of your life..' is the title and proposal from think tank Demos, in their latest report Service Nation.

The report aims to progress the debate about having a national youth civic service and on how national service would work in Britain.

One of the questions they look at is should a national civic service be complusory or voluntary - what do you think?

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