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

Helping South Korea to create new opportunities for people with disabilities

At the end of October we had an amazing meeting with a delegation from the Seoul Welfare Foundation. They are travelling around Europe to collect information and share experiences with other organisations on how to improve access to volunteering for people with disabilities, as well as helping them to make a bigger contribution to their local communities.

We started the meeting with an introduction to TimeBank and an overview of our volunteer mentoring projects and the beneficiary groups we support. Specific attention was paid to the lessons we have learnt  and, especially, the transferable elements of our model. The delegation from Seoul was particularly interested in how involving more people with disabilities in volunteering could also help build stronger communities.

We gained the impression that in South Korea there still are big obstacles for disabled people to find employment or even meaningful volunteering. We were keen to emphasise that for us the question was not “if” they could make a valuable contribution to society but “how”. We told them about our mentoring programme The Switch and how we worked with a young person who suffered such severe anxiety that she was unable to leave her bedroom. After 12 months of mentoring, she is now working as a teaching assistant. Also, how one of the volunteers on our English teaching project Talking Together  has MS, but has enjoyed the experience of language training so much that they have decided to train as a teacher and continue working in this sector.


These example helped us to show  our guests how volunteers and volunteering can help a variety of people to gain new skills, confidence, motivation and support to break down the barriers that keep them from fully developing their potential. I would not argue that volunteering is the solution to all problems, but it can definitely help in many different situations it if is properly managed and supported.

Volunteering also breaks down social barriers. When people from different communities meet, they find they are not so different after all. This is the third time in the last few months that TimeBank has been contacted by organisations from overseas who want to learn from our projects and experiences. We feel very proud and honoured that our model of tackling complex social issues is gaining such an international reputation.  This is further recognition of the extremely high quality and impactful interventions that TimeBank staff deliver. Well done to all of them!

Add a comment

On time, over target and under budget - what an achievement

Regular readers of the blog will know that our most recent Westminster events have had an animal theme – being upstaged by a mouse running through the audience, or accepting you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding the right partner!

Last Monday night saw us launch our Talking Together evaluation in the Thames Pavilion room on the river at the House of Commons – and our only animal guest was a seagull sitting on the wall outside!

Talking Together was our innovative volunteer led English language training and mentoring project, funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, that we ran in Birmingham and Leicester over 18 months. And what an 18 months it was - we trained 144 volunteers who supported 1571 learners to speak every day functional English Language and we then mentored 204 to the next level.

Our External Evaluator, Hilary Barnard, gave a fantastic overview of what we achieved -  here are just some of the stats:

  • A retention rate of 91%

  • 88% learners were women; 69% had dependent children

  • 87% learners were not working; 60% wanted to find work; 65% wanted to prepare for further study

  • 60% learners in the UK for less than 10 years

71% learners from target group aged 18 to 40

And perhaps some outcomes that are harder to put a number against:

  • Growing confidence (c. 65%) and competence (c.45%) of learners in everyday issues
  • Raised aspirations of learners for their next steps in education, training and employment

  • Boost for wellbeing and for vital work of carers

  • Strengthening parenting around children’s education and healthcare, including knowing what their kids are doing on the computer

Crucially Talking Together came in on time, over target and under budget with an estimated social return on investment of £9.31 for every £1 invested, which we think is a phenomenal achievement.

This was a big project for a little charity like TimeBank, and we take great confidence from the faith shown in us to deliver it, but it’s not the largest project of its kind that we have run. Our very first mentoring project from which all of our expertise in this area stems was called Time Together, a project matching refugees with a UK national to help them integrate more effectively into UK society. It is incredible to think that 13 years on Talking Together was built based on our learning from that project and indeed today we see a new refugee crisis looming where our programme may yet be resurrected to support this vulnerable group of people.

So we were incredibly proud when Talking Together replicated its parent project and was awarded the prestigious Approved Provider Standard Award by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation.TimeBank is above all an expert in volunteer mentoring. In all our projects we seek to ensure that volunteers have a positive experience, gain new skills and become more rounded individuals.  So the feedback we’ve gained from our volunteers has been particularly gratifying.

As one volunteer said “Another unseen delight has been the chance for me to connect with a community I have never been involved with … it is a shining example of how different people and communities can integrate …”

I’m very proud of the way that Talking Together has played such a vital role in building community integration because English language truly is the glue that binds our society together.  We hope very much to be able to expand this programme long term – if you’d like to find out more take a look at the evaluation here or the video we commissioned about it where volunteers and learners talk about their amazing journey.

Add a comment

Partnership is in our DNA - together we are stronger

Last week I was in Birmingham with our friends Acorns Children’s Hospices welcoming our new funders BCBN (Better Community Business Network) to one of Acorns’ three hospices to talk about our brand new partnership.

As anyone who has ever heard me speak will know, partnership is in TimeBank’s DNA - it’s part of our fundamental belief that together we are stronger. Partnership working is such an important part of our ethos simply because we believe that working with organisations that have different skills and knowledge makes our projects stronger and more impactful and enables us to offer greater support to our beneficiaries.

Our partnerships start in many different ways – we may have an idea and seek out a partner who is expert in the field where we think our volunteer mentoring model might work or sometimes we are approached by organisations wanting to set up a mentoring programme. In this instance it was a chance meeting at an event between myself and the CEO of Acorns, David Strudley – a conversation about our respective organisations that sparked an idea in both our heads that we might just have a new way to use our mentoring model – working with young people with life limiting illnesses who are transitioning from children’s to adult services. 

Like any new partnership, in any context, the early stages are fraught with anxiety - will this work, do we share the same values, is it long term? And perhaps more specifically to charity partnerships, can we fund it?! And that is where BCBN came in. Our starting point with any new idea is proof of concept. We start with the belief that the best programmes are co-designed with the full participation of the potential beneficiaries and stakeholders. And so we wanted to design our mentoring programme with Acorns staff, former and current clients of Acorns and their parents/carers, starting with the assumption that those receiving services have the best idea of what that service should look like. This not only makes the best projects but the evidence also convinces funders of the true worth of what we are doing and makes it more likely to receive funding long term.

BCBN kindly granted us vital seed funding to run these focus groups which we’ll be starting in November. So the partnership has officially begun and we’ll keep you posted as the project develops.


Add a comment

I really enjoyed mentoring and learnt so much about myself in the process

Emma decided she’d like a mentor at the point of transitioning from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to adult services, as she felt it would help to have someone support her through this change.

She had been out of education for two years when she was referred to our mentoring project The Switch and her only goal at that point was to get out of the house more. We matched Emma to Sam, a young woman who was studying for a post-graduate degree in mental health and wanted to gain some hands on experience in the field, whilst doing something rewarding with her spare time.

In the first few months of the mentoring relationship they both got used to spending time with someone new. Eventually, however, things settled into a routine and the pair started to explore London, making the most of all the city had to offer. They took trips to Borough market, walks down the Thames, outings to musicals and on one occasion attended a poetry reading, something that Emma would have never done previously, but actually really enjoyed. They also spent quite a bit of time visiting cafes for a chat and Emma became used to confiding in someone about her day to day issues.

Twelve months down the line and at the end of her mentoring experience, Emma is a transformed young woman. Not only has she achieved her initial goal of leaving the house more, she has also completed a year at college with the encouragement of her mentor and found a job as a teaching assistant. She has also started to initiate contact with Sam, something which would have been unheard of at the beginning of the relationship. In all, she is happy, confident and chatty. Emma says she’d advise other young people just to ‘give it a go’ and be ‘open minded and willing to try new things’ with a mentor.

Reflecting on the volunteering, Sam feels that she has had an equally positive experience. She says "The Switch took their time matching me with someone to make sure we would click and they did a great job - we had plenty of common interests and got on right away. I really enjoyed meeting up with Emma and learned so much about myself in the process. Hopefully she did too and will continue to thrive. I would highly recommend the experience.’’

Add a comment

From mentor to friend on our Shoulder to Shoulder project

This is Douglas, to the left of the photo and Bruce, his recent mentor. We all sit down for a catch up and laugh about how Bruce likes to drink lots of Douglas’s coffee when he comes to visit. It’s great to see Douglas like this, because four months ago he wasn’t in a very good place.

Douglas, a veteran, was referred to Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine by Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR), as he had recently become unemployed and had to sort some final things out with his ex-employer, was struggling financially and moved to SVR’s supported accommodation.

Douglas says: “I was confused, I would feel high one day and then low the next. One of the hardest things is to ask for help; however I knew I needed further support.

Then, Ali, the Project Co-ordinator introduced me to Bruce. I soon found that we got on well together; have the same sense of humour and had a lot in common, as he is also a veteran. Before I had a mentor, I wasn’t getting out of the house much, I was becoming a recluse. Just knowing that I was going to meet Bruce every fortnight was everything, especially as we got on so well. I really liked having a mentor and one to one support. I can relate to Bruce. We went to museums, days out and chatted about my issues over coffee. I also now have the motivation to take part in exercise and feel healthier.”

Bruce, who is also a volunteer befriender at Erskine in Edinburgh, says: “You know, I have learned a lot from Douglas too; we have a lot in common and enjoy history and going to historical places on days out. When I met with Douglas the second time, he let out all of his frustrations and then the next time we met, he seemed more relaxed and we got to know each other better. It helps that Douglas has been honest and open with me and that makes the mentor/mentee relationship easier.

Three months later, Douglas was settled in non-supported accommodation, had sorted out issues with his previous employers and was financially better off. "We continue to meet once a week and are looking to explore other historical places to visit."

Douglas adds: “I’m so glad that with the support of SVR and referring me to TimeBank’s Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project, I am now a much happier person. This has been very beneficial for me and I’ve made a friend in Bruce. I would really recommend the programme to other veterans in need of support in their transition to civilian life.”

If you would like to find out more about support from a mentor or would like to volunteer, call Ali on 07437 437 867, email or find out more here.

Add a comment

Our Talking Together project empowers communities - and community organisations

We work with community organisations to deliver our Talking Together English teaching project, and here Sule Ibrahim of the Turkish Cypriot Community Association (pictured on the right, with our project co-ordinator Marie) writes about the positive effects that learning the language has on individuals, families and society as a whole.

I remember noticing an email in my inbox from TimeBank introducing the Talking Together initiative in London. My first thoughts were of excitement of the possibility of delivering much demanded and long fought for English classes to our community. Surprisingly the sense of uncertainty of its legitimacy was also present. I caught myself thinking ‘Really? What’s the catch?’

As a community organisation we had tried hard to achieve our goal of running Pre-entry level English classes. We collated a waiting list of those wishing to learn English. We applied for funding after funding. When that failed we searched for volunteer trainers who could help to achieve our mission. Finding volunteers who could commit 10 hours a week for three months however proved even more difficult. Perhaps we were too ambitious! So the sense of doubt felt with the receipt of a promising email claiming to hand over a project to us, I feel was justified.

Fast forward a few months and we have completed our first six week course with 11 learners receiving their certificates. The first class proved so successful that we immediately began another one.

Jointly working with TimeBank to serve our community through the delivery of the classes has been a very rewarding experience for the Turkish Cypriot Community Association. TimeBank and its project coordinators have been very helpful and supportive in ensuring that as a partner we were able to take control of the reins and deliver the project.

329 Many of our learners have been women. Some are working in low paid jobs and hope to develop their English language skills and improve their chances of getting a better job. Some are unemployed or housewives who hope to build links with other members of their community. What is common amongst all our learners is their wish to belong to a community in a very multicultural and diverse city like London.

Although only a six week course, through the Talking Together initiative we have been able to plant the seeds to tackle lack of integration due to limited English language skills and help to empower our learners through their developed confidence in communicating in Basic English. Our learners have surprised themselves with their increased self-confidence. Some said that they have caught the bug for studying more and felt confident to apply to college. Others said that they developed lasting friendships. But most of all for all our learners, learning the language and meeting new people helped them reduce their social exclusion.

Learning the language of the local community has a positive impact on the lives of individuals, families and society as a whole, affecting access to services, education and the ability to participate in the community. As a partner organisation we feel that we have been able to invest in a project that empowers. Ultimately any community organisation’s goal is to empower its members and its community. And it seems although the journey is unfinished part of our mission has been accomplished. 

Add a comment

Be Well - a call for volunteers

TimeBank is looking for volunteers in and around Birmingham and the Black Country who would like to take part in our Be Well project during September and October in Dudley.

The project will run workshops for carers who look after relatives or friends facing addiction or a condition with a social stigma.

Life as a carer is challenging, and the role is often taken on in a crisis. A carer might give up work or study and be living with the uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds for the person they care for. Often the role is so intense that the carer does not stop to consider the implications for their own health and wellbeing.

Volunteers will help carers to identify their own needs and understand their rights as carers. There will also be time to explore ways to increase carers’ wellbeing and access to local support networks.

Be Well builds on the success of a similar pilot project, Hidden Carers, that we ran recently in Birmingham to help carers with low levels of English to access support.

Volunteers will receive training and support to deliver the workshop alongside a co-trainer. We hope that those offering their time will gain a variety of skills by taking part in the programme. Travel expenses will be paid and lunch provided.

If you’d like to know more get in touch with the project co-ordinator Odilia Mabrouk at or phone her on 0121 236 2531 before September 15.

Add a comment

English classes are a lifeline - not only to learn the language but to combat social isolation

Pam Poole is a retired BBC World Service Sports Editor who decided to utilise a CELTA qualification and volunteer for TimeBank’s Talking Together English teaching project in London.

Life can play funny games with us sometimes. I’ve just completed teaching on a second pre-entry ESOL course. It’s been taking place at a refugee and migrant centre in Ilford, on the East London/Essex borders.  

The centre is based in part of a former church-run school building.  It was one of the area’s local infant-primary schools when I grew up in Ilford many years ago. As a ten year old, I might even have played rounders or netball against one of the school’s teams.  But the Romanian-run café across the road is new to me and on the other side of the railway line, the Asian restaurant and function venue occupying a former public house is also a change I am trying to get my head around.  I know the area’s geography, but that is it. As I say, life can play funny games with us sometimes.

Thursdays at the centre are particularly hectic, with queues for the foodbank, and parents rummaging through plastic boxes of clothes and toys. There’s a seemingly never-ending line of people needing legal advice, help with form-filling and finding their way through the difficulties of settling into a new country - and that of course includes help with English language and conversation, which is where TimeBank and its volunteers come in.

Suneel, my teaching assistant (pictured with Pam above), and I have now managed to get around twelve students through the courses. It doesn’t sound like much, but it has been no mean feat given that a commitment to English classes has been made in the run-up to the summer holidays. The majority are juggling childcare and the issues around making ends meet. Some have been working nights and observing the Ramadan fast during the day.  Others have been looking for work, accommodation and even missing relatives; and all have had to deal with the demands emanating from the capital’s public transport strikes, and the fickle British weather.

Like the change which has gone on in my home town, the most obvious point to make after teaching two groups is that no one course, no one module, and no one day is ever the same.  Fairly early on, I tore up the rule book in trying to mix up speakers of the same language in class. Husbands and wives didn’t want to be separated, particularly if there were children in tow. Stronger students would more readily help the weaker ones, by using their mother tongues if they had to—and frankly anything which helped in getting them to understand and grasp vital English basics was worth it.  

One of the most challenging aspects has been managing those who have had no formal education, so haven’t been used to being taught.  We’ve got them to stand up, move around, play games, and made the classroom time fun and accessible.  I will never forget how one woman’s eyes lit up when she had pictures to draw and an advert to design. Suddenly English for her was real, and she had the confidence to talk and do something useful and highly practical in a non-threatening environment.  When I explained to another student that this was a class in which she could feel safe, there was the audible relieved ripple of a sigh around the room.  

Another challenge was the mixed ability group, particularly those who were already more advanced. I shouldn’t have worried.  The majority kept coming back because they enjoyed mixing and meeting other people, while developing their understanding and conversational ability at the same time.  One student told me that all the confusion in her head had been straightened out.  The classes are clearly a lifeline for both the development of functional English and for getting the socially isolated out of their homes for a handful of hours each week.

And that brings me back almost to the point where I started - to me, the volunteer. Why do it?  Well, I am also out of the house for a couple of hours each week. I’m doing something useful and sociable for both me and others. I feel valued by the students, by the delivery centre and by the ever-professional TimeBank. The experience has been joyful. It is heart-warming to see people gaining confidence and coming out of themselves.  Now they are flicking through leaflets and catalogues, picking up that most terrifying of implements when speaking a foreign language—the telephone - and enrolling for ESOL courses. They are using English more confidently, whether it’s in writing, speaking, listening or reading.  They are better prepared to engage and be engaged. 

I am so proud of them all for sticking at it and earning their certificates. And this is the teacher’s relief - they are still hungry for more and so am I!  I know it’s been extremely challenging, even frustrating at times, but those moments are far outweighed by the benefits for all concerned.  Let life play its funny little tricks and games! It’s not every day we are fortunate enough to experience a win-win situation, and it’s a moment I want to bottle and savour for quite some time.  

Add a comment