How to make a Volunteer Army…

My podcast with the @workhubs Cafe Garage Project –

“So how do we organise a group of people, without telling them what to do, make it inspirational, have them showing up at the right time… it’s got to be like a fun engageing community project?”

Here’s how I answered!




Stories and Supper

Are you wondering about the stories and the people behind the migration headlines?

s and S poster

This is a Supper Club with a twist. Great global food with global stories thrown in too.

“I think he’s quite isolated… your welcome came along just at the right time.”  Through a broken phone conversation, one of our volunteers had told his English teacher that he loves coming to our preparation sessions.  It’s nice to hear – it feels like chaos!

We’re planning Supper and Stories – The Voices Behind the Migration Headlines.  A three course meal, with multiple chefs, and stories from home and here.  Because stories, and people, can counter the hate in the headlines.

So every week we all meet to plan the Supper and build our skills.  We cook, we learn English, we tell stories.  Volunteers buddy up together and work through food safety training.

We’re a mixed bunch – local, not so local, refugees, asylum seekers, those working full time and those with time to kill.  Established chefs, and beginners.  Most of us are volunteers, all of us are learning.

Five weeks ago we didn’t know each other.  Next week we’re all serving dinner to fifty people. This project has brought more people together than we ever expected, and they’ve already gained a huge amount from volunteering.  Concrete food safety training, new friendships…  Hopefully, some of the people we cook for will also take our stories and scatter them in the places that matter.

Wish us luck…!  And please come to dinner!

Supported by UnLtd


Recruit – Retain – Motivate. Free Sessions

VST logo

Recruitment – Retention- Motivation – Evaluation…

The online classroom for volunteer coordinators will be underway by the end of March.  Come to a free introduction session to find out more!

For Volunteer Co-ordinators, Volunteer Managers, ANYONE involving volunteers

making a difference.jpg

Come into the live online training room! Meet the trainer, test your headphones, scribble on the whiteboard and have a text chat.    If you’re feeling REALLY adventurous you can try out a mic!
By the end of just half an hour you’ll be able to:

  • Operate the simple tools to interact with other attendees and the trainer in a live online learning situation
  • Share your own skills and experience with others live and online

Full one hour sessions include:

  • Creating Great Task Descriptions for Volunteer Roles
  • Positive Feedback.jpgRecruiting People to Stay
  • Involving the Busy People
  • Volunteers and Employment Law
  • Who Can Volunteer?  Age, Immigration and Welfare Conundrums
  • Creating Inspiring One-Off Volunteer Opportunities
  • Demonstrating the Impact of your Volunteers and your Organisation
  • Time-Saving Tech for Volunteer Coordinators

Choose a free introductory session here

Book full sessions here

Your questions answered here


Yes NCVO! Let’s Be Bold!

This is ‘being bold for volunteering’:  Free resources for volunteer coordinators. Finding out what we need to know.  Fighting for the services that rely on the added value of volunteering.

Stuart Etherington' New Year Letter To the SectorDear Stuart,

Thank you for your New Year letter:  thoughts on the current situation for the voluntary sector.

It’s long!  It took me a while to read it and I had to look up solipsis but here I am with a response!

You say that you – and we – need to ‘be bold for volunteering.’   I see volunteers and coordinators being bold every day; I read your letter several times and really wasn’t clear exactly how NCVO will be being bold in 2017.

…So I have some thoughts to share!

Make resources for volunteers coordinators free. 

You say yourself how important vounteers are.  Some of the best projects happening in the UK right now are completely volunteer led and run, yet your quick guides are nearly £7  and your (brilliant) Impact Assessment Toolkit with resources is nearly £100.  NCVO training is fully out of a small organisation’s league.

I don’t think things should be free for no reason.  But I think an umbrella body that exists solely to support the voluntary sector (and has property assets in central London) should be supporting the very smallest grassroots groups and organisations.  This investment will reap far-reaching dividends.

A surprisingly small number of people can name a UK charity.  Volunteering’s extended value includes a much wider understanding of a project’s services – and use of their services.  Bold support for volunteer coordinators would only enhance the profile of voluntary organisations, and and understanding of the value of what they do.  Be bold for Volunteer Coordinators!

Update us with information that supports our day-to-day decisions.

I work with hundreds of organisations a year and many are confused in a constantly changing environment.

I have an example:  The right to volunteer of asylum seekers and those without a right to work in the UK.

  • I can find no evidence in your resources of the very bold work that Refugee Action did to secure a change in Home Office Guidance since then.
  • I can find no clarification since the increase in fines for employers around ‘right to work’  (which has exacerbated confusion, despite being nothing to do with volunteering.)
  • Your information sheet ‘Visas and Volunteering’ was last updated 2011.

I know of Volunteer Centres doing their own research, as am I, doubling up each others’ precious time.  I have developed learning resources* in which I can’t yet say “the NCVO guidance is…”  because, despite requests, there is no guidance.

You can find things out for all of us, and let us know.  Be BOLD!

Fight. Yup. Fight.

Volunteering includes CAMPAIGNING.  Fighting for the ‘health and care services that are under great pressure’ that you tell us about in your letter.  Fighting to include the volunteering that brings massive social value, and to retain the statutory paid roles that our society needs.

We all have opinions.  You however, are in a crucial role not only to have opinions, not only to voice them but also to act on them, on behalf of all of us.

Yes!  Let’s Be Bold!


*Who Can Volunteer: Age, Immigration and Welfare Conundrums is running on 20th April at 11am. 




Community through Volunteering: Waltham Forest

I’m happy to be heading to Community Waltham Forest’s Spring into Volunteering event on 22nd March.  community waltham forest

I’ll be talking through some online training ideas, signposting to resources and hopefully meeting other people (like you?!) who coordinate community action in my area.

Are you involving people in Waltham Forest?  Come along and share what you’re up to.  This borough has SO MUCH going on, and I’m looking forward to seeing some joining up of dots. s and S poster.jpg Community Waltham Forest’s website has a space to add your own events – I’ll be throwing our Stories and Supper event on there today!  You can also add your own volunteering opportunity.

Come and say hi, tell me what you’re up to and I’ll let you know about the opportunities going on at The Hornbeam, the exciting campaigns to keep our community spaces (like Higham Hill’s Library campaign) and the heart-warming Stories and Supper project happening on April 1st.  See you there!


Spare Time or Spare Rooms…

A sprawling monologue in which lots of us do a little bit.

Yesterday I was really anxious and preocupied with work.  I do insist on having ideas (this time it’s interactive online training) and I find following them through quite anxiety-inducing.

Starters-and-Info-768x768Then I got to the Stories and Supper project, where we are planning a supper club that challenges some media narratives on refugees and also supports the refugees themselves. A young guy was there – he’d been there in week 1 and i wasn’t sure we’d see him back. He has just got his status – and a month later, is now out of his ‘asylum seeker’ accomodation and homeless. In the UK, you get one month after being allowed to stay to find a job, access English lessons, find the deposit for a room, find a room.

It put my anxiety in perspective.

Anyhoo. I said “let’s refer you to Refugees at Home.”

I happen to know they rock because we have hosted. R@HLogoSMI got random bits of information out of him and told them on their nifty online form (developed by a volunteer, as was everything) the little I knew about him (“His favourite food is a tomato salad with lemon juice and garlic” – it is a food project we’re doing so that was pretty much all I know! That – and he smiles alot).

I said “I hope… I try…” we smiled… and we left it at that.

This afternoon I got an email. Turns out two other people have also referred him. So it didn’t matter too much that my details were patchy.  Perhaps it was just enough.

And there’s a guy in London who can host him for a few nights. They’re working on a longer plan. And they bothered to tell me too.

MalikcropSo across London, people are doing these little bits. And they’re adding up to something. I’m so glad.

If you can host, just for a few nights, please consider it. It will have a long term affect.  I came across a pretty beautiful story of hosting today too- in Germany.  And the guy who stayed with us has a room now.  This is us on his last day. CHEESY PIC!

If you’d like some great online forms to make your Volunteer Coordinator life easier, if you work in Volunteer Management or involve people as a volunteer (like every single one of the lovely people at Refugees at Home) you might be interested in this training and a free taster session.  Access from anywhere.  See you there!

A Freebie for Volunteer Coordinators…

Voluntary Sector Training

Want to try out some live interactive learning on Monday in your lunch hour?

My online interactive classroom opens its doors in a few weeks…! Eeeek! With a course of eight workshops supporting Volunteer Cordinators and Managers.  I’m delivering in partnership with Voluntary Sector Training

If you’re managing, coordinating, involving volunteers – maybe you’re doing it as a volunteer yourself – you won’t have much time for training.  My courses are one hour at a time, and you can join us from anywhere.   Where will you join us from?!

Questions?  These FAQs might help

The Taster Session:  Monday 13th March 1pm

Interested?  Register your interest here…

After the session, I’ll be asking everyone to share the details of the course with volunteer coordinators and managers they know.

If you’re excited about this and interested in the topics we’ll be covering, please book on the course!

I’ve researched many different ways of delivering online, and the most cost effective and easy-to manage seems to be Cisco Webex.  If you’re into bits of software, more info about that here.

…And this guy has actually made a song about good training online – so i’ve obviously been learning from him!

Libby and Maia: Refugee Help with a knock-on effect.

This post appears in Can I Bring Ivy: a blog about volunteering with kids.

Libby and Maia: Refugee Help with a knock-on effect.

We helped in Calais again this month.  It’s a lot quieter than it was last time I was there – which was just before the evictions.  Theyd rather a few more people!  But there was a small upside to this.  It’s alot easier to volunteer with a young person when it’s not full to the rafters.

I met Libby and Maia.  The whole three days I was there they were beavering away at the ‘dry food’ – bagging up sugar, spices, olives…  it goes to the free shop at the Dunkirk camp, among other places.  I asked if they’d mind a few cheesy pictures and a chat about what they think of it all.

It started as them coming along with an experienced chef and then finding something to do.  Now the dry foods are their expert area, but the first time they came Maia helped out almost everywhere.  clothes sorting, veggie chopping…

Why does Maia like it?  we talked a lot about how nice it is to feel you’re doing something that matters, and getting to the end of it.  Each small task has an end.  And Maia is happy that she can do SOMETHING, as she’s aware of how many people are forced to move and how difficult their conditions are.

Last time they came, they made a load of mini videos – Maia showed them in an assembly at her school.  I’m not sure it was what she intended – she said something like “my teacher just told me “you’re doing an assembly!”  Well, good on that teacher.

Mum Libby:  “I had at least six Mums tell me they want to come and help after that assembly.”

They might not have made it.  They probably didn’t.  But in her school there are also a few refugees – so the chances are some of the kids in her school will now have a litte snapshot of how their lives panned out up til now, and the interactions between everyone might just be a little more empathetic

And just recently, MPs voted 247-1 to maintain our promise to the unaccompanied children in Calais. Some of them have changed their minds since last time and there has been some pretty strong lobbying up and down the country.

This warehouse in Calais isn’t the perfect place to volunteer with a kid.  The woodyard certainly isn’t! But this pair have made it work, and the rewards for everyone are pretty immense.  Other times we’ve involved all ages in making spice bags – no travel required! and there are ways you can make most things work.

Vounteering isn’t just about the task  that you do.  It’s the glitter bomb of things that happen as a result of that one task.  They happen inside and they happen to others.

For more on the latest in Calais and Dunkirk – just from my perspective as a short term volunteer – here’s another post.

I support people coordinating volunteers through advice, project work and training.
Online courses – access from anywhere!

Autumn 2016: Open Courses

feedingbackOpen courses with places in the next few months:

Demonstrating the VALUE of your Volunteers:  13th October

We’ll work out how to gather evidence of all that good stuff you know is happening,  and use it – to celebrate your own achievements, create great funding bids, or build partnerships with others.

Book here – prices from £25

More about the course here


Volunteers and the Law:  WHO can volunteer, and HOW?  16th November

Fully up-to-date, covering relevant employment law and minimum wage legislation,  health and safety, DBS checks and busting a few immigration myths along the way.

Book here – prices from £25

More about the course here

These courses are both in Chelmsford – a train from London, and well connected to Essex and Suffolk.  Please share!

Recruiting Volunteers – Accredited:  7th December

more info soon


FREE Live Online Workshops!

supported by santander

After a useful – (and highly amusing – thanks Tom for the Heavy Metal requests…) first session with attendees from around the UK we are ready for SESSION TWO!

Workshops and networking LIVE on the internet.  Why?!

We’ll explore some of the ways we can create classrooms online, some of the barriers and opportunities, and you will look at the times and places this would work in your projects.

Wednesday 21st October 1.30pm  ONE HOUR ONLY!

Think this is weird?  No idea what I’m on about?  BRILLIANT, please be involved!

I’ve been a teacher and trainer for 15 years and I love watching people take on new information and ideas.   I recently attended an online classroom  about live training on the internet.  It blew me away!  And I realised that in certain circumstances online classrooms are a great way to learn.

Join me to try this out:

Unltd – supporting social entrepreneurs – have a small fund to support networking, and I have a grant to pilot these ideasupported by santanders.



Sign up for everything here.  I’ll send lots more info and give you a call next week.  (IGNORE SESSION ONE QUESTIONS!)

Session 3  will be a group session at the Learning Lodge in Chingford E4 – what was all that about then and how did we find it?!  TWO HOURS.  WITH CAKE.   We will agree this date during session 2, so that it suits those that have signed up.

What I want from you.

Please give me feedback.  Honest conversations about this kind of networking and learning are essential!

What I can offer:

I have many years’ experience of involving volunteers and supporting others, and of standard learning environments, so I hope you’ll get questions answered and a broad knowledge of good practice.

I will also support you fully to access the training – logging in with you in the same location if necessary.  I’m interested in actively involving those who are the most nervous and sceptical about this kind of learning environment!

Hope to ‘see’ you online soon!