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! Continue reading “Yes NCVO! Let’s Be Bold!”


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. Continue reading “Community through Volunteering: Waltham Forest”

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. Continue reading “Spare Time or Spare Rooms”

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

This post appears in Can I Bring Ivy: a blog about volunteering with kids – February 2017.

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.  They’d 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.

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

Covering our bases…Best Practice Basics

Very engaging and informative… with a positive, inclusive ethos” Natalie, Forest Farm Peace Garden

Volunteer Management has found its way back into the news recently for reasons we’d all rather avoid – no volunteer co-ordinator wants to end up in the High Court proving their volunteer is not an employee, or settling an employment tribunal discrimination case out of court… Whilst these situations are rare, it seems a good time to remind ourselves of the basics of getting involved and keeping people involved, whatever our project and however many of us there are doing it, voluntarily or as a paid co-ordinator.

Motivations Retention and Roles is an interactive and fun half-day session, part of a course of four, for those co-ordinating or supporting volunteers as part of their role. If getting people involved and/or supporting them in their voluntee055ring is what you do – or part of it – this is for you. The session reinforces the basics of best practice in keeping people involved, in particular creating roles that best suit your organisation.

The content includes:

  • Why do people volunteer and what do they bring?
  • Reimbursing volunteer expenses
  • Working out what you want as an organisation
  • Writing killer task descriptions!

By the end of the morning session you will:

  • Understand what motivates volunteers, and how organisations benefit
  • Assess their organisation’s needs and write a task description to fill the need
  • Understand the process of recruiting volunteers and how it relates to volunteer retention
  • Be able to explain appropriate expenses and why reimbursement is necessary

You can browse other course titles here.

To book, just call Happy on 020 7375 7300. Details of the courses are online here but it’s best to call to book. The price of each half day is from £50. I look forward to seeing you there!

Great Volunteer Recruitment and DBS Checks

Training at Happy for LVSC April 8th

DBSFlow2auto2I’ll be running a full day workshop at Happy/LVSC next month addressing the recent changes in criminal record checks for volunteers, and looking at all the great ways of recruiting to keep your organisation and volunteers safe. It will build on the half day workshops I’ve delivered in London and beyond on the recent DBS changes.  Things people liked about those workshops…

  • “Opportunity to discuss as a group”
  • “Practical/real exercises”
  • “Clarity – I’d had DBS overload!”

If you missed previous courses and would like to spend some time considering checking and recruiting volunteers:  now’s your chance! The course is on 8th April – to book please see the details in this brochure...  or call Happy on 02073757300.

More details of what will be covered:

  • Picking apart the JARGON of DBS
  • Activities: checking real-life volunteer roles
  • Visual explanations of different levels of check
  • Group discussion to explore individual recruitment issues

Take a look at these resources for more of an idea of the course:

Example Activities

Example slides from the presentations


Work. Fair. Volunteer.

Mandatory work placements weaken our community sector.  Volunteer managers should keep sight of our definition of volunteering, and be honest about what it’s not.

In the training I do, discussion can arise when we’re looking at volunteer motivations.  “Why DO people get involved in the first place…?”  is a question I ask a lot.  We play bingo with volunteer motivations, we look at research, we tell stories of ours and others’ experiences, we unpick what it is that makes people get involved and we look at how understanding this is the key to getting the best for everyone out of volunteering.

VMT SlidesMore often than I’d hope, people’s responses include… “because they’ve been sent… because they’ve been told to”.  This is tricky.  A big reason why people get involved in something is because they’ve been asked, or even had their arm twisted into it by a persuasive friend.

How is this different to being told to volunteer by a stranger? punishing povertyPossibly a stranger threatening that you’ll also lose the state benefit you’re entitled to?

Volunteering. Spending time, “unpaid, doing something which aims to benefit someone…other than or in addition to close relatives, or to benefit the environment.”  This definition is from a national survey in 1997 and is very similar to both the Police Act and Jobseekers’ Regulations’ definitions.  Many would go further, adding that it needs to be independently chosen and mutually beneficial (Greater London Volunteering).  Voluntary.

P1020067croppedWe sometimes lose sight of the reasons people find themselves at the door of an organisation.  Maybe because we need their help, maybe because we know that the experience once through the door is a brilliant one and we think it’s worth the coercion.  (Read YMCA’s compelling argument  here.)   But whatever we call it, defining voluntary activity and how people choose to get involved is important so as not to lose sight of what it achieves.

It is the act of choosing to get involved and sticking to it that is the transformative thing, not the simple turning up.  Cajoling, motivating, nudging you to go, hearing about your first experience, encouraging you into the second visit, you getting round to it in your own time… all of these things happen from persuasive and well-meaning colleagues, support workers, friends but the choice is ultimately yours – and that’s how unemployed volunteers might build confidence, skills and attitudes that lead to employability and work.  Either this, or maintain these attributes instead of feeling gradually more useless and unemployable.LVSC Intro VOls

Mandatory work activity is not volunteering.  Volunteers of every flavour built the voluntary organisations we work and volunteer for, and motivations for this were – and remain – many and varied.  They didn’t do it because they were told to.  Plenty of people, unemployed and otherwise, are continuing to build our communities as volunteers – although some are being lost because they are being forced elsewhere to complete unmatched work placements; as well as a loss to the organisation, what loss of experience and skills for the volunteer?

Mandatory work placements in private companies – Asda, McDonalds to name just two – are simply unfair – they make a mockery of competition, and don’t achieve their goal of job creation or getting people into employment.

Mandatory work placements in voluntary organisations shift our mission from community building to disempowerment, and muddle our view as a nation of voluntary activity.

I will continue to work for support and funding to persuade, cajole, motivate, and encourage as many people as possible into volunteering: this experience has an amazing effect on individuals and communities.  Volunteering – Getting Involved – Participating – changes lives, and there are projects up and down the country providing these opportunities and getting people into them every day.

Support them. Not Workfare.

Other links:

Find out private, public and voluntary organisations participating in mandatory work activity programmes. Avoid them!

Mental Health Charity Mind’s statement on the workfare scheme and the work programme

IVR’s ‘Gateway to Work’ report: the link between volunteering and employability

Pathways through Participation research: why people get involved and stay involved.

Find your local Volunteer Centre: often the place in your area that knows the most about volunteering projects for harder to reach groups.

The high profile case of the volunteer forced to work in Poundland in favour of her own freely-chosen volunteering

My Values… in Spoken Word.

Why do I do what I do?

It’s a funny thing.  I started fiddling with this a couple of months ago because I was blown away by two spoken word poets.  They said what was inside of me.  I realised that some people describe why I’m driven to keep getting people involved, sharing experiences that challenge our assumptions and standing up for social justice FAR BETTER than I can explain it – and they’ve never even met me.

Coincidentally, I’ve just started working on the local Words over Waltham Forest Festival recruiting and co-ordinating the volunteers. It’s exciting – language and literary inspired events in libraries, pubs, pop-up-whatevers all over my home borough.  So it seems appropriate to share these words now.  Over to you, lads… You say it so much better than I ever could.

“You can’t explain the present ‘til you work out what the past meant”  KATE TEMPEST
“You can’t explain the present ‘til you work out what the past meant”

“Language is a gateway to an attitude” GEORGE THE POET
“Language is a gateway to an attitude”

"How do human beings ever learn to do anything?  Performance... feedback... revision"  BABA BRINKMAN
“How do human beings ever learn to do anything?

"Cos in this country of billboards covered in 'tits'... I think we should try to get used to this."
“In this country of billboards covered in ‘tits’… I think we should try to get USED to this.”

“We all have different abilities, thought process and genes… so why is a class full of individuals tested by the same means?”  SULI BREAKS
“We all have different abilities, thought process and genes… so why is a class full of individuals tested by the same means?”

“It was you that didn’t know when to stop digging deeper and building higher…” DAN le SAC vs SCROOBIUS PIP
“It was you that didn’t know when to stop digging deeper and building higher…”

"I'm not sure I've worked out how to work it" TIM MINCHIN
“This is my brain… I’m not quite sure I’ve worked out how to work it”
(Okay. This isn’t spoken word. But hey it’s good)

The silliest of silly ideas.

I had a great conversation with my Grandad the other day.  He’s 93 and fairly vocal about how bonkers he thinks I am so it’s often humorous, but this time I could tell him I was doing a triathlon – and he also gave me the opportunity to TOTALLY NAIL  my answer to “So what’s food sovereignty then?”me on biketrailer

I wish I’d recorded it, because now I’ve forgotten what I said.  But hey – my Grandad knows!

It’s sort of why I decided to do a triathlon. So that people would ask me.   Yup, I wanted to be fitter…  And a triathlon sounds like pretty spectacular motivation.  But getting people talking and funding some practical action seemed a good idea too. And as well as the arms trade and CAAT,. which I’ve already written about, I reckon that practical action and chat should be about FOOD. The thing we all have in common.

So it was decided:  Clacton Sprint.  750m swim, 16k bike ride, 5k run. 7th September. Raaaaar!

It’s happening tomorrow. merunningjuly13 And it turns out: a triathlon IS pretty spectacular.  And… it seems I DID lack the motivation to get properly fit.  So… I’m still the same me that told everyone I was going to do it 6 months ago.  Eeek.  But hey, people are asking me about food sovereignty.  And that’s cool!!

So what did I tell my Grandad?  It’s about us having control over our food and the means to produce it.  And by ‘us’ I mean me, buying from someone else, and I mean my friend who farms sheep up in Cumbria, and I mean small farmers globally who produce the majority of the world’s food on medium or small scales.  It’s about challenging the idea that we need manufactured seed to feed the world. It’s about asserting that access to food is actually the bigger problem – not how much we produce.

There is a growing movement of organisations and producers building links with other producers globally, gathering evidence of the success of sustainable food systems, and generally getting the word out.  Having been involved in small veg projects I know how they are make-or-break for smaller scale farmers, and how much their support matters, but also how small these stories can be in amongst the media flurry of ‘feed the world’ and ‘convenience’.  My silly jaunt this weekend is one way I can support some of this work, and I’d love you to support it too.  What I raise is nothing compared to the quantities food speculators are gambling around with but every penny will be spent wisely! Or you could find a local veg/fruit scheme that connects you to your produce, or find out a bit more out about food sovereignty and share it with someone else.  That would be great.

And in return I’ll run/cycle/swim myself silly.

Thanks for reading!  Spread the word!