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One resident’s experience of volunteering with Big Local

September 2014

Sam Beswick is a resident in Hawksworth Wood Estate, the Abbeydales and the Vespers Big Local area (HAVA). Sam has been involved since Big Local was announced in the area in February 2012 and she’s now the vice chair (acting as chair). Sam gives a lot of her time to volunteering and is experienced in helping with different local causes. In this case study we share Sam’s experience of volunteering with Big Local. 

Sam first heard about Big Local through an existing volunteer network she was part of and felt enthused by the scale of Big Local’s aspirations and its potential. 

“I was really excited because any opportunity to regenerate the area was perfect for me because I’m disabled and I’ve volunteered in every aspect of this area – I’ve worked in a school, worked in a nursery, YMCA. So I was really excited about the opportunity to get involved and learn more.”

What motivated Sam to get involved

While Sam had already gained a lot from volunteering in her area, she feels that Big Local has been a unique opportunity to develop personally: 

“When you have someone [Big Local] come into the area and teach you about self-worth, and teach you about opportunities and give us the skills to make us better people it’s just an amazing opportunity. I’ve volunteered in this area and developed loads of skills but I’d never forcibly put them into practice. So through this scheme, I’ve put these things into practice now.”

Sam identifies her experience of Big Local as different from other volunteering roles because it has provided opportunities to learn through doing and build up her experience. Sam now feels confident enough to support other volunteers to build their skills too:

“I’ve also trained and worked with other volunteers in the community and shown them the way forward, and I just feel it’s a phenomenal opportunity for us to learn, grow, pass these skills on and it just gives us self-worth and pride. Because we don’t want these things done for us we just need somebody to come in and give us the knowledge to train and learn, and then we can just pass it around and train and skill each other - it’s life-changing.”

Developing new skills

HAVA are just at the beginning of delivering their Big Local plan, but Sam already feels they have a long list of achievements to draw on, which have also supported her to grow personally and develop new skills. Her experience includes:

  • training volunteers
  • helping volunteers get into work placements
  • working with the Job Centre Plus to create a work and a job club
  • working with the credit union to bring them into the area and focus on debt issues
  • budgeting
  • creating and running a volunteer programme for mothers to do fundraising and outreach outside of their childcare responsibilities
  • chairing meetings, taking minutes and now acting as chair of HAVA.

These experiences have been hugely rewarding for Sam and being part of Big Local has opened up lots of opportunities for her:

“My education has been multiplied. I’ve taken on a computer course, my confidence level has soared and I just think for people like me who have lived in this closed environment and feel there are no opportunities for them, it’s just made me feel amazing.”

Sam’s attitude to learning has been an essential part of her being able to develop new skills:

“When it came to people making presentations I just watched what they were doing and paid attention, it was just seeing and doing. And now I’ve got skills I never thought I would ever have. We’re putting funding bids together, match-funding, I’m working with agencies, the city council, it’s amazing.”

Why Big Local is important to Sam

Big Local has been important to Sam because she has a disability that has meant it has been more difficult to find employment opportunities in the past. The opportunity to play such an active role in Big Local has given her skills that she can use and develop in the future:

“Personally it’s important to me because I have epilepsy – I have a brain injury, so there’s not a lot of opportunities out there for me to go out and work because I have a disability which needs to be supported a lot of the time. 

Big Local coming into my community and giving me this opportunity on a personal level to integrate with my community, to improve my skills, to take opportunities in education that wouldn’t normally be there for me, have made me feel that I’m proud of myself, I’ve achieved something. 

It’s given me hope that in the future through Big Local and the work that I’m doing that I could get a full-time position out of it, that there is an opportunity for me, I’m not lost and forgotten. There are things out there, I’ve just got to take the time and with Big Local I can achieve those things. It’s a life changing opportunity, it really is.”

The flexibility of Big Local volunteering opportunities

Sam was keen to emphasise that Big Local supports a huge number of opportunities to be involved, and that these can respond to each person’s abilities and the skills that they would like to develop:

“This is an opportunity that is tailored to everybody’s individual needs, whatever skills you lack or are in need of, the HAVA and the Big Local can supply that because you can volunteer in whatever capacity you feel you need to. Whether that be setting up bids, going to meetings, chairing the board, doing minutes, doing the office work, everything related to HAVA is designed for individual needs. So if you are lacking in confidence, just coming along to the meetings gives an opportunity to make friends.
Plus, there is the opportunity to setup projects working in the local community, it’s just tailor-made for the areas that are suffering and not getting the support that’s out there.” 

Hopes for the future of volunteering with Big Local

Sam has big plans for the future development of volunteering with HAVA and is keen to get as many people involved with Big Local as possible through her networks, so they can benefit too. Some of the opportunities HAVA is currently supporting include:

  • helping mothers get into volunteering opportunities and participate in fundraising activities
  • helping young people back into employment and training
  • helping those out of work into job clubs that will help them develop new skills.

Sam also wants to support residents’ progress into volunteering opportunities outside of the Big Local area so that they can have other experiences and see what else is possible. 

Sam feels that everyone has taken pride in the progress of Big Local in HAVA and it has provided a lot of inspiration for the future. Many agencies in the area are linking with volunteers. Through Big Local, residents are volunteering by doing gardening, helping with luncheon clubs, helping in the local co-op, offering administrative skills, supporting the local nursery and running childcare courses:

“It’s just unbelievable what’s happened in the last couple of years since Big Local came about. There’s such a good community vibe and everyone has taken so much pride in what they’ve done, it’s great.”

Sam feels her experience of volunteering with Big Local has been hugely positive and wants other people to understand how inspiring the journey has been:

"It’s really changed my life, it’s given me a confidence that I never thought possible and skills that I would never had the opportunity to access, it’s made me so proud, and everybody in the area sees this. Everybody knows me because I’ve been volunteering in the area for so many years – all the parents who know me are just so excited to get on board because they want to develop the skills that I’ve learnt. And then I can step away and train the next volunteer and the next volunteer, and it’ll be on-going."

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