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Volunteering and Big Local

September 2014

As Big Local areas move from planning to delivery, we are seeing just how much is being done by people who volunteer, giving their time and energy to the benefit of their Big Local area. I’m impressed with this commitment and thank everyone who gives their time and energy to Big Local. Having been a volunteer in my community, I know how much time this can take, and also the benefits it can bring – the fun, contacts, challenges and opportunities. We know that there are a wide range of activities volunteers can participate in to suit their availability, interests and skills. Big Local areas need volunteers to help steer Big Local and be on partnerships; but being involved in Big Local is about many other things too and there are lots of different volunteer opportunities.

In this newsletter we've highlighted a few examples of volunteering from Big Local areas and beyond. We've also highlighted some key learning from Pathways through Participation, a research project that aimed to improve our understanding of how and why people volunteer. By knowing more about people's motivations, Big Local areas might be able to involve more people, letting them get involved in the things that matter to them.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering and Big Local, you might like to attend our event in Stoke on Thursday 25 September, 10.30am - 3.30pm. Please see below for more details.

Debbie Ladds, chief executive

A volunteer run summer play scheme

For the past two years, a summer play scheme has been running in Thurcroft Big Local - a village in South Yorkshire. It is volunteer run and was thought up by Cath McCarten, a resident who's involved in Big Local.

Cath first heard about Big Local through going to watch her sons play football and later went along to a meeting to find out more. Before being involved in Big Local, Cath hadn’t done much volunteering, apart from helping out at children’s discos. Joining the steering group, Cath and her sister Diane Oxley got involved in organising events as part of Big Local activities.

In Thurcroft there isn’t much available for young children, apart from a Scouts group. As Cath explains:

“My sons are grown up now but I have nieces and nephews and there’s nothing for them to do. There are no youth clubs. My daughter-in-law works in a local nursery and even that’s closed in the summer. So that’s where I got the idea from.”

So Cath began looking into setting up a summer play scheme. She received guidance from Ofsted about what measures would need to be put in place to make the scheme safe and the Miners Institute agreed to let Cath use their cricket pavilion over the summer for the scheme free of charge.

In summer 2013 the play scheme launched and was run one day a week for five weeks. It was offered for free using both paid workers and volunteers and the cost to staff the scheme was paid for using Big Local funding, as was the cost for materials. The play scheme was hugely popular with up to 75 children attending each day.

Cath and her sister ran the scheme again this year and feel that this second year was much easier having the experience and learning from the previous year. This year the scheme was run with fewer paid workers and more volunteers. Some of the paid workers included people who are working towards their NVQs in sports and ran outdoor activities with the children.

People have seen the play scheme working in the community and it has helped to raise awareness about Big Local. Cath says:

“It’s much more than just a play scheme, it’s opened people’s eyes to what’s happening with Big Local.”

Read more about this story

Urban Wilderness: a volunteer run community garden

Jacquie Parker is a resident in Plaistow, an area in the London Borough of Newham. For the past four years, Jacquie’s been volunteering as chair of Urban Wilderness – a community garden on the street where she lives with her family. The land is council owned and has been lent to residents locally for the next 10 years. Together, Jacquie and others in the community are turning it into an edible green space and using it to benefit the whole community. As well as growing organic food and promoting healthy living, they’re also bringing people together, forging relationships and nurturing community spirit.

Volunteering for Urban Wilderness is the first time that Jacquie has taken on this kind of role. However, she’d always been involved with the school, helped out with community events and kept up with local news and issues. She is a mother and carer and says:

“I’ve always cared for my community and I’ve always wanted better for my kids.”

Her involvement with the community garden started when local councillors were door knocking and asking residents if there were things in the area that needed addressing. Jacquie was one of several residents who asked about the disused green space on First Avenue. Like Jacquie, lots of people were also asking for something in the area for children and young people.

Following these conversations, local councillors started to work with a few residents to get the green space into use. Jacquie joined the steering group and within three months she’d been voted in as chair.

Jacquie describes the first year as hard at first for a number of reasons. She had to learn about all the rules and maintenance which affected the council owned space. And she also had a lot to learn about gardening. Jacquie turned to other people for knowledge and advice and to learn new skills. Together, all the people who use the space have been learning through doing, year by year.

Apart from wanting better for her children and community, Jacquie says that she gives her time to the community garden because at heart, she wants to make her life in that community. It’s a great outdoor space for children and young people, with facilities such as a trampoline and ping pong table, as well as space for ball games. The children that play there often come from different schools and come there after school and at weekends, rain or shine, because it’s a place they have friends. “There are no postcode wars here” says Jacquie.

There are 31 allotment beds which are used by residents. Some of these are cared for by individuals, and some are communal so that anyone can look after and pick their own fresh food. Amanda who is a volunteer and lives in a nearby block of flats, uses the space as her own garden. As a childminder and mother she likes to take the children there.

“They now know where a raspberry or a strawberry comes from and that it doesn’t come from a packet”.

Plaistow’s community garden has helped to grow lots of relationships in the area, between residents and also local groups and services too. To find out more, read the full case study.

(Picture below: Jacquie Parker and her daughter)

Volunteer centres – a local source of support and expertise

There are volunteer centres all over the country and they provide support and expertise within the local community to potential volunteers, existing volunteers and organisations that involve volunteers.

We talked to Joanne Patel who runs the volunteer centre at Haringey Association of Voluntary and Community Organisations (HAVCO) to learn more about what volunteer centres can offer communities as well as how to source volunteers and make volunteering opportunities more rewarding. HAVCO is the locally trusted organisation for Noel Park Big Local.

In planning volunteer roles, Joanne says:

“You have to think through – ‘well if I was going to do that, would it be rewarding, what would I get out of it?’ Volunteering in an ideal world should be a two-way street. So while someone is giving something to you, they should get something back in return. Whether that is being able to see the difference they’re making or making sure they feel appreciated, make sure you thank them in the right way so they don’t feel they’re being taken advantage of, and make the environment fun.”

Joanne's top tips for how to make volunteering roles more rewarding:

  • Always try to include an explanation of the purpose and the difference the role would make. This should be part of the role description so that people understand that what they are doing is valuable, even if it’s only a small part of a much bigger picture.
  • For a successful role, having a clearly defined list of tasks you would like support with can help at the beginning, but you may also need to be flexible so that these can change in response to what people would like to do.
  • If some tasks within a role don’t seem very fun, explore whether they can be combined with other tasks to make the role more interesting.
  • If you want to link volunteering opportunities with people’s aspirations, tell them what they can get out of that role so they can see it as a two-way street.

Read more here

One resident's experience of volunteering on a community chest panel for Big Local

Earlier this year Hazel Cooper - a resident in Kirk Hallam Big Local in Derbyshire, shared her story of being involved in coordinating a community chest. Big Kirk Hallam decided on a community chest as a way of initiating local change through a small grants pot.

In May 2013, a community chest team undertook some initial training and the first round was launched over the summer last year. There have since been more rounds and Hazel has been a strong advocate throughout. She says:

"We are very proud about what we have managed and the stories from groups gaining funding are really encouraging. The community chest makes a real difference and has already helped local groups a lot. We worked really hard as a panel of local people to make sure the community chest works as well as possible."

Hazel says that as a panel, the work they put in as volunteers is really worthwhile. They get to see the difference that ther support makes to small groups and that experience is rewarding.

Read more about this story

Pathways through Participation

Pathways through Participation was a two-and-a-half year research project that aimed to improve our understanding of how and why people participate, how their involvement changes over time, and what pathways, if any, exist between different activities.

The project was funded by the Big Lottery Fund and led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) and Involve. It started in April 2009 and finished in November 2011.

The Pathways through Participation website has lots of resources available including the final report.

In 2013 the Community Development Foundation (CDF) drew out some key findings of this report for Big Local areas. The key findings were:

  • why people start to participate
  • why people keep participating
  • the different types and ways of participating for people.

To give you an idea of what’s in the findings, the research showed that people need resources in order to participate.

  • practical resources – time, money, transport, good health
  • learnt resources – skills, knowledge, experience
  • your own resources - feeling you are capable and having confidence.

By recognising that people need resources, Big Local areas could encourage participation by:

  • Reducing as far as possible the barrier of practical resources – for example by providing childcare so people have time, or by car-pooling or providing a community bus to overcome transport obstacles.
  • Supporting people to develop skills, knowledge and experience by offering training, mentoring and buddying.
  • Helping people to feel able to take on a role by boosting their self-confidence. You could do this by sharing other people’s stories who started in a similar place, linking any tasks or activities to skills they already have to build their confidence, and buddying people with more experienced volunteers.

Find out more about the key findings here.

One resident's experience of volunteering with Big Local

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.

Sam identifies her experience of Big Local as different from other volunteering roles because she feels it has provided her with the opportunity to learn through doing. Sam's attitude to learning and approach to working with other people has been a key 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.”

Sam now feels confident enough to support other volunteers to build their skills too:

“I just feel it’s a phenomenal opportunity for us to learn, grow and pass these skills on and it just gives us self-worth and pride. 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.”

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