Volunteering – Flavour of the week or a catalyst for sustainability?

Anyone who knows me will know I am currently chair of Shropshire Warriors Basketball Club, a role I have undertaken for the last few years. But before that, and in fact for more than 14 years, I have been involved with the basketball club in one capacity or another (but never as a player) as my husband is the founder and driving force of the club. And before that I was involved as a Parish Councillor in my village, and was Treasurer for the local community centre.  So volunteering for me has never been a flash in the pan.

With the advent of the “Big Society” you might easily think that volunteering is a new idea. Not so. Over the years of my involvement as a volunteer I have worked alongside very many willing and enthusiastic volunteers, who have given their time unstintingly.

My husband Tom was recently voted Volunteer of the Year for Shropshire for his all round volunteering, not only in support of basketball, but also for junior golf across the region.

Many people have been sceptical about the Big Society dogma, particularly those working in the public sector who are suspicious that it’s a thinly guised ruse to replace paid public sector workers with volunteers. Whether or not you agree that the public sector workforce has grown too large, clearly volunteering can deliver a new insight, but in my mind it cannot and should not replace specialist and technical expertise in many public sector areas.

In her blog, Heidi Nicholson talks about the value of volunteering [http:/the-value-of-volunteering.asp], reminding us that 2011 was the European Year of the Volunteer.  She suggests that Volunteering is not simply a poor relation to paid work and actually has a value all of its own.

However, it isn’t always enough to “want to help” as many voluntary roles, like paid ones, need people with specific skills and, in most cases, organisations are not simply looking for just anyone to turn up off the street and fill in because no-one else will.

She suggests the following set of volunteering skills are needed:

  • Someone who is committed and is there, working on what they’ve promised to do when they’ve promised to do it.
  • Someone who brings skills and attributes to what they do – and is the kind of person who also learns and takes away new skills.  They are engaged and a real team player.
  • Someone who has empathy with the project they are involved in.  This way the volunteer will be more successful in meeting the needs of the people they’re serving.

In these adverse times of high un-employment, she argues that solid experience as a volunteer is a good way to get back into the job market. It shows that you are disciplined and committed as well as able to take on a new role and responsibilities.  The learning opportunity that it affords can also make volunteering a good way to make the transition into a new career.

Nicholson also suggests that volunteering also has advantages for current employers.  Effective volunteering schemes can help employee engagement and satisfaction, so can aid staff retention as much as it may help someone who is looking to plough a different furrow.  She cites a survey by the youth volunteering charity that showed that 96% of managers polled identified volunteering as important in developing workplace skills such as self-confidence, understanding social and cultural issues and teamwork.  The same survey said 63% of managers believe volunteering supports employees’ career progression.

Our basketball club is always looking for new volunteers, especially as many parents begin to volunteer when their child starts to play basketball in their primary school years, and then move away as their child goes to college or university. We need to maintain a healthy life cycle of volunteers, and encourage new volunteers to introduce new ideas. As well as general “all rounders” we need people with specific skills to do specific things. We are currently working with the Government Sportmaker scheme to try to fill a range of roles. This aims to encourage more people into sport to in the run up to the Olympic games to provide a legacy after the event.

You can find out more about these volunteering roles with Warriors Basketball here : www.warriorsbasketball.co.uk/news.html

It isn’t necessary for a volunteer in our basketball development programme to be able to play – I can’t – but we have developed many of our young players into excellent coaches, referees, table officials – without whom the game would not be sustainable. But it helps if our volunteers enjoy the game and appreciate our club’s family values. They will also need to accept our codes of conduct and policies and meet our comprehensive safeguarding procedures.

It’s typical to ask volunteers to commit for a period of time, and so we do like new volunteers to consider how much time they can realistically give. Some volunteering activity occurs just when we host our EBL home games on home match nights, e.g. to help set out the court and sell tickets and refreshments. But other roles do require more commitment, e.g. to attend weekly training sessions and collect training fees, or to train to be a table official/scorer. We are always looking for people to help in website development, filming games, game commentary, and promotion, which would make ideal internship opportunities for well qualified young people with relevant media studies skills who need experience to show on their cv when seeking paid work. It’s an ideal opportunity for volunteers with business skills to join our management committee to help us grow and sustain the programme.

You don’t have to be interested in sport to find volunteering opportunities, just look in your local paper or on the internet to find examples of worthwhile activity. Find something you are interested in and volunteer. It could change your life, bring a new interest and new friends, and you may have just the skills that are missing to help the group you choose to flourish, or to change the lives of your local community.

The government is also supporting intensive volunteering programmes for young people, to tackle the number not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Through the Localism Bill for example, it is increasingly important for local authorities to involve more people in determining local planning arrangements through development of a Neighbourhood Plan. Neighbourhood plans will enable communities to designate areas for development, protect green spaces and grant neighbourhood development orders. They will probably be led and developed by parish councils, although the bill makes provisions for other community groups to create a plan if they desire. As with any planning exercise, communication with the people the plan affects will be crucial, to ensure that all sections of the community – particularly the hidden sectors without a voice – to get involved.

But  it is vital that ideas from a broad range of people in the community are represented in these plans. This can present considerable challenges, especially when the planners are not representative of the rest of the community.  Local authorities have a role to play in providing training, and building capacity in parish councils and other community groups, enabling them to carry out high-quality engagement with the communities they represent. Community minded people can volunteer to express their views to make a difference to their neighbourhood.

The big challenge for councils in all this is how to change the conversation with residents in a way that makes them active contributors rather than passive recipients; how to flag up the assets people can draw on as well as the things they don’t have, and how to respond to the factors that really motivate people to be more active.

So, is the current emphasis on volunteers making a contribution political dogma, or could the contributions of volunteers herald real changes in our communities? Can volunteers become leaders of change?

I know what I believe.

Tell me what you think.

Find out more from Judith Sunley at www.JudithSunleyCoaching.com and check out my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jas1955.

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Filed under coaching, community sports club, Uncategorized, volunteer

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