Bernard Walters, BCHA’s volunteer coordinator, describes BCHA and its volunteering programme.
Based in the Bournemouth conurbation, BCHA's services are delivered across a wide geographical area from Oxford to Exeter including the New Forest, Salisbury, Reading, Christchurch, Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth and Dorchester. The experience we've developed over forty years fits broadly under key issues such as homelessness, substance misuse, mental health, domestic violence, young people, families and those with a history of offending. Our real expertise is understanding how life-changing challenges overlap for people. And a big part of our service is helping fellow support agencies benefit from that understanding.
Flexible application process
There are 76 individuals who have registered an interest in volunteering for us. The roles vary between administration to support work and recreational activities such as arts and crafts, gardening and sports. Applications are available on the internet and direct from any service; our centralised application receipt process allows maximum efficiency for signposting potential volunteers to the information they need.
Involving staff and direction from the top
Each service was asked to consider the role of the volunteer and how our business could be improved by offering these opportunities. Details of identified positions were sent to the volunteer coordinator who set up a database to match candidates to positions available. The SMT were the driving force behind this improvement due to the business plan objectives that were issued in 2008. A five year strategy was rolled out to increase service user involvement and revise the volunteer strategy to increase participation.
Meeting staff and service users involved with the GROW project enabled me to share best practice and techniques to implement a real structure to the process. Kath Dane was instrumental in talking me through the current projects, what works, what doesn’t and the traineeships that Thames Reach offer. Miranda Sank was good enough to share some helpful resources to kick start our accompanying literature for our volunteer development workbook.
Supporting Volunteers’ learning and progression
We are in the process of producing resources that are more tailored to the needs of volunteers. Currently every volunteer has free access to our corporate training and induction processes - an introduction to the company and the role to which they have been recruited. The training can incorporate boundaries, personal safety, drug and alcohol awareness, mental health, child protection and many other fundamental skills which may be useful. We envisage more of a structured process for volunteering to allow individuals to experience different parts of the company and be recognised for their valuable experience. This will come in the form of a workbook to demonstrate the transferable skills and role specific developments that the volunteer undertakes.
Managing people in recovery
We take each volunteer on a case by case basis, we rigorously risk assess prior to offering a volunteering position and take into account likelihood of the position being detrimental to the individual. Promoting a culture of honesty and proactiveness is key – to be able to offer support before any issue arises is imperative to ensuring a positive experience is had by all. One of the simple mechanisms we put in place is to ensure that volunteers are given the choice of where they feel they are able to help most. For example, someone who has recovered from substance misuse may feel vulnerable if they are placed back into that environment, they may be better assisting with outdoor activities such as gardening or core business functions such as administration. It is about the volunteer feeling they are not going to be judged on their background or their experience being considered a disadvantage to their application.
Volunteering in the same service people received a service from
For those who do wish to work where they have received services we look at short supervised taster sessions. Debriefing after these taster sessions with the Project Leader and the Volunteer Coordinator enables the risk to be assessed more thoroughly. We would not rule out long term volunteering, however the time in recovery and risk would determine the support mechanisms required. The individual would be mentored so that any negative impact could be quickly responded to.
Individuals can commence their volunteering journey with very little commitment, depending on the role. This can be built up over time and expanded to include a wide range of skills and tasks to develop them. Each volunteer would have a nominated member of staff to shadow prior to taking on their own responsibilities. As the scheme develops we will introduce a volunteer peer mentoring system to provide additional assistance and a source of knowledge to new volunteers. There is a Volunteer Strategy in place to encapsulate BCHA’s intentions with the scheme and a steering group meet on a quarterly basis to monitor progress against the agreed targets.
Paid employment opportunities
So far the scheme has enabled us to offer a short or long term commitment for those who are interested in working within this industry. We have a social enterprise company called Sequal who recruit from entrenched unemployed and those with barriers to employment. Additional support is available in the form of mentoring for Sequal employees who require that shoulder to lean on in the initial stages of their employment. We are also seeking funding for the Volunteer Coordinator position to ensure we have a stable foundation on which to grow this initiative.
Partnership working and football!
We are starting to build upon partnerships and at present we have been able to place our service users in a variety of volunteering vacancies, with our Local Borough Council, in areas of conservation and woodland management.
BCHA FC football team is a blend of service user’s and staff playing together in a housing association league. This mutual interest has initiated the discussion about BCHA leading a shared service for like minded organisations to exchange placements and share training opportunities. We envisage this becoming a key area to develop relationships between other Housing Associations and third sector organisations within our catchment area; giving valuable choice and experience to a volunteer.
In the immediate future we are working to gain funding for the Volunteer Coordinator role. This will give us the permanent resource to continue to develop the recruitment process and workbook materials. We continue to build relationships both internally and externally to improve the service we provide for volunteers within BCHA. Long term we hope to promote the value of volunteering locally and the underused and misunderstood resource of a volunteer’s expertise.