Ryan Harman of the Hospitality Team developed and led the pilot programme. Here he explains the elements that went into a successful scheme, and some of outcomes for the centre and the clients.
“In conjunction with City College Westminster the Passage offers clients a modular course entitled “Work Skills” that can lead to a BTEC qualification.
“We wanted to offer some work experience alongside the training, but the rationale for setting up a volunteering programme was two fold – for what the clients get out of it – workskills, a reference, bite size and manageable experience, as well as what the day centre gets out of it – it creates a friendly atmosphere and keeps us in touch with what clients want. There has been a significant change in culture and attitudes of staff since the pilot has been running, including changes of heart from the most sceptical. The Passage staff were very keen to make sure the volunteering programme had structure and would be meaningful, instead of being tokenistic.”
“A fear in day centres is that of creating dependency rather than promoting independence. The staff were concerned that people might become stuck in the comfort zone of the centre, rather than taking new-found confidence to help them access opportunities elsewhere. For this reason it was decided that the volunteerships would be fixed in length – 12 weeks. Also to this end staff were clear that volunteering comes second to priorities identified in individuals' action plans.”
Communication with staff
“At the end of the first 12 week period we held a discussion group with staff, and client volunteers. Everyone gave positive feedback including those who had been skeptical towards the initiative to begin with. Also included were clients with a range of views – including some who'd been part of perceivedly tokenistic initiatives in other organisations.”
Great interest from clients
“For the initial intake of 5 spaces, 17 applications were received in just a few days. It was advertised by posters in the centre. The application form is brief and simple, asking only two questions -1) why are you interested in this opportunity – to identify people with insight and the right motivations for volunteering, and 2) what skills and experience do you bring to this role?”
“The issues that staff and clients raised as potential concerns included confidentiality and boundaries. I wrote some guidance and it’s covered with client volunteers in the induction. Client volunteers also joined Passage staff on boundaries training. As well as the induction there is regular supervision during the 12 weeks to talk about how it is going, whether there have been any problems. It’s clear that it’s supervision about volunteering, not a part of any other issues around housing or other services.
We talk about the “grey area” of being a volunteer one day a week and a client 4 days a week. It’s important not to put pressure on unnecessarily – for example what to do if you see a friend bringing alcohol into the project on a day you’re a volunteer? It’s important to reassure client volunteers they’re not expected to police the service – there are paid staff around to keep that sort of eye on things.
Rather, client volunteers would keep an eye out for new people, and “meet and greet” – make them feel welcome.In the review meeting clients said they saw great benefits in the scheme and particularly praised the ‘meeting and greeting’ aspect, as that is something the day centre needed to improve."
"Two service user run groups have developed from the initiative – a film group and a games afternoon group. These are run entirely by clients, and these have helped change the atmosphere around them in the centre. Clients reported that what was the “quiet room” was a much more relaxing and welcoming space than it had been previously.”
Of 7 volunteers 5 were sleeping rough during the 12 weeks. Two were in accommodation, and three of the 5 found accommodation during the pilot.
Of the 7 volunteers, 1 found employment within the first month, 1 found employment after doing a work placement with BITC, three people are working with |ETE services to find a job, one of whom also completed a BITC work placement, one person moved back to their home area, and one is looking for further volunteer opportunities.
The programme itself has also led to a job outcome – the tutor from Westminster City College recruited for an assistant and the lucky candidate was one of the first group of volunteers! This post is a 2 month contract before the summer holidays, working 3 days a week.
Andy, a client volunteer said “You get more out of it than paid work. I like the kind of work you do, with people; helping show people around when they’re new. I can see myself in them, and I don't want to be back there. It's helped with my confidence. I certainly have a lot of information on services for people when they're homeless and I would like to use this to set up an information service at the centre. I can speak to all kinds of people, even at difficult stages for them, I used to be a Samaritan in prison. I would go and speak to people at 2am when there was no-one else to speak to. Next steps? I'd like to get involved in a farm project, and to talk to other organisations about setting up volunteer schemes.”
Next steps for the Passage:
As well as running the scheme again, perhaps with more flexibility in length and new areas of work in the clothing store and laundry, suggestions from clients at the review meeting included PAT testing of white goods donations, running a café stall selling tea and coffee in the hours between breakfast and lunch in the centre. There are ideas for an information area/service staffed by clients. Next steps also include client volunteers being involved in recruitment panels. The Passage is involved in a London partnership of agencies looking at developing service user employment initiatives.