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Volunteers Diaries and Stories

Skill Research Features

Meet the ‘Buddies’ of the Chelmsford Agency for Volunteering

Volunteers with mental health needs are just one of the groups of people Skill’s Research Project on Disabled Access into Volunteering aims to promote.

Sandra Bradley, 54, Sue Murphy, 56 and Hugh Fitzpatrick 54 have mental health needs and were supported into voluntary work by Chelmsford Agency for Volunteering. Known as ‘Buddies’ they were among the first to join the scheme. As the longest serving members they help smooth the path into voluntary work for new volunteers.

Hugh Fitzpatrick

Photo of Hugh Fitzpatrick“The role of a buddy is to support individuals into volunteering in whatever capacity they wish,” explains Hugh. “It might mean just having a chat about volunteering or whom they are volunteering for or going to or attending a placement interview with them, if they so choose. It is just to give them the encouragement or help that they need at that particular time.”

Hugh has volunteered with a number of organisations and currently helps to run an art gallery in a bookshop. This and his role as a volunteer and buddy have made a huge impact to his life.

He says: “It’s given me a new lease of life. I am able to put something back into society this has built up my confidence. It has taken two to three years for this to happen.”

Sue Murphy

Photo of Sue MurphyAs a buddy Sue attends meetings and conferences to speak about her experiences of volunteering. She started volunteering in 2000 'and I have never looked back”, she says.
“In my my first placement I used to help supervise children doing sports activities and really enjoyed that...I will be starting a new placement soon, at a special needs school working as a classroom assistant and helping the head teacher with administration work.”

The buddies meet up with other members of the scheme once a week for coffee in one of the many trendy bars in Chelmsford town centre. It is designed to give the group a form of social support, an opportunity to talk about their highs and lows. For buddy, Sandra, volunteering has brought her many highs.
Sandra Bradley

Photo of Sandra BradleyRead or listen to how volunteering as affected this buddie's life.

A Rocha UK - putting the faith back into volunteering

One of the aims of the Skill research project on disabled access into volunteering is to look at the experiences of a wide range of organisations involved in voluntary work, including those in religious community.

A Rocha UK in Southall was established in 2001. The Christian charity promotes and raises awareness of environmental issues and concerns by working with local firms on sustainable business practices, running after-school clubs, as part of its educational programme, and through wildlife conservation projects.

Volunteers are drawn from the various communities in Southall and Hayes, which includes people from the Hindu, Muslim and Sheikh faith.
Micah Ingalls

Photo of Micah Ingalls

“As part of our Christian commitment we are open and accepting of anybody from all faith backgrounds and no faith backgrounds”, said Micah Ingalls, Community Projects Officer and Co co-ordinator of the volunteer programme.

A Rocha UK currently works with disabled volunteers they would like to include more people from the various communities it serves.

Micah Ingalls explains. Read or listen .

WRVS on the road to greater diversity

With around 95,000 voluntary workers throughout England, Scotland and Wales, WRVS is one of the larger organisations involved in the research project.

Volunteers work in hospital shops and tea bars, delivering meals on wheels and help run mobile libraries as well as getting involved in good neighbours and other social transport schemes

Kate Hill

Photo of Kate Hill “A lot of our volunteers are quite elderly and we recognise that that pool of volunteers is shrinking and we need to look to other under-represented groups to get more volunteers for us to survive,” explained Kate Hill, Volunteering Affairs Manager.

WRVS are also keen to reflect the communities of which they serve, this includes people with disabilities and have set about implementing a diversity strategy, as Kate explained. Read or listen

Sail away with the Tideway Sailabilty Club

Photo of Surrey Docks

Tideway Sailability was set up by people with disabilities in 1981 and is based at Surrey Docks, South London.

It is a membership organisation - open to non-disabled people - but everyone is considered a volunteer.

Sailing isn’t a sport normally associated with disabled people but the club boasts volunteers with sight and hearing impairments, mental health needs and learning disabilities and paraplegics and are keen to get more groups involved.

Clare Gray

Photo of Clare Gray“It is difficult to reach them and to persuade them that sailing is an exciting thing to do because so few people in the public actually know about sailing.

It is thought to be a grand sport rich people do but it isn’t, it is here in the middle of London, it is open to everybody,” explained Clare Gray, volunteer and Chair at the Club.

Getting started couldn’t be easier. Clare explains how. Read or listen


Inclusive play with Lewisham Contact a Family

Fiona Thompson, Emily Oastler and Aly Trenholme of Lewisham Contact a Family Team

Photo of Fiona, Emily and Aly

Lewisham Contact a Family (LCF) works with over 500 local families with disabled children up until the age of 19 years helping them gain access into mainstream services and specialist play activities in the borough.

LCF also organises drama, music and sports events and projects of their own in which disabled Volunteers play a huge part; carrying out tasks such as working one-to-one with children, accompanying them out on trips or getting involved with office and administrative work.

As a disabled organisation the LCF team works hard at dispelling concerns about how to support people with disabilities by running training days for both the volunteer and local play providers. This gives organisations the opportunity to air their fears and volunteers to share their experiences

“Organisations are understandably quite nervous about working with people with a disability and how to best support them,” says Family Outreach Worker, Aly Trenholme. “By giving them as much support and information as possible this in turn gives them the confidence to put things into practice…Volunteers themselves have been really invaluable during the training sessions as they are able to give participants a completely different viewpoint on what it’s like to be a person with a disability.”

LCF have supported individuals with a range of disabilities into voluntary work. Fiona Thompson, P.I.P. Development Officer explains more. Read or Listen

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Higham Hill Common Allotment Association - more than just a plot on the landscape

Highham Hill Common Allotments Association in Walthamstow is just one of the many organisations involved in Skill’s research project looking at access into volunteering for people with disabilities. The site was established in 1850 and is set on ten and a half acres. It holds 150 plots and includes a newly developed wide life area.

The Associations has over 80 volunteers involved in activities such as helping out in the allotment shop, fundraising, organising events and general gardening. Volunteer’s come from a wide range of ethic and social backgrounds and includes people with learning difficulties, hearing and sight impairment, amputees and a whole host of other disabilities.

On their disabled volunteers, Secretary of the Association, Colin Bowen says: “We’ve just been very accessible to people generally whether or not they are a wheelchair user or have limited mobility or any other kind of disabilities”.

Colin Bowen - Association Secretary

Photo of Colin BowenMaking the site accessible to enable people like those with disabilities to volunteer and (or) work on a plot has been one of the main priorities for the Association. Colin explains what has already been achieved and their future plans. Read or listen to what he has to say.


Mathew Denny - Volunteer

Photo of Mathew DennyMathew has been a volunteer on the allotment for just under a year. He suffered memory cell brain damage at birth and has autism. He is also unable to read or write but this has not stopped him qualifying as a trained assessor and teacher in basic first aid. Mathew's knowledge and skills have proved most valuable to the Association as he explains - read or listen to what he has to say.

Mathew had no previous experience of gardening or cultivating land before he began volunteering at Higham Hill Common Allotments. Owning a plot has not only enabled him to learn and develop new skills but has other benefits as well. Read or listen to what he has to say.


Skill Interviews

Skill interview - Pauline Pickering

Pauline Pickering

Photo of Pauline PickeringPauline Pickering is a Volunteer Support Worker at the Chelmsford Volunteering Agency where she works to support people with mental health needs into volunteering.

She has been in post for 4 years and comes from a background in mental health but was training to become a counsellor before taking on the role. Pauline works closely with Social Services, GP’s and other support workers in the community.

“The majority of people I work with have enduring mental health needs such as schizophrenia and manic depression now known as bi-polar personality disorder,’ explains Pauline. ‘Support can be for as much or as little as they want.”

Skill met up with Pauline at her in the agency in Chelmsford were she talked about the kind of support volunteers received, her fears when approaching organisations and her love for the job. Read or listen.

If you suffer from mental health needs and would like information or advice on how to get into volunteering please email Skill Advice.

Skill Interview - Sarah Pollet

Photo of Sarah Pollet As Project Manager, Sarah Pollet was instrumental in the preparation and production of the new National Occupational Standards for Managing Volunteers. She spoke to Skill's Volunteer Policy Officer, at the busy offices of the Voluntary Sector National Training Organisation, and explained the ways in which people managing volunteers should use the new Standards.

Listen to the Interview (1) or
Read the Transcript

So how do the standards benefit volunteers and more specifically those with a disability?

Listen to the Interview (2) or
Read the Transcript

To listen to the interview, you will need an MP3 player such as Windows Media Player or Real One.

Download the free Real One player here

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