Connecting Volunteers

Independent Lives recognises that there are few opportunities for disabled people or people with long-term health conditions to volunteer, as many organisations are unable to provide a fully accessible, safe environment, or provide reimbursement for out of pocket expenses.

We established the Connecting Volunteers programme in early 2016, and have worked with a wide range of people with different backgrounds and skills, who have contributed more than 400 hours of their time since the project started.

Independent Lives is currently working with 9 volunteers who are from the surrounding area and are using their skills and experience to support a wide variety of our work, and you can read about one of our volunteers below. 

Our volunteers are contributing to:

  • Marketing and communications
  • Community asset mapping
  • Direct Payment Information and Advice
  • Payroll and banking
  • Volunteer programmes

If you are interested in volunteering with Independent Lives or want to know more about the Connecting Volunteers programme, please email Sue Jobson on volunteering@independentlives.org  or call 01903 219482 to find out more.

Here's an interview with Chris, the first volunteer to join us. Chris provides administrative support to the programme, working closely with Sue Jobson, the Volunteer Coordinator.

“Like many other people I expect, the first time I considered volunteering was just after I found myself unemployed. I didn’t want to get stuck in a situation in which I became out of touch with office working – I wanted something to keep me on my toes.”

David Streeter, Communication and Engagement Officer, sat down with Chris, the first volunteer to join Independent Lives through the Connecting Volunteers programme, to have a chat about volunteers, volunteering, and voluntary work. 

Welcome Chris! Shall we start with you telling me a little bit about yourself?

Yeah, of course. There are really only two things you need to know about me: my passion for music, especially blues, and my love of volunteering. As long as I have blues and volunteering in my life I couldn’t be happier.

It sounds as though you’ve got things figured out! I promise we’ll come back to the music later, for now would you mind telling me about volunteering? Why is it so important to you?

I’ll be holding you to that! I originally got into volunteering for a couple of reasons. 

Like many other people I expect, the first time I considered volunteering was just after I found myself unemployed. I didn’t want to get stuck in a situation in which I became out of touch with office working – I wanted something to keep me on my toes.

That alone wouldn’t have been enough though. I also wanted to give something back to the community; I wanted to be part of something bigger, to make a difference in people’s lives. In my opinion, the only way to really do that is by volunteering your time to a good cause.

Thanks Chris. I’m sure that thinking resonates with all of us. So, where was your first voluntary position? Did it meet your expectations?

My first role as a volunteer was as a general assistant with a local charity about ten years ago.

Did it meet my expectations? Well, I’m not entirely sure I had any expectations… If I did I can’t remember what they were now. 

What I can say for sure is that as soon as I started volunteering everything clicked; within a couple of weeks I not only knew that volunteering would always play an important part in my life, I also discovered that charity work is where I wanted to focus my efforts.

Pretty smooth sailing so far I would say? How did you get from your very first position to where you are today?

Yeah, things definitely could have been rougher.

As I said, my first role as a volunteer got the ball rolling, but as time passed I wanted to branch out a bit more – expand my horizons you could say.

Whilst I was looking for a new volunteer role to move into I was approached by Mencap with a work experience opportunity. Just a few weeks later I was volunteering with a national energy provider, and six months after that I had been offered a fulltime paid position.

I wasn’t working for a charity of course, but it came along at the right time for me. It gave me the opportunity to branch out like I wanted, and more importantly to apply the skills I had learned as a volunteer within an office environment.

It wasn’t a replacement for volunteering, but I didn’t have the support in place to juggle fulltime work and the commitments of a voluntary role.

I was there for seven years in total… Of course then I was made redundant.

That must have been quite a shock. What were your next steps?

Absolutely; it took a while to sink in. I was fortunate enough to have been given a generous notice period so I at least had time to think about what I wanted to do next, but it’s still not a position I expected to find myself in.

I struggled to find a full-time position, but I had seven years of office experience which I wanted to put to good use.

This time though, finding the right voluntary position was proving difficult. I was successful in applying for various roles, but they never really worked out. There was no challenge in them, no chance for development, but most importantly no opportunity for me to apply my skills.

So where does Independent Lives fit into all of this?

I was looking for a position which could adapt to me; a role which would further my development, push me when I wanted a challenge. That’s exactly what I found in Independent Lives.

As soon as the Connecting Volunteers programme opened I applied. A few weeks later I was in the office, the first volunteer to have entered through the programme. I couldn’t have been happier.

We’re very happy to have you! Do you want to tell me about your role at Independent Lives? What’s it like working as part of the team?

Thank you!

The position I was successful in applying for was for administrative support working with the Volunteer Coordinator. I handle admin around volunteers moving through the organisation, helping things run smoothly and everything is logged correctly.

The level of support has been astounding. I’m always asked if there’s anything new I want to learn which is absolutely fantastic. I didn’t need to fit into a predetermined role when I first started; the position was adjusted for me, and continues to change based on what I want in terms of personal development.

Is there a particular example you’d like to share?

Very recently I asked the team if they could show me how to write minutes. I’d always wanted to learn what was involved but had never had the chance before.

Everybody was more than happy to help me out; I was given all the support I could ever need. Two weeks later I was sitting in a meeting writing my first set of official minutes.

I’ll be honest, I was worried about sending the minutes out when the meeting was over, what if I’d done something wrong? It turns out I shouldn’t have been worried at all. The feedback I received was brilliant. It felt great to have learnt something new, something which is seen as a highly desirable skill in the workplace.

Have you used any of your new skills outside of Independent Lives?

Actually, yes I have. For a few months now I’ve been hosting my own blues radio show on local Worthing radio station. The skills I picked up at Independent Lives have made the whole process so much easier, especially everything I learned about managing my time effectively.

So far I’ve produced twelves shows, and I’m not planning to stop any time soon. For the past couple of weeks my show was the most listened to on the station, so I must be doing something right!

We did say we’d come back to music! Where can we find the show?

You can tune in every Tuesday between 7pm and 8pm on Worthing Sunshine Radio. If you like blues I guarantee you’ll love the show, so make sure you have a listen!

I can vouch for that, the show really is excellent. Thanks for your time Chris; it’s been great speaking to you this morning.

My pleasure! Maybe as part of my development I’ll be interviewing you next time?

You can read more from Chris and the Connecting Volunteers programme in the next issue of Creating Connections magazine, due out in early 2017.





 

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