Volunteering Builds a Stronger Community in Camden

The scheme Volunteering for Stronger Communities has put one in five young people in paid work a new report shows.

Kudos has talked to volunteer Gabriela Villafradez and the manager for the scheme at Volunteer Centre Camden to find out what the initiative has meant to them.

More than two years ago, Volunteering England and 15 volunteer centres around the country received a £1.9 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund. The money was put into the centres to encourage volunteering in communities which were considered to be hit the hardest by the recession.

In an independent evaluation of the project run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, it emerged that one in five, 22 per cent, of the volunteers involved in the project found paid work.

Gabriela Villafradez is one of the volunteers who got involved in the scheme at Volunteer Centre Camden (VCC).

“After university I got involved with a Latin American charity as a psychologist,” she says. “I had a great time so I carried on looking for other opportunities.”

“I attended an introduction course to volunteering lead by Catherine from Volunteer Centre Camden and after the course I spoke to her about opportunities at [the centre].”

 

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One of Volunteer Centre Camden’s volunteer fairs in Swiss Cottage Library.

 

Sheffield Hallam University’s report also showed that volunteers involved in the project showed improved confidence, self-esteem and got more practical skills; all of which Gabriela agrees with.

“The skills I learned and used here can very easily be transferred to everyday situations; listening, being patient and communicating with others are essential skills that should be used but can easily be overlooked,” she says.

“I work in the membership department so being attentive to detail is a must,” she continues. “Other skills like good telephone manner and I.T. skills have also improved since my time here.”

 

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People gathered for another volunteer fair at Abbey Community Centre.

 

Diana Young, who was the manager for the scheme at VCC, says she’s seen more people become redundant in the area during these two years and that they’re now looking for daytime volunteer opportunities. But she also thinks the project has helped volunteers in the area.

“Local organisations have a broader approach to involving volunteers and recognising that volunteers can take on responsibilities,” she says.

Young thinks that volunteers involved in the scheme have much to benefit from it in the future.

“It may help people move into paid employment if this is what they want,” she continues. “Feeling part of a community has many benefits including feeling more positive about yourself and life in generalVolunteering and ‘giving back’ can also make you feel good about yourself.”

So what has Young learned during these two years?

“It’s hard to know where to start,” she says. “I’ve learned loads about supporting volunteers and about matching people to organisations. This project has worked at both a strategic and practical level and I have learned to cover both of these.

“We will continue to help our members recruit volunteer coordinators and work with them to improve their volunteer programmes,” she continues. “At present there is no funding to continue this service but we are always looking for ways to keep it going.”

 

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Volunteer fair at Swiss Cottage Library.

 

Even if this scheme has come to an end, Young points out that there’re still plenty of ways for young people to get involved in volunteering.

“They can come along to one of our volunteering fairs,” she says. “At the fairs they will meet organisations looking for volunteers on the spot and we find this is the fastest way to get started.

“If they know what they want to do, they can give us a call and have a chat over the phone. Otherwise we offer one-to-one confidential appointments in our office that need to be booked ahead.”

The report also revealed that the NCVO is now looking for funds for a replacement programme. There’s no specific information about the design of the programme at the moment but from the legacy that Volunteering for Stronger Communities has left, the NCVO are positive about securing the funding.

If Gabriela had the opportunity she wouldn’t hesitate to get involved with a similar project.

“I have met wonderful people this way,” she says. “I have grown in confidence with my skills and I feel personal satisfaction that I have gained all this whilst giving back to the community. I may not be earning money but I am earning a lot more that money cannot buy.”

Text: Kajsa Wall

Photos: Volunteer Centre Camden

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