Community Volunteer Project

St Hilda’s East Community Centre was awarded a Rank Foundation grant of £30,000 in September 2013, to run over two years (£20,000 in Year 1, £10,000 in Year 2) for our Community Volunteer Project. This support was extremely helpful to our work and I can now report on it.

Our Community Volunteer Project has been highly successful in terms of outputs and outcome indicators. 103 volunteers have been placed in varied roles across a large range of St Hilda’s projects, exceeding our annual target. Many of these were unemployed and have gained invaluable ‘on the job’ work experience, skills and training, increasing their employability. Alongside these individual volunteers, over 60 corporate volunteers have taken part in volunteering activities, as well as staff from law firms running much  needed Legal Advice Clinics for the community. This range of volunteering has had a significant impact on increasing the capacity of St Hilda’s range of  projects to provide services to the community (please see next answer for more details).

The direction of St Hilda’s multi-purpose community centre remains fundamentally the same – to provide an accessible resource for all sections of the diverse local community, addressing disadvantage through services and opportunities. We currently do this through a combination of fifteen different projects, from pre-school early learning, youth projects, to support for older people. We celebrated our 125th Anniversary last year!

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Achievements of the Rank funded project

100 volunteers will be involved in the project in Year 2:

103 individual volunteers have been placed in varied roles across a large range of St Hilda’s projects. We have continued to attract local people keen to not only learn new skills through volunteering but to also share their specialist skills with our members, including artistic skills with our Women’s Project, massage therapy skills with our Link Age+ members, and IT skills with our Food Co-op (to develop a new newsletter).

Having formed strong links with local schools and colleges, we have hosted and supported 26 students from local secondary schools, local College students and nearby universities, enabling young people to gain valuable experience of the world of work through volunteering as well as raising their aspirations, and providing opportunities to gain confidence and new skills. In addition, we have also welcomed a small number of international volunteering programme participants from the USA (through the long-established Winant Clayton exchange scheme and CAPA International Education) and students from Cheltenham Ladies College who have volunteered during school holidays. The time, energy and commitment that all volunteers have given over the year really have made a huge difference to the life and services of St Hilda’s.

Our excellent local reputation for being a friendly, welcoming and professional place to volunteer has seen large numbers of local people come to volunteer with us to gain work experience, and often to develop their spoken English. This is reflected in the fact that only 8% of volunteers were in employment and 63% of volunteers came from the Bangladeshi community. Over 80% of volunteers were female; and 30% were aged 25 or younger. The large number of unemployed volunteers involved continues to reflect the high percentage of people living in poverty in the local area. The Weavers Ward (in which St Hilda’s is located) is densely populated with some of the highest rates of unemployment, low income, educational under achievement and housing problems in the borough of Tower Hamlets, and indeed across London, and we stay committed to supporting local people to develop their skills and confidence through volunteering.

In addition to the involvement of these 103 regular volunteers, we have teamed up with over 60 corporate volunteers from companies including Discovery Channel, Credit Agricole and Hammerson plc to deliver fun and successful activities across our Older People’s Project and Family Learning Service, as well as organising team challenges to improve the facilities within our well used Centre. Also, volunteers from City law firms (DLA Piper, Berwin Leighton Paisner, and Hill Dickinson) have run our busy weekly pro bono Legal Advice Service for the community. These important mutually-beneficial partnerships enable businesses to improve their understanding of issues affecting their community, and also enable our projects to provide their members with opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access or experience.

Measuring Impact

The Project will have a significant impact on increasing the capacity of St. Hilda’s individual projects to provide services to the community.

Our success in developing the Community Volunteer Project into an ‘organisation-wide service’ has enabled us to provide support to a wider range of St Hilda’s community projects and over the last year. Volunteers have added tremendous value in varied roles across 12 of our community centre projects, including our Advice Service, Bhondon mental health group, Boundary Women’s Project, Under 5s and Creche service, Food Co-op, Link Age+ project, Older People’s Project and Boitok elders’ group, Youth Project and Surjamuki young disabled group, St Hilda’s Reception and administration, as well as our regular volunteer gardener!

This growth, together with the excellent working relationships that the Community Volunteer Project has built up with projects across St Hilda’s, has enabled us to effectively match volunteers with the most appropriate project, resulting in the most rewarding experience for volunteers but also the greatest impact on projects too. For example, when a woman enquired at short notice to offer her art therapy skills as a volunteer for a limited time while she was free over the summer, we were able to quickly team her up with the Boundary Women’s Project craft project that was running at that time, where she was able to bring her specialist skills, passion and enthusiasm in ways that the project would not have been able to benefit from without her.

The impact of the Project’s development has been twofold – the great variety of volunteers has helped to provide a wide set of skills and support across our numerous projects which in turn has helped them to provide improved services to members and the community, and has provided volunteers with more enriching experience at the same time.

Additionally, the relationships we have established and built up with local partners have enhanced the quality of activities that our projects can offer, often providing opportunities that they would not have been able to provide otherwise. For example, a local secondary school brings students to visit to take part in fun (and often competitive!) Boccia tournaments with members of the Older People’s Project. The time that the students and older people spend together increases mutual understanding and helps break down social isolation, gives isolated older people an opportunity to socialise and stay active and brings clear benefits to all involved; ‘Our partnership with St Hilda’s is a really valuable way for our students to get to know older people in their local community and vice versa, and it’s fantastic that we know we can visit St Hilda’s and engage in activities that both their members and our young students always enjoy together’ (Teacher, Bow School).

Volunteers themselves will not only obtain satisfaction in helping others, but in many cases gain experience and training that will increase their employability.

Our Community Volunteer Project continues to provide a vital service, supporting local people in this area of deep deprivation who may not otherwise access formal training or employment with an opportunity to gain supportive and fulfilling experiences, skills and confidence, and increasing their employability. We know that volunteering increases individuals’ confidence and employability and this year, to support our volunteers to identify and capture the skills and experience they have gained through their volunteering, we have run popular Employability workshops covering CV preparation and interview skills. These were extremely well attended and the feedback showed that they were both useful and enjoyable; with 95% of attendees feeding back that the sessions were Good/Excellent. We hope that volunteers will now be able to apply the learning from the sessions when looking for work, and we will continue to support them to do so.

In addition we have recently recruited volunteers for a new ‘Training and Volunteering Programme’ in collaboration with our community centre Food Co-op, enabling tenants of Southern Housing Group (a local housing association) to learn new skills, build confidence and gain experience through a five week programme. Volunteers have the opportunity to gain a qualification in Food Hygiene level 1 or 2, gain experience in retail, customer service and communication skills, and gain knowledge of how to run a small community enterprise. It is hoped that the programme will be an excellent way for local, mostly unemployed, people to take their first steps into volunteering, try something new, develop new skills and increase their employability.

It is clear that so many of the volunteers that we have supported and worked with this year have not only gained satisfaction from helping others but have also gained skills and experiences too, and this is shown through the feedback we have received from volunteers over the year. Just some comments include: ‘I’ve really enjoyed it [volunteering]! The learning has given me new skills and I wish to be back again’. ‘I can’t thank you enough for all your support. I was able to grow and learn so much at St Hilda’s’; ‘It’s truly a family [at St Hilda’s], thank you for all the opportunities you gave me in all the different projects. I really appreciate all you’ve done for me. The amount of trust and respect that has been built up is unforgettable’. ‘Thank you everyone at St Hilda’s. I am very grateful for giving me such a great experience and for giving me the opportunity to explore the world of work’. (Young volunteer) ‘I like to come in to help out. It’s my work!’ (Volunteer with learning disability) ‘I felt welcome on the first day I arrived and it has only gotten better from there. St Hilda’s has been the highlight of my time abroad. I look forward to coming in and I leave with the brightest smile.’ (US Volunteer)

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