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Volunteers

Many projects rely heavily on volunteers. The range of activities includes the following:

· Trustees and management committee members often give a considerable amount of time to projects.
· Professionals offering their skills and expertise on a pro bono basis; e.g. counselling, podiatry, youth leadership, interior design, public relations, web design and accountancy.
· if a church being used by multiple organisations has no paid administrator, volunteers can take bookings and open and close the building.
· reception duties: ‘meeting and greeting’.
· clerical and office duties.
· driving.
· kitchen and front-of-house staff in lunch clubs and coffee shops.
· preparing and distributing food at food outlets and on soup runs.
· gardening.
· house clearances, furniture delivery, DIY and refurbishment of flats.
· shop work.
· IT tutors and IT maintenance.
· provision of classes and leisure activities.
· volunteers as mentors and befrienders to a variety of client groups – varying levels of expertise required.
· acting as ‘Appropriate Adults’ in the criminal justice system.
· debt counselling.
· event facilitators and organisers.
· youth work.
· street pastors.

Occasionally there are one-off volunteering sessions as in one project: “some staff from Northern Rock came to help dig gardens. In addition to the practical assistance these outside volunteers gave, this was an opportunity for raising their awareness about conditions in the area”.

In gathering the stories, there was an attempt to estimate the cash value of the contribution of volunteers. This was not easy partly because projects do not necessarily compute the amount of time given. (Notably, however, one project mentioned raising funding against delivering volunteer-based activities.) Nor do they include trustees in their calculations. In one project, where the trustee time was counted, it amounted to about 2.200 hours over the past year. In some cases, too, the paid staff of a project work additional unpaid hours. Perhaps even more significant was the difficulty of determining the ‘rate for the job’. The rate used was around the hourly rate for the minimum wage (£6), but it was very evident that this fell far below the going rate that would be required for the same tasks to be performed by paid staff.

In a furniture recycling project, “There are now about ten volunteers each day: 6 or 7 in the shop who each work 4.5 hours per day and 3-4 in the warehouse who work about 6 hours per day. Calculated on the basis of £6 per hour, this amounts to voluntary service worth over £200 per day.

Say 30 volunteers for 3 hours per week (90 hours), plus my administration team’s time (3 X 16 hours), and including my own (1 X 30 hours). I would estimate around 200 hours per week, which calculated on the basis of minimum wage rates amounts to £1,200 per week. However I wouldn’t estimate the admin team’s time at minimum wage.”

At one extreme, even on the basis of the minimum wage rate, a church community centre estimated the financial value of their approximately 50 volunteers to be about £312,000 p.a. In a village coffee shop, the value was calculated as about £36,000 p.a. The 80 volunteers in a health project give time to the value of at least £56,000 p.a. In a homelessness project, the value was around £30,000 p.a. For smaller projects, of course, the amounts were also much smaller though their contribution to the maintenance and effectiveness of the work was just as significant.

Managing volunteers is a responsibility and, despite their immense value, can be an added burden. It is necessary to accommodate to the time they can give. “Volunteers are fitting in volunteering around other life demands and so are inconsistent.” There has to be awareness of what can and cannot be done by volunteers. Different forms of induction and training are required from shadowing experienced people to health and safety training; CRB checks to safeguarding; food and hygiene courses to first aid. Sometimes training is given in-house, especially where it is closely related to the specialist role of the organisation. Sometimes volunteers are also encouraged to access training offered by other agencies and perhaps to go on to gain accreditation, say, in community volunteering. Arrangements need to be in place for insurance and for expenses where appropriate.

Volunteering is not a one-way activity. Volunteers frequently feel they gain as much as they give.

“The work is carried out on a foundation of trusting relationships, built across cultural and economic barriers. Volunteers such as lawyers and graphic designers are enabled to get to know members of their community whom they would not otherwise meet, so that they can inspire and learn from those very different from them.”

“The training provided was first rate – I never knew there were so many administrative as well as cultural barriers put in the way of asylum seekers and refugees. On the practical side, working with asylum seekers has been extremely rewarding. Tasks range from helping with English language practice, to going for runs, from assisting with documentation and finding a GP to socialising.”