Giving time can mean so much

It’s volunteer week, yay!
A chance to shout about people who give their time and expertise to help charities and public services across the country.

In my time I’ve busked on street corners for HIV awareness, danced for famine relief, been a school governor and a trustee for a few charities. All different things, that I enjoyed and more importantly, supported organisations and causes I believed in.

In all the places I’ve worked I’ve seen the passion, dedication and value that volunteers add. At Leeds Women’s Aid, I was always humbled by women who came to train and volunteer on our domestic violence helpline, often having experienced such violence themselves. Rather than trying to forget they wanted to give back to the organisation that helped them and support women trapped in a place they had once been themselves.

Within Women’s Lives Leeds, women and girls from across the city are giving their time to ensure that the project really delivers for some of the most vulnerable women in our city.

And here, at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice . Many of our volunteers have family and friends who have been cared for at the hospice. But instead of trying g to forget about us and their grief, they come back time and time again, to help us do what we did for their loved ones.

The man who maintains the fish tank on our in-patient, the people who serve food and do the washing up and the many volunteers who give their time to make events such as Yorkshire Women of Achievement such a success. Many of our staff even give extra time to volunteer in different areas of the hospice.

I truly salute you. It’s because of you we can do what we do.

If you’ve ever thought about volunteering but don’t know what you could do, there will be something, I promise! Please do contact your local volunteering centre or call the charities you support, without you our services really are not the same.

Peer Support isn’t just about service delivery

After another hard few months of trying to juggle priorities – competing work issues and a busy family life, I’ve been thinking again about how important it is for charity leaders to get the right support.

This week I was lucky enough to be given a charity place at the Bird Board Summer lunch. It was really refreshing to see over 100 women who run their own businesses come together to show their support for each other. In smaller groups they work together, pooling their knowledge to problem solve in a safe but structured environment.

I think its something we need more of in our sector. If you are lucky like me you’ll have a supportive board and staff team and there is some excellent capacity building, networking and training out there from membership organisations such as ACEVO, and charitable foundations like the Cranfield Trust.

But we also need the ability to be able to speak to others with similar experiences about specific issues which are often time critical. And, we need to be able to do that without feeling we are showing weakness to potential competitors.

I’ve been really lucky over the last few years. A long standing partnership with two other organisations has brought the added bonus of two experienced and supportive colleagues who have been generous in sharing their knowledge and advice. Over the last year, the development of the Women’s Lives Leeds partnership has expanded that support. Twelve brilliant women prepared to share and advise, sympathise and empathise, and just as importantly, celebrate each others’ successes.

I think that sometimes the smaller the charity, the harder it can be to access this kind of peer support. Leaders of smaller charities are often tied up in internal issues, Jacquies of all trades, sometimes delivering direct support to service users. It’s difficult for them to find the time to network and make links with their local counterparts.

I don’t have the answer to this but I do think that acknowledging that its lonely at the top is a start. It doesn’t matter if your turnover is £50k or £50 million the responsibility lies with you and sometimes that responsibility weighs very heavily. As charities we have a duty to spend public money wisely and with accountability, we must always put our service users or beneficiaries at the heart of what we do and we must never lose the value base from which we operate.