Supporting Volunteers' Week 2015

Last Updated: 03 Jun 2016
GCHQ actively promotes and facilitates volunteering and fundraising activities undertaken by staff, which benefits the community, the business and the individual.

We were delighted to support national Volunteers' Week, which took place from 1-7 June 2015.

GCHQ volunteers have supported a wide variety of organisations and charities, including the Brandon Trust, Sue Ryder, Ruskin Mill College, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Cotswold Canal Trust, Elim Housing and County Community Projects.

We firmly believe that volunteering enables our staff to gain valuable skills, as well as providing the opportunity for them to give something back to the community in which most of us live and work.

Read about the experiences of our GCHQ volunteers.

Sam on driving a blood bike



Severn Freewheelers is an emergency medical courier service providing the NHS with an out-of-hours courier capability.  The service is available 365 nights of the year, with shifts from 7pm to 7am plus weekend and Bank Holidays.

The bikes carry whole blood product, pathology samples, patient notes, bits of kit, breast milk  and other pieces of critical care items that will fit on a bike. The service runs between hospitals, laboratories, care homes, patients' houses, and blood and milk banks. SFW  covers from Birmingham down to Marlborough, and from the Forest of Dean across to Oxford.  This is around 10,000 sq km; a lot of ground to cover.

SFW has a fleet of six marked-up BMWs (ex-police bikes), and fields three bikes on-call every shift. The team are supporting over 350 calls from the NHS a month, and we are just about to notch up our 1,000,000 mile. We look at this in terms of  the saving to the NHS of providing a taxi to cover the same miles, and putting that saving back into patient care! A massive achievement for something that started seven years ago, with five bikers in a pub looking to see how they could put something back into society.

Even though SFW is a charity staffed by volunteers, there is a significant cost to keeping this critical service on the road.  We receive NO funding from the NHS at all. The capital costs of the bikes, their upkeep, insurance, fuel and road tax all mount up. SFW sets a budget of £62,000 a year to keep the service running, and this all has to be found via donations and fund-raising.  We attend shows, talks, events to fly the flag and try to "find" donations.  We also use these events to recruit new members and educate folk about the charity.

In 2010 SFW decided to take a proactive stance with fundraising, and established the Prescott Bike Festival. This is based at the world-famous Prescott Hill Climb circuit, at the home of the prestigious Bugatti owners club near Cheltenham.  The festival has proved a resounding success and, as well as providing a significant contribution to the running costs, is a fantastic opportunity to advertise blood biking across the UK.

SFW is a founder member of the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes (NABB) which has a membership of 32 Blood Bike groups across the England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.  NABB provides a central collective body of knowledge and experience to help establish new groups, and to interface with bodies such as NHS central and Central Government.  In fact in this year’s budget the Chancellor referred to his Blood Bike service as he let us reclaim VAT. To be recognised as an emergency service by the Government was a great achievement.

So, SFW is a great place to be. We can ride "proper" bikes for hours, across beautiful Cotswold countryside, with fuel paid for by the Charity, and do "stuff" that helps other people. What’s not to like?

If you are interested in helping SFW as a rider, a hospital coordinator or you have an event we could attend, please contact Severn Freewheelers.

GCHQ has provided a great deal of support to SFW, and we are very grateful. Let’s make sure we maintain the relationship and contribute to SFW’s delivery.

A day in the life of Jay



Hello, and welcome to a taste of what my life is like as one of two working guide dogs in GCHQ.

I’m Jay, and I’m the first of a new Labrador – Irish Water Spaniel cross, and was designed not to shed hair.  In a building where there are thousands of staff, some are bound to have respiratory issues and I think that it’s important not to add to any problems they might have. 

Despite my looks and behaviour, I’m nearly 10 years old, so will probably hang up my harness in the next few months and live a life of even more luxury in retirement.

During weekdays, I usually get woken up about 7am when Michael comes downstairs. I have biscuit and fresh chicken for breakfast, then have a bit of a tidy-up with a brush and comb, and then go outside and survey the garden before returning for a bit of a rest. We usually get to work about 8.30am and leave about 5pm. Once we arrive in the morning, Michael and I often walk a couple of circuits around the internal main street in the doughnut for a bit of exercise – each circuit is about a third of a mile long.  I know which lift we then need to take to go to Michael’s desk and my bed and, once there, I have my harness and lead taken off and wear my play collar.  I’ll have a little trot around the floorplate – always within sight of Michael, just in case he gets lost without me - to see who’s in and what snacks they have lined up for me to keep my energy levels up.

Unless there’s something special happening, mornings and afternoons usually consist of a variety of meetings, talks  and desktime. In order to go to any meeting, I have my lead and harness back on, and Michael will tell me which room we’re going to and help direct me. The doughnut is a very big building and some rooms are much easier to find than others – I can manage some by myself, but some are hidden away and quite difficult to find.  It’s also very busy at lunchtimes, especially near the restaurant and cafe, so I need to concentrate all of the time.

I enjoy my work at GCHQ – there are always plenty of people who want to come and talk to me when I’m off duty, and I go out every lunchtime to the park to practice my ball skills, which is great.  Also, we have a fire alarm practice once a week, and I love singing along with it, especially when it goes off when we’re in one of the big conference rooms and I have a large audience...

Dave - supporting The Friends of Della and Don


Della Don

Della and Don were on holiday in Sri Lanka when the Boxing Day tsunami hit the region in 2004.  Della was walking along the beach when the wave hit, and was prevented from drowning by a fisherman who wrapped his arms around her and a palm tree.  A few months later they returned to Sri Lanka to find the fisherman, and to buy his village a new fishing boat and nets so that they could support their families again.

Fast forward 10 years and the charity The Friends of Della and Don has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. It has grown, and now supports a number of different projects all of which are changing people’s lives for the better.  For instance, we provide all of the children in the village with a daily nutritious meal and school uniforms and shoes. We support a clinic which offers free medicines and drugs to those who would not otherwise be able to afford treatment. We have also encouraged local enterprise by providing a women’s co-operative with sewing machines so that they can support their families.  My personal highlight is running the annual "Fun Day" at the school where I captain Team Scooby-Doo!

I have been able to use skills I’ve gained from the workplace to good effect, such as developing the charity’s website and social networking presence. Likewise, the charity work is a good pressure release from what can sometimes be a really busy job, and it helps keep things in perspective.  I’ve been out to Sri Lanka on eight occasions and it’s really good to see what a difference we’re making.

GCHQ has been really supportive, and I have raised thousands of pounds through cake sales. And if there’s one thing GCHQ staff really like, it’s cake!

Ann - organising a volunteering day



Late last year I organised a volunteering day with County Community Projects (CCP) in Cheltenham for a group of linguists.

The team had voted to swap their headphones and relative comfort of the office to help this local charity which primarily works with the homeless young people and disadvantaged families across Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.

Since 2010 the CCP have owned and run an allotment at Hayden Road in Cheltenham. Not only does the allotment provide a tranquil environment for those disadvantaged individuals wanting to escape from the pressures of everyday life, CCP also uses it as an educational tool by offering mentoring sessions for local school children to help get them "back on track" whilst also building their confidence and self-esteem. The allotment has taught all of those it has helped, the value of giving something back to the community.

The CCP’s allotment was vast, and although it was likely that the majority of the day would involve "turning over" the array of vegetable beds, there was something there for everyone. Other duties included fruit and vegetable picking, clearing pathways and over-grown areas, fixing a shed roof and establishing an area for composting.

Helping a local community project such as the CCP was extremely satisfying. It was encouraging to see first-hand the way in which the CCP makes a difference, and it was nice to be able to escape the office environment and interact as a team without the pressure of work, whilst at the same time supporting a worthwhile community project.

CCP are part of Involve Gloucestershire who arrange many employer-supported volunteering projects.

Emma - with St John Ambulance


St Johns

St John Ambulance, the nation's leading first aid charity, is known for its volunteers who provide first aid cover for a wide range of events. As a volunteer, I've been a first aider at a huge number of events over the years, ranging from small fetes to larger events such as horse races and stadium gigs.

As well as covering events, St John Ambulance members provide first aid training in the community and the workplace, and we have a huge youth division that trains children from as young as five in life saving skills. The organisation's vision is that no one should suffer for the lack of trained first aiders, however, this only gives part of the picture why people volunteer with St John Ambulance.

Skill levels vary from Trainee First Aider to Emergency Transport Attendant where you could find yourself crewing an ambulance. At larger events, you may also find yourself helping staff an event control room, enabling the deployment of colleagues to those requiring assistance. Due to this variety there is no such thing as a 'normal day', while providing first aid cover.

Jim - Community First Responder



There is no typical day as a Community First Responder (CFR) with a local Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

During the two years I’ve been a Responder, I have been on-call for over 2,000 hours. During that time I have gained valuable experience in treating a variety of patients. I am often the First Person On Scene (FPOS) and provide assistance to the single paramedic and ambulance crews when they arrive at the incident. I have had to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation  (CPR), along with oxygen support on more than one occasion.

Due to my work pattern, I usually go on-call during weekends. Being able to work flexible hours at GCHQ allows me to adjust my work pattern in order to fit in with my six-monthly one-day placements with the ambulance service, where I undertake a 12 hour shift as part of a Double Crewed Ambulance (DCA) or second man in a Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV).