Feature

Supporting Volunteers' Week 2016

Last Updated: 03 Jun 2016
In the past ten years staff have raised over £1 million for charities and other good causes!

Our people support the community through schools as part of our outreach programme, and by volunteering or fundraising.  

As part of National Volunteers' Week, we will be showcasing some of the volunteering activities that staff get involved in.


GCHQ staff sponsor a Guide Dog Puppy

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Codey, the Guide Dog puppy sponsored by GCHQ staff
©GCHQ 2016

GCHQ staff have supported the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association for many years and in May 2015 three GCHQ employees, along with a team of helpers, set out to raise £5,000 for a Guide Dog through the Name a Puppy Scheme, and had 2 years in which to do it.  

Incredibly, that £5,000 was raised in just 7 months and the name Codey was chosen for the GCHQ sponsored guide dog. Little did they know then, that in less than 12 months they would exceed all expectations and raise a whopping £10,000! This £10,000 will see Codey through her first 12 months with her Puppy Walker and a further 12 months with her Guide Dog Trainer.

They were able to raise such large amounts due to the very generous nature of GCHQ employees, who donated their time and money by making, buying and eating cakes and crafts, attending the puppy rooms, testing their knowledge in guide dog quizzes and a dedicated Team Ginty was created to raise sponsorship for running Cheltenham Half Marathon – to name but a few.

Read the blogs of two very special Guide Dogs, Danny and Ginty,  who ‘work’ at GCHQ.  Through their devoted support to their GCHQ owners, they are playing their part in helping keep the nation safe.

Danny

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Danny the guide dog
©GCHQ 2016

Hello, it’s Danny here - I’m one of GCHQ’s newest recruits, having only joined in mid-April this year, and this is my first blog.  I’m a very exotic-looking blond labradoodle guide dog, and I took over from Jay  when he retired just before Easter. I’m doing my best and trying very hard to please, but I’m naturally quite shy and it’ll take a bit of time till I settle down and become more confident.  I’ve only just turned  2 years old and have just finished the long training programme which I started when I was a pup, and I now have to put the theory into practice.  I’ve had quite a lot of changes in my short life so far and have had 3 or 4 temporary homes and owners, so it’s a huge relief finally to be in my new long-term job and permanent home with Mike.

In the first couple of weeks training with Mike, we learned some routes around home.  They started off being quite short and straightforward but, as time went on, became longer and more complicated.  The third week of training consisted of doing routes in and around work and was completely different, but  maybe even more challenging - although the work environment is perfectly safe (for example, there aren’t any cars parked or kids cycling on pavements or roads being dug up in this building) - there are thousands of desks and people, dozens of identical looking meeting and interview rooms, lots of informal breakout areas, seating and plants, and I have to find my way around them all and know where I am (and I mainly do!) . Fortunately, just yesterday, I met the other guide dog here, and she’s promised to help me out if I get stuck.  She’s really ancient – she must be getting on for 5 years old! But she’s had a lot of experience and, although she’s very playful and skittish, I’m sure that she’s a very wise old thing and will be a great mentor. 


Civil Service Local

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Civil Service Local volunteers conducting mock interviews for students
©Civil Service Local 2015

GCHQ has supported Civil Service Local SW and Wales for many years and chairs the cross-departmental volunteering group which meets on a quarterly basis.   As a group we have supported a number of volunteering initiatives over the years and during the last operational year, CS Local supported/delivered:  97 volunteering projects across the SW and Wales;  801 staff have participated, delivering 902 volunteering days and 890 L&D days;  and 5900 citizens have been supported in some way.  

Nita Murphy, the Local Co-ordinator for CS Local said 'This is a fantastic achievement which goes to prove just what can be achieved by harnessing the voluntary power of the Civil Service.'

One initiative of note has been the development of  employability workshops. These were introduced by Richard Hill,  who was seconded to CS Local from HMRC as SW and Wales Citizen Engagement Manager.  The aim of the workshops was to transfer the fantastic employability skills which civil servants have,  to support local communities.  Richard developed links with schools, colleges and homeless organisations across the region and offered them combinations of mock interviews and employability workshops. GCHQ volunteers were pleased to support workshops in Cheltenham and Tewkesbury.

In the words of one volunteer: 

'I feel that participating in the workshop was a real confidence booster for all the attendees. The clients engaged fully the whole afternoon and left saying they would now consider a much wider range of jobs to apply for. They appreciated the amount of one-2-one help that we were able to offer and seemed to especially enjoy the role play exercises.   We were all buzzing by the end of the workshop and it was lovely to receive genuine thanks from the clients as they left'.  (Sarah, GCHQ volunteer).

Richard  says:  'Sessions have gone down really well for all concerned - our partners have better developed students and clients, whilst volunteers have developed their own skills and have had the privilege of working collaboratively with colleagues from different departments to give something back to their local communities.  I've seen volunteers develop and grow and witnessed the significant changes we have made. Citizens have been successful in securing for jobs for the first time, self-confidence has increased and lives genuinely changed. In the last year over 800 volunteer days have been delivered. Volunteers have worked closely with colleagues from other departments and over 40 different government departments and agencies have been involved. ' 


One small step for GCHQ volunteers at Ruskin Mill College

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Ruskin Mill: pigs in a pen
©GCHQ 2016

In early May a team from GCHQ spent a day volunteering at Ruskin Mill College near Stroud which provides day and residential education and care in Gloucestershire and the South West for young people with special educational needs and disabilities.  

This was the seventh year we had volunteered at the college and on this occasion our day was spent at Gables Farm, a working farm which is part of the college and which provides valuable learning opportunities for the students.  The farm is also a centre for horticulture, bio-dynamic farming and animal husbandry; it supplies the college with organic produce and products, it has cattle, pigs, chickens and sheep and two working cob horses used to plough the land.

We split into three groups for the various tasks.  One group was put to work in the wood, helping to re-lay a woodland path and built 'One small step for GCHQ!' amidst a sea of wild garlic and the other groups had the task of clearing land and planting.  I think we all gained new skills in sawing and weed identification, and some members of the team acquired a number of new DIY skills too.   We also discovered the joys of the compost loos!    

After all our hard work the field manager took us on a tour of the farm and it was wonderful  to see the dedication of the leaders and to meet some of the young students who are benefitting from such a unique learning environment. Ruskin Mill College is a truly inspirational place.  For more information, please visit the Ruskin Mill College website.


Volunteering at National Star

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National Star student playing music on the Ototo made with bananas and oranges
©GCHQ 2016

Following a previous visit to the GCHQ stand at the Cheltenham Science Festival , National Star recently invited a group of GCHQ volunteers to run some sessions for their students using a selection of interactive 'sensory' activities.  The games included Ototo (musical fruit), PES (Proximity Entertainment System) and SketchBot (drawing robot) (the latter two games were designed in-house).  Feedback from the day was really positive and both the students and the volunteers appeared to gain a great deal from the experience. 

'All four of my guys [students] were really engaged by the Ototo device. It was great for cause and effect ,and seemed to me to be much better than the similar device Makey-Makey.  The GCHQ people were very good with the students and that was great, they were also very friendly and obviously pleased that we were so excited about it.'  (Tutor)

'I liked watching the game on the board, it was Connect Four.' (student).

'It's a fantastic college, the staff are great and really appreciated our time and games we bought along.  All  the students were lovely, we got many smiles and positive reactions from them. It was a pleasure to be there.' (GCHQ volunteer).

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National Star College student playing GCHQ's Proximity Entertainment System
©GCHQ 2016

We hope to continue building our relationship with National Star and a team of GCHQ volunteers are planning to paint the College's glamping pods, when the weather improves. Gloucestershire based charity National Star works with people with complex disabilities to live their lives independently and to the full. For some, that can mean going on to further education and possible employment. For others, being at National Star may mean discovering how to communicate using state-of-the-art technology, developing their skills for independent living or learning how to get around by themselves.  

For more information visit www.nationalstar.org.


New Start Cat Rescue

A day in the life of a rescue cat

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Bobby is a large fluffy black cat with yellow eyes and red collar
©New Start Cat Rescue 2016

Hello, my name is Behind-the-Sofa Bobby. Yes, an odd name for a cat, but all will be revealed! I was adopted 2 and a half years ago by a member of the GCHQ workforce from New Start Cat Rescue. I came to NSCR as a semi-feral. This meant, at the age of 2, I had been living ‘rough’ but no-one knows how long for. I was quite shy, very scared and I’m black. In the cat world that’s three strikes against me. For some reason people don’t like us black cats! Luckily, the volunteers at New Start took me and I was fostered. Then, I was taken to the centre, where I was selected for adoption. Now I have a brother (Bear) and live with 2 cat-mad people, with a lovely big garden for me to run round in. I protect my new owners from dangerous leaves, earth worms and (too often) rats; for some reason the rats aren’t appreciated.

Why Behind-the-Sofa Bobby? Well, that’s where I spent the first 2 months of my time in my foster home. I was so scared; I’d been semi-feral you see. I was used to doing my own thing, when I wanted and where I wanted. The concept of being in a home and getting fed was new to me. Slowly, though, with love and patience, I started to trust again. My fosterer spent lots of time socialising me, and fed me lovely treats. Soon, I became a total lap cat, renowned for my Bobby Flop, where I drop onto my back and demand belly rubs from anyone passing. My new nickname is Bobby Long-Cat, because I love to stretch, to afford my owner as much belly as possible to rub!

NSCR is a small, local, cat and kitten rescue. They rely on their volunteers and supporters to fund the charity. I’m pleased to say that, following my adoption (and that of my pen mate Bear), my new owner became a volunteer at the charity. 

A day in the life of a volunteer

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Bobby is a large fluffy black cat with yellow eyes and red collar
©New Start Cat Rescue 2016

Working at GCHQ, I’m granted 3 days a year to volunteer in the community. As Bobby’s adopted owner, it’s natural I chose NSCR. There are so many ways of volunteering at the charity. From getting hands-on and cleaning out the cat pens (a daily job), to fostering cats and kittens (like Bobby was) and carrying out home checks. There’s also PR and fundraising, and then there’s running our social media campaigns, visiting local community groups (like Brownies hoping to get their Friend to Animals badge) and running homing days at local halls and vets; the opportunities are endless. 

At GCHQ we have volunteers who do all the above. Fostering kittens (and their Queens) needs care and patience, and a big heart. It’s so hard letting kittens go to their new homes. Cleaning the pens is hard work, especially the ferals pen, where we ‘home’ out ferals to become barn cats, keeping down vermin. It can often be smelly but is one of the necessary jobs. Rehoming is done following a home check, to make sure the new home is suitable for the cat or kitten, and this needs a good level of patience when families are trying to decide between cats (sometimes they take 2 or 3 from us).

Fundraising, PR, media campaigns, are all time-consuming. Luckily at GCHQ, our workforce’s love of cakes means we always raise funds from cake sales. 

As an employer, GCHQ is very active in allowing us to carry on volunteering, even allowing cats into the building last community day!

New Start Cat Rescue are always looking for volunteers, if you’d like to help please get in touch.