Saying thank you in Volunteers' Week 2018
News article - 4 June 2018
Our people support the community through volunteering at schools as part of our outreach programme and through volunteering for a wide variety of charities.
As part of Volunteers' Week, we are highlighting some of the volunteering activities our workforce get involved in as a way of celebrating and saying thank you for their contribution.
In the morning we split into small groups and were set to work helping to clean out the kennels, cattery and small animal area. It wasn't the most glamorous of tasks but was reassuring to see that the animals' living areas are kept so clean and that the animals themselves are so well cared for. The shelter even has its own on-site Veterinary Surgery so the animals receive any treatments they require immediately. After lunch we were rewarded with lots of dog walking time, which gave us a chance to spend some time with the dogs and also chat to the staff and volunteers who do such a fantastic job. Some of us accompanied staff on walks to the park, while others spent time on shorter walks with the more nervous dogs.
While we all came away with the feeling that we wanted to take at least one of the animals home with us (all the dogs seemed to have perfected the "take me home" look), the overriding feeling was that we are lucky to have such a centre in Cheltenham with a team of such dedicated staff and volunteers. What shone through from our time with them was how much they care for each animal and how important it is to them that each one finds the right home. It was great to have the opportunity to give something back by giving our time to them that day and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Shelter relies on the support of members of the public to meet the running costs of looking after the hundreds of dogs, cats and small animals that they care for each year. For more information, please visit the Cheltenham Animal Shelter website at www.gawa.org.uk
We were incredibly lucky with the weather - possibly the one day in April when it didn't rain. The sun was out and we were outside on a working day. We didn't know what we would be doing or what to expect, but straight away we were set our first challenge of the day. Bits and pieces from 3 party tents broken by a storm were scattered on the ground, and our job was to try and salvage a working tent from the chaos.
Fortunately we had a couple of proficient campers amongst the team, which certainly helped as we set off to find what bits fitted with what. By lunchtime we had constructed two good Party tents. What's more, the team hadn't fallen out and we'd avoided spearing each other with poles (only just). We all came prepared with packed lunches but were pleasantly surprised to find that the Scout centre host had cooked pizzas for us all, what a fantastic host. In the afternoon, still under glorious sunshine and amidst a beautiful forest, we helped put up a Mess tent in readiness for a group due to visit the site that weekend. It wasn't straightforward, but by this point the whole team were pretty proficient tent makers and everyone just grabbed canvas and poles and got stuck in.
Our final task for the day was clearing the stream - a hard slog but very satisfying. Getting sprayed with mud was also great for proving that we'd still been hard at work despite not being in work.
All in all it was great fun, great team-building, and I couldn't recommend it more highly.
I started going into a local primary school to do paired reading as I thought it would be nice to help a child who may be struggling. Some children need a little more help than others when they start to read in primary school - paired reading gives them the opportunity to spend a little more time reading with an adult either on their own or in a group. It is such a privilege to spend time with children like this this and watch them flourish and grow in confidence.
Once I had completed the mandatory DBS check, I began to go to the school once a week for 30 minutes during lunchtime - not a big time commitment but one which makes a huge difference. After we had introduced ourselves and got to know each other a little bit we started reading the book her teacher had helped her choose. I let her read on her own and helped when there were words she struggled with - often this meant breaking the word up into smaller parts. Once our session was over I would record what we had done so the teacher and her parents would know what progress was being made and what she needed help with.
Over the course of the year her reading had improved and she went up some reading levels. We developed a good relationship and would often share news about our lives - I was getting married, she was to become a big sister! The following 18 months flew by and my pupil made a dramatic improvement in reading and comprehension. At our last session she asked me if I was going to big school with her and I told her she was now ready to read books by herself. I felt tremendously proud that I had helped prepare her for the next stage of her school career. The fact that she wanted me to go with her shows that paired reading is much more than listening to a child read - it is about building trust, confidence and friendship.
By taking a little bit of time out of your day once a week for paired reading you can really make a difference to a child's life. Reading has immense benefits for a child - it helps improve concentration, teaches them about the world around them, improves vocabulary, develops their imagination - the list goes on, but most importantly it is fun!
I first heard about the Independent Visitor programme on a radio programme. All young people in care have a right to an independent visitor and this national volunteering programme co-ordinates visits from an adult who is independent from the local authority and can make an additional and positive contribution to the young person's welfare and development.
This programme sounded interesting so I got in touch with my local authority. After going through a series of checks and interviews to check my suitability and motivation for volunteering, I decided that this was something I really wanted to do. After a few weeks, a match was found for me - Rachael. Our first meeting was observed to check that it was a good match. I was actually quite nervous - I wasn't sure whether we'd have anything to talk about and I worried it would just be really awkward.
This couldn't have been further from the truth. Rachael is 14 and a delightful young person. On the surface she's like any other 14 year old girl, chatting about boys, friends, shopping and music. However, this masks the reality that Rachael has suffered an incredible amount of loss in her short life. Her mother passed away and a few years later her father was killed in an accident, so through no fault of her own, she has ended up in care like thousands of others across the country. Fortunately, she has been placed in a stable foster placement and is generally progressing well but is still in need of lots of reassuring and positive adult support around her.
So once a month I take Rachael out for a Saturday afternoon of fun. There is no typical outing, and whilst I try to make it as enjoyable as possible, I always leave room for us to have a proper chat. I think (hope) that Rachael really enjoys our outings. She certainly tells me she looks forward to our time together and does normally open up about what's going on in her life. Seeing Rachael experience new things and enjoying herself makes me very happy too.
I highly recommend the Independent Visitor programme to anyone with an interest in supporting young people. My number one motivation for volunteering was to make a real difference to a young person's life and this is a very tangible way of doing so. It has also given me the opportunity to put someone else's needs first and have a fun afternoon where I can switch off from any issues in my life or work. I also enjoy all the activities as much as Rachael!
There are only 35 volunteers in my county but over 500 young people in care. This situation will be the same across the country. Your local authority will be in need of more volunteers - especially men - so please do seriously think about this and get in touch with them for a chat.