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Opinion: More than a one-trick pony - the value of volunteering

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Opinion: More than a one-trick pony - the value of volunteering

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities

Opinion: More than a one-trick pony - the value of volunteering Opinion: More than a one-trick pony - the value of volunteering

By Lisa Charles (Twitter @LisaC_BaH), assistant director (marketing & communications), Bolton at Home

Being told you’re a one-trick pony is usually taken as an insult but actually the ability to do any tricks (and particularly if you do them well) already makes you outstanding. But I’m greedy, I want to have more than one trick up my sleeve, I want the whole magic kit. And I think volunteering is one way of building up my repertoire.

Like many of my Bolton at Home (Twitter @boltonathome) colleagues, I enjoy supporting the work of other groups and communities outside of work time (more on how I do that in a moment). Importantly, as a manager (but more just as a person), I can see real benefits when team members do likewise. So I was delighted when Bolton at Home formalised their commitment to this kind of effort in their Volunteering Policy.

I’m confident that my colleague Amy’s work with City of Sanctuary (Twitter @ManchesterCoS @AmyL_BaH) will give her a wider overview of communications activity beyond her usual more digital focus at work. That’s great as it matches up well with our aims for even more flexible, multi-skilled staff.

There’ll be chance for her work at a more strategic level, shaping the communications of the group at the outset as well as bringing hands on skills to the implementation side of things – so a real win-win on both sides here. And with this particular group, the challenge of reaching out to refugees and actively including non-English language speakers will be an opportunity to flex current skills as well learning good practice from other members of the City of Sanctuary group.

It’s difficult to imagine any negatives coming out of any of us volunteering. Naturally, the learning that comes back into Bolton at Home will be different depending on the volunteering activity. Sometimes, it might not even be about tangible skills, it could simply be gaining greater awareness of the needs, issues and challenges facing other people in our community.

On a personal front, I volunteered (well, when the cry went out, everyone else in the line took one step back…) to lead our children’s group at our local parish church (Twitter @StMarysLeigh). I could see that they needed support but initially was a bit wary. The mantra of “never work with children and animals” went through my mind. But nevertheless, I decided to take a leap of faith and give it a go. So far I can say it has been hard work, but as a better writer than me once put it, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it”.

I know I’m already reaping benefits, and I hope the children feel the same. I’m changing the way I think and communicate so that I can interest a younger audience (I think I can safely say that teenagers qualify as a ‘difficult to reach’ group).
I’m having to think on my feet when a planned session clearly isn’t as engaging as I’d hoped or when I get one of those tricky questions children ask thrown at me, which is a good way to keep my creative muscles in trim and can only be of benefit back in the workplace.

And anyone who’s worked with me knows I’m not a big fan of paperwork, but this is showing me the value it can have and importance it can play. I have to keep a paper (ok, electronic) trail of what I’ve done so that I can get the support of the church governing body, keep other volunteers informed and meet the legal requirements on safeguarding.

My volunteering and Amy’s doesn’t fall into the scope of Bolton at Home’s Volunteering Policy because the volunteering work itself doesn’t help Bolton residents, which is important for the organisation (of course, there’s an indirect benefit because of the skills and learning we hopefully bring back). Neither of us mind - we do it anyway. For others, the existence of a Volunteering Policy may just be what they need to encourage them to add to their own set of magic tricks.

If the policy means even one more person gets involved, then it’s done its job.

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