The Supported Volunteering Project and beyond

Hello! My name is Ellie and for those who don’t know me, I worked at the Supported Volunteering Project (SVP) for 6 years.

I recently came back from maternity leave and found many changes to the sector, and to my role, so I often feel I am starting a new job altogether.  From the tools we use, to the ways we communicate – working from home rather than at the hub in Arbury Court, to the needs of the community, and a new inspiring willingness for the voluntary sector to work together.

The SVP was set up in 2012 by Cambridge and District Volunteer Centre (CDVC) to help those needing extra support to get involved in volunteering. When the CDVC closed, CambridgeCVS recognised the need for the support and took over the project.

It has been a beautiful journey so far enabling me to witness people from all backgrounds, putting their hearts into new challenges and helping create a more just and balanced community. I’ve had many opportunities to grow and learn, both personally, and professionally.

What I particularly enjoyed in my role was the ability to listen to people and their stories, being inspired by them and working out how to best utilise their lived experiences, their skills (that often they did not even identify as skills) and their passions. Working together with professionals enabled us to discover as a team, that the prospective volunteer often had the best answers themselves all along, and encouragement and guidance was all they needed to reach their potential and in turn to encourage and teach others to do the same.

Being passionate about community and people, I am full of admiration for the projects and people I meet every day. Cambridge is a melting pot of cultures and skills and people can, with the right support, achieve incredible results once they connect with their community.

During my years at the SVP, people came to us, to some degree, in waves, responding to events in the community, or in their own lives, that made them feel increasingly isolated or unable to connect with others. I have worked with people struggling with poor mental health, those who were new to Cambridge and the country and people who had been unemployed long term, as well as people with disabilities, stay at home parents, carers, and young people considering a gap year.

When the pandemic hit, I was on maternity leave and trying to get along like everyone else during such an upsetting time. But I was amazed by the community response to the emergency, and my heart was full of hope and wonder how people just got on and helped each other, getting to know their neighbours and community in time of need.

For some, it was the first opportunity to volunteer. I interviewed several residents and found that people who had never volunteered before, did so during lockdown, as “a way to keep mentally healthy and feel useful”. Others, who had volunteered before, found their role had changed as had the needs of their clients, some just started helping neighbours and built connections, albeit socially distanced, that they “should have made years before.”

At CCVS, we realised we need to rethink and reshape our volunteering support, to respond to needs and changes that the pandemic unearthed. Volunteering is for all: everybody can volunteer, and everybody needs the voluntary sector and its army of volunteers. It is our intention, as a community development organisation, to work towards accessible and barrier free volunteering opportunities for all.

It is very exciting for me to be back at work with a strong and caring team of colleagues, who, like me, believe in community and its potential.  We aim to support long, mutually beneficial, meaningful relationships with local community groups and volunteers.

For now, we have restarted 1:1 support by phone, email and online. We have begun a new activity: “Walk and Talk about Volunteering” which is a chance for people (potential volunteers, volunteers and voluntary organisations) to meet, walk, and chat about all things volunteering – such as opportunities, projects and application processes.

We already deliver training, currently online, and facilitate volunteer manager forums. We give advice to those in support or caring roles who would like to become volunteers. We work with organisations and offer guidance with volunteer recruitment and management and encourage recruitment from all parts of the community. We plan to restart group presentations and participation in events promoting volunteering. Finally, we encourage the care and kindness that our sector best represents and push for change where needed to empower everybody to become the volunteer they want to be.

If you would like to know more please get in touch with me or call 07840989719.

South Cambs still a safe place to live

The South Cambridgeshire Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership (papers available here) met recently for its bi-annual stakeholder event, and it is official South Cambs is still a safe place. Not as safe as previously reported where South Cambs was reported to be the least crime ridden (?) of all its comparable districts, but still generally safe. It appears that things were never quite as safe as had been indicated as there were anomalies in how crimes were reported, but things are back to being recorded correctly, and whilst this does show crime rates will have climbed, it is not crime that is going up, just the crime reports.

I hope that is clear, because to be honest I am not sure what real difference it makes, the real test of how safe a place is to live is how safe people feel it is and this can often have no bearing on the reality of the number of offenses that are committed, reported and solved. For those of you who have a morbid curiosity about the number of offences committed where you live check out county information on the Crime and Community Safety Atlas, or national information on

What I can not say is if either of these are based on the old recording method or the new one, but my understanding is that for more serious offences there will be little or no difference. As soon as the figures that were used in the meeting are verified and published I will post a link.

The meeting also heard an update on the community trigger which is a new power relating to reporting Anti-Social Behavior (See a previous blog What’s wrong with a good old fashioned clip round the ear?) The South Cambs trigger will replicate that of other districts across the county and will need three reports in a six month period to be eligible for activation (Find out more about the national pilots here). I am a bit disappointed that districts have not followed Brighton and Hove’s example of having a much lower trigger point (check out the website), but as things move forward then there is no reason that changes can not be made. Whatever happens then we need to make sure that reporting is easy and not time consuming; again there are lessons to be learnt from the pilots.

South Cambs Local Health Partnership

South Cambs Local Health Partnership

The papers for this meeting are not made publically available on the South Cambs website.

This meeting discussed 4 different topics. To some extent many of these issues overlap and all feed into the various priorities of the health and wellbeing board strategy. The VCS is playing an important role in delivering services in these areas and will have to adapt to the changing environment, but at the same time we need to make sure our contribution is recognised.

Please let me have your thoughts on the questions posed, and the blog in general, as the more information and feedback we have the stronger our arguments are and the better we are able to spot opportunities and issues that are emerging.

Housing related support in South Cambs

Housing related support services have always been offered to those living in council accommodation. They are designed to help people remain in their homes and to stay healthy and fit whilst there. They are offered to people across the age range, however in South Cambs the majority of those assisted are elderly. That said there are links into services for those suffering homelessness, domestic abuse or other problems that might see them unable to maintain their tenancy. The Housing Related Support Team is a county wide service based at CCC.

For more info see here

New plans are afoot to expand the service to everyone who needs it. This has some potential problems despite the fact that it is a good idea. My issues are, what is the budget and what happens if money runs out; what are the criteria for getting free help and for being told where to access the same, but paid for, help.

My questions for you:

Is this a treat to the services you supply or could it be an opportunity?

What services to supply that help people stay in their homes and stay healthy that you think the team should know about so they can refer people to you?

The impact of the new growth areas

The problem of what happens when we build lots of new homes is on many peoples minds at the moment. People in those houses need access to services and amenities, there needs to be a community to help improve peoples wellbeing and ideally there needs to be an integration with existing communities.

Many of the physical amenities and payment for some of the services comes from the developers in return for being allowed to build. What I do not understand is how the power has shifted into the hands of the developer and away from the planners etc. so that the developers are dictating what they will supply. The meeting highlighted that all the statutory partners can not get their act together to come up with a single definitive plan to build healthy communities, and that  the tension between different teams in some statutory bodies often seem to result in mixed messages coming out of one authority, so adding to the lack of a single voice talking to the developers. Surely if we all speak as one we can build for communities and not for profits!

There needs to be shift back to ensuring that the services and amenities that make a community are put in place and can be maintained. We have many good examples (as well as bad ones) both nationally and locally and these should be built on and the developers made to pay where that is appropriate.

My questions for you:

How do we stand up to the developers to ensure that the facilities and funding is put ahead of profits?

What is it that makes a successful new development?

Access to services by Young People and Families

There are considerable numbers of services being supplied by the VCS, many are recognised and supported, however much of the work is under the radar and with those families and individuals who have not reached the thresholds for intervention by health, social services, the local authority or the Police etc. A great deal of the work is preventative and stops issues escalating and as such helps reduce the costs to statutory services.

This will be an on-going topic of conversation for the LHP and it would be good to have your views on what you are doing, how it is funded, and whether it is recognised as saving people money.

Issues affecting the elderly community (this incorporated the Ageing well agenda that has been joined to the LHP agenda)

The growing problem of an aging population keeps raising its head. There is undoubtedly going to be big changes to the services and what is on offer as well as what people want and expect. What is clear is that there is no long term plan within any of our statutory partners; even Addenbrooks only really looks to 3 or 4 years in the future, despite the fact it takes upwards of 8 years to develop new facilities that may be needed.

We need to start to think about what our services will look like in the future and how they may be delivered.

Upcoming opportunity – The young peoples sexual health service tender will be put out soon. Check out the Cambridgeshire Source website where it will be announced.