Removing Barriers to volunteering

By Chris Trevorrow. June 2022.

Our Volunteering for All project, supported by Cambridge City Council, works to reduce the barriers many people experience in accessing volunteering.  At a recent workshop we shared some of what we have learned from this work and pulled in best practice from providers from around the world[1]

  • A significant proportion of the population experience barriers to volunteering; we tend to think of barriers relating to those with physical impairments, but others affected include people with mental ill health, neurodivergent individuals, people from different cultures, people with criminal records, people with caring responsibilities and those unable to afford the time or the associated expense of volunteering.
  • In addition to physical barriers people can face psychological and organisational barriers.  People might have a fear of taking on something new in a different environment, they might fear rejection.  They might come up against unhelpful attitudes from existing staff and volunteers or a rigid inflexible approach to how things are done.
  • There are compelling reasons organisations should seek to be inclusive.  To meet their statutory responsibilities and deliver on their equality policies but also to widen the pool of talent, embrace the expertise of volunteers with lived experience and improve their own future sustainability.
  • Inclusive organisations have:
    • a welcoming and open culture
    • a clearly communicated equality policy
    • volunteer roles that offer flexibility and work with individual need
    • fair and open recruitment and management procedures
    • a zero tolerance of discrimination
    • a demographic that reflects the community they serve.
  • To be more inclusive here are a few things to think about:
    • How and where you advertise roles – could you extend your reach to where different groups of people will see your information?
    • Think about the language you use – is it plain English, would other languages be appropriate. could you offer information in another format such as video or an audio file?
    • Review your recruitment process and only include what is essential.  Think about creating entry level roles that allow people to develop.  If you need references can you ask for character references rather than from an employer, can you just ask for one reference rather that two?
    • Can you more flexible, review the length of shifts, can some tasks be undertaken at home, can people volunteer as a group or as a family?
    • Can you do more to communicate the environment people will volunteer in taking away the anxiety some may feel in going somewhere new, you might invite them on a visit or send a video or some photographs?
    • Can you provide information on transport or arrange lift shares?
    • Think about flexible ways to share information with volunteers, can you set up a system where people share information on the phone not just via email? Can you offer training or handbooks in different formats?

To find out more or discuss how to be more inclusive contact us on volunteer@cambridgecvs.org.uk and check out our Volunteering for All pages on our website.


[1] This includes Time well spent Diversity and Volunteering(NCVO 2020)

Finding a new role as a volunteer

By Amy, CCVS Volunteer. March 2022.

Hello! It’s Amy here again and I’m writing about how to find a new voluntary role. If you haven’t done voluntary work before, it might help you to know how to go about it and this article should give you some guidance.

Voluntary work is similar to a job (but you don’t get paid for it). It can be quite daunting doing something new, but there are ways of getting support as you take this step towards volunteering. I can say from my own experience that it will be worth it! 

If you need support, get in touch with Ellie from CCVS who will offer you an informal chat where you will be able to discuss what kind of roles you’re interested in and all the steps you will need to take. At the moment meetings are only online or over the phone. That can be challenging for some, and you might want somebody to help you with it, but it’s good to try to do this independently if you feel that you can. This will show what you can do for yourself. Doing things for the first time helps build your confidence and can prepare you for future work interviews. CCVS knows a lot about charities and volunteering, and they can really help. If you’re uncomfortable with a 1:1 chat, there is an online group option which you may prefer.

You can get in touch with ellie@cambridgecvs.org.uk for more details.

Another option would be to ask people that you know (friends or family) who are already volunteering or can help guide you towards the right opportunities, but bear in mind that sometimes what works for them might not work for you. For instance, you may disagree on what kind of volunteering would be good for you.

Doing research on the internet might help (but you’ll need to know what you’re looking for). If you know the name of some places or organisations that offer the kind of work you want to do, you could look them up on Google and look at their website. Sometimes websites are not up to date, but whatever barriers you face in looking for voluntary work, don’t give up!  If you use social media (like Facebook or Instagram), you could look for opportunities on there.

Do- it website is dedicated to help matching people and organisations locally, but it can be a little bit difficult to use. However always a good starting point to see what is out there.

Visiting the place where you’re interested in volunteering might give you more of an idea if it’s right for you, but you may need to ring first to make an appointment. You’ll be able to ask to speak to someone about volunteering, if they are recruiting (which means looking for) volunteers and finding out about the application process. Visiting beforehand gives you a chance to see if the place would suit you, is it too busy, too noisy, too big, or will it send you into a sensory overload.

Every organisation or group that recruit volunteers have different procedures. You may be required to send a CV, an application form or cover letter or both. Some places may want you to come in and have an induction meeting and spend a bit of time working at the place to see what it’s like. In some cases, you may be asked to come for a meeting and then wait to be contacted about whether, and when you can start your volunteering. You may be asked why you want to do the role and what it is that makes you a good volunteer to take on and what skills you have. There will be an opportunity to talk to them about the kind of support that would help you best.

Myself and CCVS can help with interview tips, we’ll dedicate a whole piece on that alone in future.

No matter how it goes, do celebrate your achievement: it is challenging to find a suitable role, and you should be very proud of yourself for having taken the challenge on!

Taking volunteering to the public online 

By Chris Trevorrow. February 2022.

Bright yellow table, with computer keyboard and digital tablet
Photo by Georgie Cobbs on Unsplash

The last couple of years has resulted in many of us rethinking how we do things. In early 2022 CCVS decided to host some free online volunteer fairs, aimed at the public, to support local voluntary groups with the challenging task of recruiting the volunteers they need. Our aim was to capitalise on people’s New Year resolutions and the loosening of Covid restrictions and help raise the profile of volunteering for local groups. Although the fairs were tied in with the City Council Volunteer for Cambridge initiative, many of the groups involved are looking to recruit volunteers throughout the county. 

We know from research1 that to attract more people into volunteering groups need to be visible, accessible and flexible. People showed during the pandemic that they were interested in helping others, but now with their lives starting to return to something like normal, many feel they lack time to commit and don’t know where to find roles that are a good fit for them. Our volunteer fairs looked to highlight a few of the many volunteer opportunities available, with varying levels of flexibility and time requirements. It also gave people the chance to put a face to a group and invited them to ask questions and fill in a simple form or contact the group direct to hear more.  

We worked with 10 voluntary groups supporting them to produce 5-minute recordings outlining their volunteer opportunities. We hosted the fairs as two lunchtime sessions to which any member of the public with internet access could sign up and where the groups showed their presentations and answered questions live.  

As a result of a lot of promotional effort nearly 100 tickets were booked for the two fairs. Everyone who signed up to the fairs has received links to all the presentations and the contact form and have been encouraged to share the information with friends and family – we hope this will extend the impact of the fairs beyond the events themselves. 

The Initial feedback from the public suggests they enjoyed being able to easily hear about different opportunities and ask questions without leaving their desks or their homes. Some of the voluntary groups taking part have reported increased traffic to their volunteer pages on their websites and some have already seen an increase in people getting in touch to find out more about volunteering. We’ll be checking in with the groups to see if this increase in interest converts to more volunteers supporting their work in the community. If the feedback is positive, we’ll consider running more online fairs in the future. 

To watch presentations from groups who attended our Volunteer Fair in early 2022 visit this link

The presenting groups were: 

Care Network 

Caring Together 

Cambridge Reuse 

Cambridgeshire  & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust 

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Age UK  

Little Miracles 

Red Balloon of the Air  

Safe Soulmates 

Steel Bones  

The Red Hen Project 

We have more information about volunteering available on our website or you can contact us on volunteer@cambridgecvs.org.uk 

Zoom in on zoom session – Volunteering for All

By Ellie Lee, Volunteering Development Worker and Amy, CCVS Volunteer. November 2021

Recently, we, (Amy and Ellie) organised the first online session dedicated to supporting people with disabilities to find out about volunteering.

In preparation we produced some stylish slides to help us remember what we wanted to say and to remind us to introduce ourselves. (It would not have been the first time I, Ellie, failed to introduce myself and just started to talk! 😊)

During the session we explained our roles, Ellie’s as the Volunteering Development worker at CCVS and Amy’s as an incredible CCVS volunteer who has been with the project since it was born. Ellie talked about how she supports clients, inviting them to a 1:1 interview, to help them untangle doubts about volunteering and encourage them to explore different opportunities.

Amy did a great job of explaining how important volunteering is to her and talked about all the roles she is currently undertaking. She volunteers in an EACH (East Anglia Children’s Hospice) charity shop in Cambridge, she assists at two Tai Chi classes, she helps organise the Funky Club (a night club for people with disabilities), and of course, she is a valuable CCVS volunteer and helps Ellie organise events such as the volunteer Walk and Talk and online sessions. Amy also produces articles and media content. Keep an eye out for Amy’s future blogs for more details of her volunteer roles.

We met some very enthusiastic people at our first online session, some of whom are already volunteering, and some who want to begin to get involved with local community projects.

There are many different options for volunteering and attendees shared experiences, and inspiring reasons for getting involved. We discussed the many benefits of volunteering, how rewarding it can be, and how it can improve confidence and skills. People often think that very specific and professional skills are required, but we also discussed how everyone has skills to offer, even though they may not be aware of them. Lived experience, empathy and enthusiasm make a good foundation.

We encouraged everyone to think about how to start their volunteer journey and had a conversation about breaking it down into manageable steps. By the end of the session, we were able to point one participant in the direction of one of our lovely local charities, and by the end of the day a meeting had already been arranged.

We’d like to thank everyone who joined us and for their enthusiasm and interaction.

We were both very happy with the first trial session, and we are looking forward to many more!

Do get in touch if you would like to join us in future.

Ellie and Amy

Conversations about Volunteering

Volunteering can be fun for children! (And adults!)

By Ellie Lee, Supported Volunteering Project Coordinator. September 2021.

My 10 year old came to me a few days ago and asked: “Mum, so, why do people volunteer?”

As an adult I know so well, all the ethical and civil reasons, the personal and professional gains, the social and political importance of people’s involvement in community projects. However, when it comes to explaining to a young person, things seem more complicated. How do I explain to somebody who is only at the beginning of their journey as a citizen, why volunteering will be a valuable option when they come to an age that will allow them to take part independently? Is now the right time to have this conversation, or should I wait until they turn 16 when opportunities may be available for them to get involved?

My son is not new to volunteering, and that may be why he is thinking about the reason people volunteer. Since he was very little, he either saw me, his stepdad, or our friends, taking part in community projects. When he was 3, he came with me to volunteer in an art project for people with learning disabilities. He is well aware of the existence and importance of the voluntary sector, and he knows there is a need for mutual formal and informal help in our community. He is aware of things around him, and he wants to understand how community works.

At first I talked to him about the same reasons that I usually discuss with clients, about benefits for volunteers as well as for the community. He listened and I could see he was really trying to connect all the dots and make sense of what I was saying, but I realised I should have used examples that he could relate to.

So, I told him: “Volunteering is like helping one of your classmates to become better at one of the subjects you are good at. It’s that warm feeling inside, after you work together, struggle, laugh, get frustrated and then happy because you finally succeed. Your friend would understand something he didn’t before, but you would actually be the one who got more out of it. You would have learned how to explain something to someone else, how to be patient, and happy about other people’s achievements. You would have used your skills and built your own confidence. You ultimately had a lot of fun. And you are also aware that tomorrow you might be walking in your friend’s shoes and be the one needing help, and you would know that somebody would be there to support you if you did”.

Volunteering is a deeply rooted part of being together, we might not realise it, it might be as informal as helping each other casually, occasionally, or it might be more organised and managed within an organisation, but it’s about being there for one another, struggling and working together to become a better community.

We should all have this conversation with our children, because volunteering and helping others is empowering. The exhilarating feeling children have when they help each other does not fade in time, it accompanies us as we become involved in the community.

I’d like to rethink, and talk about volunteering from a new perspective, as an experience, an opportunity, a need, and a responsibility for all. I’d like to share what I have learned about volunteering. I would like to have a chat with everyone, just like I did with my son. But I would also like to learn from you – what made you become a volunteer? What stopped you? What barriers have you encountered and where were bridges built to overcome those barriers? Please share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments