Nicky Stainton is Communities Manager for Voluntary Norfolk, which supports the voluntary and community sector in Norfolk. Here, she explains how people – and businesses – can get involved
When did you start working for Voluntary Norfolk, and what was it about the organisation that particularly appealed to you? What were you doing before?
I began working for Voluntary Norfolk in the summer last year and was drawn to them because they have an excellent reputation for supporting the voluntary and community sector, which, as we all know, provides vital and enriching activities. I have worked in charitable arts organisations in Norfolk for many years – my career started at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, when it was a much smaller organisation than it is now. As a volunteer initially, I helped set up Norwich Arts Centre, then ran jazz festivals, worked for an environmental arts performance company, started up Creative Arts East and chaired Waveney & Blyth Arts. None of these endeavours would have been possible without an amazing array of talented and enthusiastic volunteers. That’s how I got into my career, and it is how many people build skills and learn about the sector.
For those not in the know, how does Voluntary Norfolk support volunteers and the voluntary sector in general?
As well as working with lots of volunteers through the services we deliver directly, Voluntary Norfolk has a volunteering support team to help volunteers find opportunities to get engaged in the wider voluntary and community sector. Last year we launched Get InVOLved Norfolk (www.getinvolvednorfolk.org.uk), an online platform where people can search for volunteering opportunities across the county. Using filters people can select where, when and what sort of volunteering they want to do, and the platform shows them all the options available. Over 700 opportunities have been advertised – everything from dog walking to grief counselling, leading a Lego club to looking after hedgehogs. Trustees are always needed too. And if you are not sure what would suit you there is a Talent Scan which will help you find the right sort of opportunity.
For those who want a more formal introduction to volunteering, or to understand the wider legal responsibilities better, we run a 6-week Norfolk Volunteer Passport training programme. This provides a brilliant foundation and enables people to volunteer with different organisations more easily. It is delivered by Norfolk Adult Learning online and face-to-face.
Through the free to join Voluntary Norfolk Network, and a specialist Volunteer Coordinators Network, we also support hundreds of voluntary, community and charitable organisations. We arrange regular networking and good practice events, and with external partners deliver training workshops covering issues such as funding, governance, volunteer recruitment and management, and legislation. There are also newsletters and Padlet boards, like online notice boards, where resources and information are shared.
What is CBR Business Solutions, and how does it benefit Voluntary Norfolk?
This is our trading arm, delivering professional support services to charities and businesses throughout England and Wales. The income generated through CBR Business Solutions provides an important, unrestricted income stream for Voluntary Norfolk. I think businesses are more mindful of where they outsource goods and services, and the positive impact social enterprises have within our communities.
What business support can it offer?
We have a small team of experienced professionals who work solely with our CBR Business Solutions clients providing Human Resources (HR), a Payroll service and DBS checks. We also have a very popular Jobs Board, advertising jobs for charities and not-for-profits within Norfolk. We pride ourselves on taking the time to get to know the business needs of our clients and building trusted, professional relationships. We work with charities and businesses who only employ 1 member of staff as well as supporting larger ones with their own in-house teams who use us for consultancy or one-off support with specific or complex issues.
What impact has the pandemic had on volunteering?
Enormous in the short term as many older and more vulnerable volunteers had to stand back, and a lot of people new to volunteering got involved at a local, community level. There is a real and pressing need for people to volunteer and we, as a sector, have had to adapt roles so that they fit better with people’s life preferences.
By the same token, is the cost-of-living crisis having an impact?
Absolutely. The need for many services has sky-rocketed but the voluntary and community organisations also have to deal with their own challenges about increasing overhead costs, dwindling reserves, the impact of inflation on grants and other income, and real changes to how people donate to good causes. And, so far, central government has given virtually no support to the sector.
Are there any plans you can share?
We’ve been receiving an increase in enquiries from businesses seeking volunteering opportunities for their teams. Many organisations (including Voluntary Norfolk!) now offer their staff Employer-supported volunteering (ESV) – paid time during their working hours to volunteer. In response we’ve just launched a Corporate Volunteering page to the Get InVOLved website. We’re encouraging community groups to add projects suitable for ESV and offering support to businesses who are looking for opportunities for their staff.
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