VCB Blogs

Here you can find Blogs written by, or for Volunteer Centre Borders about the topic of Volunteering.

gordon brown

 Language barrier to inclusivity

 by VCB Executive Officer, Gordon Brown

 

One of the recurring themes at the recent Voluntary Action Scotland conference was the need for all to stop using jargon and simplify our language to make it accessible to all – something which as a former journalist I passionately believe in.

My favourite quote from legendary football manager Bill Shankly -no not that one, football certainly is not more important than life and death – is:

"I use simple words. Some people like to use long words to try and confuse and stop you from understanding. I want everyone to understand what I say. Instead of saying 'he's avaricious', I'll say he's bloody greedy."

I love that quote because it is a reminder of the power of language both as a facilitator of, and a barrier to, understanding. Unfortunately, we live in a society where increasingly meaningless and empty phrases are used to either mask our true meaning, to make ourselves look cleverer than we are or to hide the fact we don't actually know what we are talking about and we hope no-one else notices.

jargonWords and phrases are now being used to repackage ideas that really haven't gone away – but by calling them something different and surrounding them with equally superficial language, age-old concepts can be presented as new initiatives

Inclusivity is the foundation on which the voluntary sector is built and indeed is a core principal of community planning. Why, therefore, do we continually use language which is exclusive – i.e. it can only be understood by the few not the many?

We used to laugh at Sir Humphreys' creative use of language to hide the truth in Yes Prime Minister, now we ourselves talk about paradigm shifts, deconstructed strategic programming and systemised transitional functioning.

My own personal bugbears include the fact everything needs to be a 'co-production' and we need to promote 'Active Citizenship'. Co-production just means making sure all those of involved in something are, well, involved in its development – a concept which no-one can argue against BUT should already be happening without having to label the process as a badge of honour. In fact, there are those who view the process as complete by simply using the phrase 'co-produced'.

And Active Citizenship just means people getting involved in community activities. Of course, we want more people to develop and enhance their own communities but just using the phrase again and again is not going to mean much to someone who can't afford food or warmth. Again, Active Citizenship is a concept which should be ingrained into all community development without the need to market it as such.

I was once told by a manager that the concept of Plain English was the equivalent to dumbing down and some things were just necessarily complicated. And that was someone who was purporting to be an advocate of participation for all....

The Plain English Campaign defines plain English as "writing that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it". If someone needs to read something more than once to understand it, it needs to be rewritten.

It is easier to write a 64-page document around an issue than two sides of A4 which succinctly explains the same issue. A friend recently told me she used to produce two annual reports for the NHS Trust she worked for – the 'official' one and an 'easy-to-read' version which were supposed to be for people with learning difficulties. Guess which one needed to be reprinted and which one sat in boxes in her office for months?

So, please – mind your language. You will find engagement so much easier. 


 Nigel-Sargent-smsa-trusteeKnitting Together Nicely – the 'Stormers' and the 'Shedders'

Written by Nigel Sargent, VCB Policy and Development Officer
 

I remember a couple of years ago driving through Selkirk one evening and seeing ladies hanging all sorts of knitted things on to lampposts, railings, and other bits of street furniture. It was the 'Souter Stormers', putting on display all the knitting they had been doing in secret for many months beforehand. This 'knitted graffiti' or 'yarn bombing' as it is often called, was a sight to see and one that captured attention and praise from as far away as New Zealand.

I was also there the day that the 'Souter Stormers' visited the 'Galashiels Shedders' - the Men's Shed in Galashiels - to see if the men there could help the ladies with their next top secret project. The plan being hatched was to create a knitted living room of carefully made woolly furniture with plates, rugs, books and hundreds of little knitted knick knacks, all to be put on public display for a month in a pop up shop in the town centre. Could the 'shedders' help the 'stormers' by making the structures that could then be covered in knitting – a fireplace, a dresser, some plates, a bookcase, a table.

Over the last year or so they have all been working away - the 'stormers' crafting their knitted displays and the 'shedders' crafting the wooden frameworks.

I visited the finished product the other day when the pop up shop finally opened its doors to let everyone see the outcome. What an amazing sight to see. An incredible array of knitted goods in the form of the recreated household room with many hundreds of visitors and tourists from far and wide calling in to marvel at the displays.

One thing that has really struck me about all this is the similarity between the 'stormers' and the 'shedders'. For the 'stormers', the 40 or so ladies, it's all about having fun and a laugh, enjoying each other's company, making new friends, having something to do, learning from each other, using their skills and experience, supporting each other and gaining a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction. For the 'shedders' the exact same benefits are evident.

All involved have been doing what they want to do in their own time and with no payment whatsoever.

Positive energy, empowerment and volunteering at its best!

knitters shedders


gordon brown

Show us your Assets by VCB Executive Officer, Gordon Brown

Early this year I read with interest that Channel 5 are going to be reviving 'Blind Date'.

Not just because it brought back memories of the Saturday evenings of my youth spent in the company of Cilla, 'our Graham' and questions such as 'If I was making a cocktail, what ingredient would you be?' but also because some people have referred to volunteer centres as being the dating agency for the voluntary sector.

It really is an apposite analogy. People come to us looking for the perfect volunteering role and we try our best to find them a match made in heaven from our database of opportunities. But unlike online dating agencies we don't rely on complex mathematical algorithms. We value the human touch. So when someone comes to us looking to volunteer, we don't just present them with the 'top ten' of the day.

The first question we always ask is – what do you WANT to do – what are your skills, interests, hobbies? Of course, sometimes people are quite specific and know exactly what they are looking for, other times they have a rough idea but are open to suggestions. And then there are those for whom talking about their own attributes is very difficult.
Scots are notorious for being reluctant to 'blow our own trumpets' – for a fear (perceived or otherwise) of being told we are 'getting above ourselves'. As a result, self-deprecation is a common Scottish trait – (I've tried it but found Im not just very good at it).

I once read an article by Dr Carol Craig, who wrote the book 'The Scots' Crisis of Confidence' in which she noted: 'because of a fear of judgement by our peers, Scots have developed an inherent sense of privacy lest we are ridiculed or criticised.'
Dr Craig concluded that, as Scottish society is far from equal, the "don't get above yourself" mentality only serves to reinforce, rather than challenge, inequality.

I found this interesting because it lies at the heart of what VCB is trying to do when it talks about identifying 'hidden assets'. Everyone has skills, interests or hobbies that define them as a person and brings them happiness/satisfaction/fulfilment; emotions which could be heightened by sharing with others.

However, we first have to encourage people to be introspective AND then to be prepared to admit to their own talents AND then be prepared to at least consider volunteering these in the right environment.

So if you are considering volunteering but not sure what is the right role for you, come along to VCB and show us your assets – who knows you might get a pleasant surprise, surprise.

cilla