VCB Blogs

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

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  'Volunteering not volunteers can be the way to ease GPs burden'

  by VCB Executive Officer, Gordon Brown

Sad though it may be, a recent news article, 'volunteering could be an additional resource for general practice', took me on a rollercoaster of emotions.

The first reaction was hope that this was another call for GPs to start 'prescribing' volunteering to appropriate patients as a way of easing the burden on both their time and medication costs.
However, on further reading I was dismayed to read this was simply another attempt to use volunteers to provide a service for others. The article notes 'innovative solutions are increasingly being sought to support care providers and to alleviate mounting pressure on services'.
Don't get me wrong - volunteers do provide vital services and that will only increase in the future. There is also some merit in the suggestions the article is making for volunteers to support general practioners.
However, I do believe discussions like these always seem to leave out one of the primary benefits that volunteering brings. Never mind the benefits to others, is accepted wisdom that volunteering has a significant benefit to an individuals' own health and wellbeing.
Research by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2016 suggested that people over 50 who volunteer spend 38% less time in hospital. Other reports have suggested volunteers of all ages are healthier than those who don't, with lower weight, more stamina and less stress.
Volunteering is not itself a panacea, but at the same time is it rocket science to make the connection between giving someone a purpose in life, allied to social interaction and the chance to learn new skills and experiences, to better health and wellbeing?
Unfortunately, in today's environment support for initiatives – a.k.a. resources – are only allocated when you can prove a conjecture. But this borders on the impossible because by definition a conjecture is a conclusion based on incomplete information.
Volunteer Centre Borders has itself tried to take this forward through its 'Volunteering for Wellbeing' initiative which specifically targeted people who were lonely in an attempt to find the proof needed to implement a new way of addressing one of society's growing ills – loneliness.
The project remains open but it does struggle to find participants. We want to work with healthcare professionals – particularly GPs as the primary point of contact for patients - and truly believe we can help ease their burden.
This is proving challenging – send your ideas on how we might overcome this to me This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

VCB Facebook pic 2 'Volunteering in Sport'

 by VCB Youth Volunteering Development Officer, Fiona Scott

Sport has been a feature in my life since I was knee high to Willie Carson.

Gymnastics, athletics, swimming, badminton, and latterly, lawn bowls. I have tried a few. At best I can say that my sporting endeavours to date can be described as fairly mediocre interspersed by brief flashes of brilliance.

It is of course the latter term which all us sporting mortals strive for on a more regular basis. And, I can say through first-hand experience, not many of us achieve.

Having recently hit my half century (age-wise not cricket) however I have discovered a different way of achieving satisfaction through sport without offering up my hamstrings as a sacrifice.

There are many reasons to volunteer in sport – volunteers make sport happen and create the next generation of sporting stars. You can give something back but will also be helping make sport happen. Without volunteers, sport would not work.

Some volunteering opportunities require certain skills such as coaching which may require qualifications but clubs, local Club Sport networks (Berwickshire, Ettrick & Lauderdale, Roxburgh and Tweeddale) and community sport hubs often provide training or will support you to find the right training.

Often sport organisations are looking for personal skills, such as being able to get on with a wide variety of people, being reliable and being enthusiastic about the sport or club you're involved in.

Last week I attended the 17th Scottish Borders Sports Academy. This annual three-day event attract over 100 young athletes aged from 12-16 and across the seven key sports covered there were 13 coaches on hand to lend experience and/or support these talented young individuals.

smaller dpx 2018Aug08 LB SprtAcad 0836(Photograph by Rob Gray)

On Wednesday I returned to the Academy HQ at Netherdale in Galashiels to witness the participants receive Awards for their outstanding efforts throughout the duration. It was a privilege to be involved and rather humbling to witness the amount of work put into this event.

With the end of the bowls season nearly upon me, and the start of the badminton season looming ever closer, I will of course continue my personal campaign to secure some silverware over the coming months.

I will also continue to volunteer. I would like to think that in some small way I have assisted youngsters, like those I saw last week, on their way to reaching their goals.

Whatever way you choose to partake in sport, have a think about volunteering. It could be a win win for you.

Quote of the Month: "You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them." – Michael Jordan

Song of the Month: Eye of the Tiger - Survivor

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 'Volunteering for All'

 by VCB Executive Officer, Gordon Brown


I often describe Volunteer Centre Borders as an organisation which aspires to do exactly what it says on the tin – namely being the centre for volunteering in the Scottish Borders. Of course, there are a number of layers to what that means in practice.
The title of this year's Volunteers' Week similarly could be construed as having different connotations; for example, is it a generalist 'volunteering is for all so let's try and get all volunteering', is it an acknowledgement that volunteering still has a long way to go before it can truly be described as fully inclusive or is it alluding to the benefits volunteering brings to individuals, communities and society?
Of course, it is all these points and there will be others who have their own interpretation of what 'volunteering for all' means. For what it's worth, my own perception of what it means centres around the need to increase the number of people volunteering whatever their own personal circumstance because it benefits all.
All those involved in developing volunteering at strategic levels are aware of the futility of using volunteer numbers as the primary measurement of 'health' – volunteering numbers up = good, down = bad. This is especially true when the numbers are based on hours, particularly when you realise the devilish fact that a core group of people (6%) contribute the majority (66%) of all volunteer hours.
There does now seem a common consensus, from the Scottish Government down, that there needs to be an end to the 'never mind the quality, feel the width' mentality. 'Volunteering for All' will only become a reality when particular barriers are lifted. Certain groups are under-represented in the volunteering population and yet, paradoxically, those in those groups can be the ones who will benefit most from volunteering.
I am sure all volunteer-involving organisations would be aghast at any suggestion of perpetuating exclusivity but there are barriers being put in place which actively discourage socially excluded groups from volunteering.
These barriers might include fixed time commitments for those at work, too stringent criteria for working with those with criminal convictions or not being in a position to work with those for whom English is not their first language. There will be others – all of which could, to some extent, be argued as being necessary.
The challenge for all, or at least those who truly believe in the concept of volunteering for all, is to revisit their own policies and procedures and ensure the balance is very much on the side of 'yes you can'.

 Super Heroes 

Written by Stephanie Logan,  VCB Youth Volunteering Development Officer 

Volunteering is a magical thing. In not only the simplest idea of helping others to help yourself but also to quote a very knowledgeable lady of great things (J.K Rowling) 'we do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already, we have the power to imagine better!'. Isn't that a wonderful quote, we as humans like the idea of magic, mystical things and fictional stories, it allows as to escape but to also dream of more, and to be hopeful that we could make things better if we did have magic wands that would allow us to spell away issues or super powers that would help us to save the day and stop all these terrible things that keep happening. When we see web spinning, gadget throwing heroes dressed as bats, cats or birds that capture the villains and save the day – it inspires us to want to save others, in all these comics, films - spell casting books of wonderful mystery we are thrown into a world where the characters inevitably must work together thus bringing a whole community together to save the day. This world of wonder and imagination fills me with glee as it reminds me of childhood, and feeling like you could get away with anything and in a very naive way that everything is fixable, but it also highlights the importance of community and bringing everyone together which is really what volunteering is about – the power of a community to take ownership of change to make things better for everyone.
Now I am not saying that Volunteering can inevitably fix all our communities' problems, however I am saying that all volunteers are superheroes. If we compare both volunteers and fictional superheroes they both give up their time to help others and are not coerced into doing so; Batman does not get paid or forced to swiftly fly to a dangerous crime scene to rescue those in need, same for all the rest Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider man and so on, they all gain the enjoyment and fulfilment of helping others whilst coping with the everyday perils of their own personal difficulties and challenges.
Volunteers each have their own powers to name a few - Empathy, Passion, Congruence, reliably and creativity that when used wisely can greatly increase the wellbeing of the person or people they are working with – in a way saving them! Spider man's uncle ben taught us that 'with power comes great responsibility', a statement known by many but understood by few; in volunteering we are placed in tricky situations or must support vulnerable people, to use your power responsibly you simply use your ability and skills for the good of those you are working with plucking your gadgets of sensitivity and genuineness to save the day in the right way.
Let's be fair, I couldn't ask every volunteer in the Scottish Borders to wear a cape when they are perhaps on route to their local Church to help at a lunch group, or dashing out their house after tea to support their Mentee at a drama club, or using their lunch time at school to help someone who is struggling with their school work. If so, there would be capes everywhere – day to day super heroes striving each spare time they are able to give to help others, even though some of these heroes may indeed be struggling themselves.
Remember each and every one of us has the ability to change the world, your own will and determination is a super power. Now grab that invisible cape and mask and get volunteering!


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 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

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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.