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A day in the life of a Community Development Coordinator

VOICES day in the life of lee

By Lee Dale, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES

My name is Lee and eight months ago I became a Community Development Coordinator for VOICES. To be honest getting the role was the easy part, the true work started once I began.

So, what’s happening today? Well the biggest part of my role is recruiting and developing people with lived experience to become mentors, educators and service coordination assistants. I say lived experience, but more precisely those who have experience of mental ill health, addiction, homelessness, offending and domestic violence. This gave me a unique challenge from my first day in post. I recently read a research paper that concluded that only 30 percent of people who apply to be a volunteer, become active volunteers. So why is this I asked myself. I began to reflect on my own experience of becoming a volunteer and started to remember the motives I had to do so. Firstly, it was a way of keeping myself busy and allowing me to focus on recovery, secondly I knew education would be an important way of opening doors to employment and lastly I wanted more out of life. These were my own motives yet I knew everybody wouldn’t be the same. So what have I discovered up to now? Well I have found some people like the idea of volunteering and maybe have the best intentions to do so, but life can be unpredictable and throw us all kinds of challenges at times so making a commitment can be really difficult. Volunteers have apologised on many occasions because unfortunately they were unable to attend due to those unpredictable circumstances. Which is totally understandable, after all volunteering is by its nature unpaid, but it can make my job of coordinating efforts that little bit more difficult. Early on this was dis-heartening for me as I couldn’t understand, I just wanted more for people and I knew the benefits of becoming a volunteer.

So all this considered I now find myself having a series of conversations with people over a period of time before an interest of commitment is made. Trying to resolve some of the anxieties people may feel, slowly introducing them to the concept of volunteering rather than going too quickly and risking overwhelming. Offering encouragement, support and reassurances during this contemplation period is key I feel, investing the time to do so can be a strain on other tasks yet I know those seeds to need to be planted to create a robust voluntary team.

Once a commitment to volunteering is made my next job is to retain interest. The only way I can describe this is it’s like “juggling”. Imagine this for a moment, you have several volunteers who are actively participating and only a limited set of activities to do, once a volunteer has completed a task they are usually keen to know what it is they will be doing next. So I am continually seeking new activities / tasks / opportunities to maintain interest. Trying to keep things fresh for volunteers takes a lot of creative thinking, creative thinking I once thought I lacked.

There are other elements to my role outside of recruitment, one of those being the coordination of our monthly Communities of Practice meetings. This is something that has developed over the years of the project (read previous article here). I was integral to this as a volunteer once myself and it helped me to network with professionals and volunteers across the partnership. Allowing me to appreciate the roles and constraints of others helped me to dissolve my warped perception of what support is available to help people like myself in the City.

To summarise I can honestly say the last eight months has provided me with valuable learning, the ability to reflect effectively, dealing with ever present challenges, and most importantly, I have met some amazing people. I am happier today than I have ever been in my life, I have meaning and purpose beyond my expectations and I have faith that people can make change happen in their lives. Seeing this change and progression is what keeps me focused on my work and its reward is huge, not only to my life but to the lives of others.

If you or someone you know are thinking about volunteer work, please get in touch for an informal chat on 01782 450760 or email lee.dale@voicesofstoke.org.uk

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