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Making volunteering inclusive with support from mentors and befrienders

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Kettering Community Unit (KCU) shares their experience of setting up their Inclusive Volunteering Project, which is supported by mentors and befrienders. The project has achieved NCVO's Approved Provider Standard.


KCU is a fully inclusive community charity that strongly believes that everyone matters and should have equal opportunities to improve their lives.

Our Inclusive Volunteering Project aims to:

  • Improve access to support and increase opportunities for those with more complex needs to reach their full potential
  • Reduce isolation, increase confidence and improve well-being
  • Increase employers’ understanding of disability, mental health and wellbeing linked to the benefits of mentoring/befriending
  • Improve employability, interpersonal and life skills through volunteering and work experience

We work with a range of partner organisations to deliver support services that improve the lives of local people who are unemployed, on low incomes or receiving benefits.

Services include free education and training, a Foodbank, a charity shop, a recycled furniture scheme and a community advice and resource centre. We provide work experience placements and involve 80 volunteers in service delivery. Many of our volunteers are supported by mentors and befrienders as part of our Inclusive Volunteering Project. 

The issues we faced

We wanted to support our volunteers better, especially those with more complex needs, since volunteers had told us they would benefit from one-to-one mentoring.  We also wanted to provide extra guidance for long-term unemployed people referred for work experience; a need identified by our service users and partner organisations.  This was why we set up the Inclusive Volunteering Project, which provides trained mentors and befrienders for individuals who need extra support to get the most out of their volunteering or work experience placements. 

We wanted to ensure the mentoring and befriending was delivered to a high standard and considered several quality marks for the project. We decided that NCVO’s Approved Provider Standard was the best, as it specifically focuses on mentoring and befriending. We could also see that APS would benefit the whole organisation, because it includes overarching policies, procedures and practices, equally applicable to other areas of our work

The actions we took

APS considers four key aspects of a project: how it is managed and resourced so it operates safely; how service users are informed and assessed; how volunteer mentors and befrienders are recruited, trained, developed and managed and how mentor/mentee relationships are supported and evaluated. Projects complete a self-assessment phase lasting 12 months, develop and implement action plans and finally receive an assessment visit, after which APS is awarded to projects that meet the standard.

We started our journey through APS very early in the project’s life and worried that we might not be mature enough to complete it.  However, project leads attended the APS workshop, which reassured us that we could use the self-assessment process to help establish our systems and processes and shape how the project was delivered.  

Positive outcomes

Through the self-assessment, we looked at our existing organisational policies and procedures to ensure they were robust enough to achieve APS.   It helped us identify what worked well and, more importantly, made us challenge ourselves to evidence the impact of our work, identify gaps and develop plans to address them. 

We established a Core Partnership Group of local agencies, which both helps us steer the project and provides training for our volunteers. This Group provides clear evidence of working collaboratively to meet local need and to support local strategic priorities, which was identified as a strength in our assessment. Our strong relationships with partner organisations also supports the identification and referral of service users, which is a key requirement of APS. As a result of going through APS, the Group reviewed its role and now acts as a critical friend.  The Group has recently set up an evaluation sub-group and the APS report forms part of the evaluation process.

We were delighted to pass our APS assessment first time, only a year after setting up the project.

Negative outcomes

We learnt a lot through working towards APS.

For example:

  • We identified that our Inclusive Volunteering Manager did not have capacity to support and develop all the mentors/befrienders that came forward so quickly into the project.
  • We found that referral agencies were not providing all information about potential mentees/befriendees, which meant we didn’t have a full picture of support needs.
  • We had to learn not to try to do everything at once, but focus on developing the project in stages, enlisting help from local partner agencies. 

Lessons learnt

We spent the first 3 months focusing on getting the right foundations (systems, processes and partner support) in place to ensure successful implementation of operations. This was key to achieving APS.

To ensure we could provide the necessary support and development opportunities for our mentors and befrienders, we established Kettering Mentor/Befriender Network. This has created a pool of experienced volunteers and staff across organisations to support newer ones and provides a safe, confidential environment where volunteers and staff can share experience and access peer support.

We learnt through experience that the information provided by referral partners is crucial to making safe and effective matches. There is now a robust referral process in place for potential mentees/befriendees so we manage risks better.

Rather than trying to deliver everything ourselves, we learned to work through existing partner networks and be clear about our ‘offer’ and ‘ask’.

Achieving APS has helped us to demonstrate to existing funders that we are providing a high-quality service.  Our partner agencies and potential funders can also see that we have been through an independent assessment. 

The assessment report not only endorses what we have already achieved, but also provides very helpful suggestions to help improve things further.


Page last edited Feb 12, 2018

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