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The Northampton Care Centre

The Northampton Care Centre

Reinvigorating a culture of volunteering at Northampton Hope Centre

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The Northampton Hope Centre shares how they used the Investing in Volunteers accreditation to reinvent their volunteering strategy.

Background

The Northampton Hope Centre is the leading anti-poverty charity in Northamptonshire. Having started 44 years ago as a soup kitchen, we've expanded over that time to offer much more to our service users and the wider community. 

We offer two key services:

1) A day centre visited by over 3500 people a year, offering food, hot drinks, clothes and support to people suffering from poverty in its various forms, most frequently and acutely as victims of homelessness.

2) A casework service to support those same service users with their housing, employability and to help direct them to any other appropriate services. 

Recently, we have also opened our innovative FoodClub project. A members-only social supermarket that’s our sustainable alternative to a food bank, and one we hope brings dignity and a helping hand to those dealing with food poverty. To compliment this, we’ve started a Growing project on regenerated urban land that will supply fresh produce to our day centre, FoodClub and eventually, the general public. 

Alongside providing support on an individual basis, we are a campaigning body in the local area. Whether acting as advocates for our service users or campaigning for more systematic change, we aim to be a voice for  Northampton's voiceless.

The issues we faced

We're an ambitious charity. We're growing every year and want to offer a service that learns as we grow so we can constantly do the best for service users. We squeeze every donation for as much value as we can get. However, as every charity will know, funding - especially statutory - is extremely tight, and we have seen previously generous funding bodies in Northampton consistently cut their available grants. 

We’re fortunate to have built a strong enough relationship with and reputation within the local environment that we can rely on the community to help us keep going. However, we’re under no illusions that without the time and effort volunteers kindly donate, we wouldn’t be able to offer the services that we do, or sustain the growth that we have seen. 

In the last year alone, we have started two major new projects - our FoodClub and our Growing project. We knew that to keep our current services running smoothly, and to implement our new projects successfully, we would have to rely on volunteers to provide the capacity we needed. While we have always had a strong volunteering ethos, it was important to us to make sure we had a culture in place that provided a safe, supportive and engaging environment for all - one that would offer as much to our volunteers as they put in.

The actions we took

Three years ago, we moved towards volunteering excellence with our first Investing in Volunteers application. Since then, we’ve had a number of internal changes, in particular having taken on a new, experienced and ambitious CEO and a Day Centre and Volunteering Manager with big shoes to fill.

As the time to focus on our IiV re-accreditation rolled around, it was decided that this would not just be an opportunity to tick boxes, but to build a new volunteering strategy that supported a wider strategic plan in three key ways:

1) Employ an external investigator to assess volunteering in the organisation, produce a plan for growing capacity through volunteering, and investigate new ways to engage new volunteers.

2) Undertake the Investing in Volunteers re-accreditation and use it as an opportunity to bring about a new emphasis on volunteer culture, using the process as a way of involving all staff so that volunteering became an organisation-wide principle.

3) Appoint a new volunteer coordinator who could take responsibility for volunteering outside of the Day Centre and support a much wider definition of volunteering than we've had at the organisation before.

Positive outcomes

As a direct result of implementing the new volunteering strategy, we saw some vast improvements in the organisation.

Our external evaluation identified new ways to use volunteers and expanded our way of thinking about volunteering. We brought in a variety of volunteers, from expert project managers to accountants to fundraisers to be achieve professional-level service through donations of time and effort. As a direct result of these new volunteers, we grew our projects at a rate we would have been unable to sustain just through our staffed capacity.

Through the Investing in Volunteer process, we reinvigorated a culture of volunteering within the organisation. We improved our communications, introducing a newsletter, quarterly volunteer forum and volunteer mailing list. We updated our policies and procedures relating to volunteering, including the production of a range of new policies for supporting volunteer mental health, implementing professional boundaries and a greater awareness of service user safeguarding. New development opportunities were introduced for volunteers, including guest lectures by local organisations, training on mental health awareness and courses on helping people struggling with addiction. Throughout this process, we involved volunteers and solicited their opinions at every stage, and as a result built a culture in which they could see themselves reflected in the change they’d helped bring about.

The final strand, the introduction of a permanent volunteer coordinator was the final tying together of the changes we’d already implemented. Having one person responsible for maintaining the change bought about through strategy, we could make sure that the culture and capacity we’d created for volunteers was nurtured and grown going forward.

Negative outcomes

It’s hard to think of many negatives to building volunteering capacity. Volunteers bring with them a wealth of personal and professional experience that enriches a service at minimal financial cost.

However, the negative we did face was having to hear some tough truths as an organisation over the course of these new changes. We came face to face with the fact that we had lost track of some key areas when it came to making volunteers feel supported and appreciated. Our first volunteer forum came with some rightly voiced criticism, and while it's tough to have to listen to your shortcomings, it drove us to make things better. 

Separately, we found there are limits to the work a volunteer can provide. While our first volunteer volunteering coordinator was instrumental in implementing the new strategy, it became clear that some roles require the commitment of full-time staff, and this is something we will be looking to bring about soon.

Lessons learnt

It may seem like preaching to the choir to write a case study extolling the value of volunteers for organisations that understand the ethos of engaging volunteers. However, as we found out, or at the very least rediscovered over the course of our changes, there is more to volunteering than simply having volunteers turn up every day. There is a unique culture and enthusiasm necessary for, and gained from, volunteering. It is not just a financial benefit, but a social one - having people give up their spare time to help speaks volumes, especially to service users like ours who are so often forgotten by wider society. Like all things, volunteering requires time and effort to build up, but we have found it is a very real investment that will pay dividends the more you put in.

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Page last edited Jun 01, 2018

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