It’s been great to welcome a new colleague to the Volunteer Centre this week – Liz Woodman, our new Operations Manager. Liz will be looking after our universal volunteering service, supporting our InsideOut programme (working with people with criminal records and forensic mental health diagnoses) and making sure that our systems enable us to keep people, organisations and their data safe while empowering them, helping them identify and achieve their goals.
Amongst other things, inducting a new member of our team is a chance to take a breath in what has seemed like a never-ending rollercoaster of challenges since March 2020, and to try to articulate what we’ve learnt, what we think is happening, and what local people and organisations might want from us over the coming months.
In such a diverse and divergent borough, different people and organisations want quite a range of things from their Volunteer Centre. That’s why we combine a brokerage service that is open to all (people and non-profit organisations that want help to match voluntary roles with volunteering time) alongside services like Wellbeing and New Opportunities that target people with more specific requirements and barriers (to getting involved in the community, developing themselves and helping those around them). We want to make it as easy as possible for people who know what they’re looking for in terms of volunteering to get it from VCKC (so we ask the absolute minimum number of questions we have to in order to do a good job), but we offer more tailored support for those who are less sure, or who are often excluded otherwise.
In addition to these universal and specialist services, we also support one-off events and volunteering campaigns led by others. At the moment our work in solidarity with the Ukrainian diaspora in the UK, welcoming people fleeing the war, continues to be a crisis response alongside dedicated volunteers and voluntary organisations. We had hoped that the Government would give local councils the funding and flexibility to respond in a joined-up way, as RBKC did to Afghan evacuees, but so far this hasn’t happened – Ukrainians arriving to via the Homes for Ukraine scheme are not able to be dealt with in the same way as those joining family or friends settled in the UK, and those arriving without prior authorisation are subject to another regime altogether. It’s hugely frustrating, especially for those on the frontlines, many of them volunteers, some unfamiliar with the UK’s systems themselves, working so hard to give people a humane welcome.
In complete contrast, we are also part of a partnership, led by our friends and colleagues at the Kensington & Chelsea Over 50s Forum, collaborating to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee on 5 June. We are recruiting lots of volunteers to help out on the day, and to set up the day before, as around 400 local older people get together to celebrate the event, quite a way to mark the contrast with the isolation many of us felt during 2020 and 2021 as people were shielding or otherwise trying to protect themselves and their loved ones.
2022 is set to be another year in which the people of Kensington & Chelsea need lots of different things from their Volunteer Centre and we’ll be here to listen and learn and to empower residents and non-residents alike to improve their lives while making a difference.
Michael Ashe, CEO