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Evaluation of clients placed in volunteering through the Reaching Communities project 2015-2016

The Reaching Communities project ran from 2013 to 2016. Funded by City Bridge Trust it aimed to promote and encourage volunteering and community involvement throughout Hammersmith & Fulham and Brent boroughs, and particularly amongst socially excluded and disadvantaged groups.

Clients who had been placed in volunteering from January 2015 through to February 2016 were contacted; first by telephone and then if we were unable to make contact, then by email.  Clients were surveyed to evaluate the impact of Hammersmith and Fulham Volunteer Centre’s intervention in helping them start volunteering and how volunteering might have made a difference to their life.

We attempted to make contact with 88 clients. We spoke to ten clients on the telephone and two clients completed an email survey. A factor which may have contributed to the difficulty we have faced in making contact is the reluctance of people to answer calls from unknown numbers. Where possible we left messages, but the poverty of many of our clients means that many have voice mail messages asking callers not to leave a message as it costs money to pick this up.

All but two of the clients interviewed were unemployed, and all but one were from a BAME background.

We asked clients why they choose to undertake voluntary work. The most commonly sighted reason was to get work experience – this was mentioned by six clients. One client told us they he had been sent to the Volunteer Centre by the Job Centre, this had not, however, affected his enthusiasm for volunteering.

When we asked clients whether volunteering had helped to improve their job prospects and quality of life all but one individual were very positive. One volunteer told us that volunteering had not improved her chances of getting a job very much. She nevertheless has been volunteering in the same role for nearly a year and her response is probably indicative more of her health and frustrations in gaining employment.

Rounded Rectangular Callout: It gave me new ideas, keeps me busy, I can meet new people  (Volunteering for the British Heart Foundation as a retail volunteer)  Rounded Rectangular Callout: I improved my English, and gained friends. I feel that I can start looking for a job soon because I am more confident  (Volunteering as a receptionist for White City Enterprise)    Rounded Rectangular Callout: I have learned so many things, for example how to do motivation interviews with service users   (Volunteering with Hestia as a peer support volunteer for domestic violence service)    Rounded Rectangular Callout: I improved my communication skills, and improved my CV. It is my first job  (Volunteering for Cancer Research as a retail volunteer)

We also asked clients if volunteering had helped them to develop personally. Increased confidence was mentioned by ten clients. They told us

Rounded Rectangular Callout: I improved my English and gained friends, I feel that I can start looking for a job soon because I am more confidentRounded Rectangular Callout: I have learned how to talk to different people, how to be more organised, how to use the computer. I feel more confident

It is clear from this study that volunteering has made a real difference to the lives of clients. The interviews showed individuals experienced significant changes to well-being as demonstrated by increased confidence, increased social connectedness as well as skills development in areas such as English and working as part of a team. 

The impact of increasing confidence in also more generally encouraging increased active citizenship cannot be under estimated. For example, the 2011 NCVO report Pathways through Participation concluded that lack of confidence could prevent somebody from starting or taking an active role in participation and in their research many interviewees spoke about preferring to be involved in activities they knew they were capable of doing from past experience. We can therefore expect that for our Connecting Communities clients, their volunteering experiences will act as a catalyst to further community participation in the future.

Catherine Perez Phillips Volunteer Service Manager
14th April 2016