My previous Blog highlighted how some community events are unlikely to happen without the energy and commitment of local volunteers. My current Blog also highlights a service that would not be available without its charitable beginnings or without the help of its army of volunteers.

I recently met Gerry at the Visitors Centre at H.M. Prison Northumberland. Gerry is a volunteer for NEPACS, a north east charity which has been supporting people affected by imprisonment for over 130 years. The aim of the organisation is to support prisoners and their families in the north east of England by providing practical and emotional support.

Gerry volunteers within the Visitors Centre and helps to book visitors in prior to going across to the Visits Hall. New visitors are directed across to the prison to have their fingerprints taken and for security reasons they also have their photo taken on this initial visit. The prints and photo are then placed on a database so that “in future they can be just scanned through”. Gerry advises all visitors about Prison Policies, such as, only £20 in change allowed per Visiting Order and reminds them that they should carry their ID. Visitors and family members are then shown lockers to place prohibited items in and advised that prison officers conduct regular searches to enforce this prison policy.

As expected this process can be quite an ordeal for family members. Gerry said he likes supporting visitors, who may be very nervous, especially when they arrive for their very first visit. Many visitors are fearful about meeting their loved one, but also anxious and intimidated by the prison experience and environment. Gerry finds that visitors enjoy the “security of knowing, or being informed, about what’s going to happen”, so he likes to take time to sit with them. He explains the process and tries to reassure and calm them down a little, because he says “Families have a hidden sentence too!”.

Gerry has only been volunteering since August and says he is really enjoying his experience. Originally from another part of the country he retired to this area several years ago. In fact, he has retired twice, once at 56 and then again at the age of 62. Working previously as a Logistics Manager and a Publican, Gerry described himself as a ‘people person’ who ‘stagnated’ and got bored during his first retirement. He subsequently bought a shop and Post Office business but was forced to give that up as well after a series of heart attacks. Again Gerry began to, in his own words ‘vegetate’. However, after an accidental meeting with a lady who already volunteered for NEPACS and after some encouragement from his sister who is a Magistrate, he looked at their NEPACS website and thought “Yes, this is for me!”

Initially Gerry assumed the role may involve doing practical, “low level stuff” he also thought it may involve working with a mixture of people. In some respects, this was right, but it turned out to involve a lot of his interpersonal “people skills” too. Indeed, he found that “dealing with different people, you eventually build up relationships.” He now finds he knows a lot of the repeat visitors well, and they are just “ordinary people who happen to have relatives in prison.”

As a volunteer Gerry feels that he was made very welcome, immediately. In fact, the organisation has many voluntary opportunities, as well as part time and full time opportunities and different age groups, who all work together for a common goal. Gerry works one day per week for 4 hours but puts in more hours when training and he is kept updated by regular Team Meetings. Gerry feels “absolutely” valued by the organisation and his colleagues and although he sometimes has to think on his feet he said “it’s always such a supportive, positive, can do atmosphere!” He said It also feels good to be told “Thank You, at the end of the day”. The only down side, or good side depending upon how you want to look at it, is as Gerry acknowledges “I appear to be the only Male volunteer!”

All NEPACS volunteers are given access to policy guidance documents to guide their actions and are given regular support, supervision and encouragement. They also participate in regular reviews to discuss any issues or development objectives and the organisation offers a wide variety of training opportunities and experiences. Indeed, Gerry feels that he has already developed in his role and recently completed the HEADING HOME programme which is an initiative to support families when prisoners are released and during resettlement. Basically, it is a 14 week course and is an opportunity for prisoners and their families to talk over any pre or post release worries with a facilitator. The idea being to create a more positive resettlement experience. Gerry hopes to eventually become a facilitator and participate in this scheme, once he gets clearance for his security pass.

Asked about THE most positive experience of volunteering, Gerry said it “lifted me out of quite a mundane day to day life”. He now starts each work day “looking forward to what’s ahead!”

Whilst concluding my meeting with Gerry, his line manager Liz Arthur (The Visits Services Team Leader) came along and during a discussion about volunteering Liz said “Everyone has something to offer, and everyone has something to gain!” Indeed, this is so true. Gerry brought his interest in people and his interpersonal skills to his role, but as a result he has received a renewed interest in life and people. What could be better than that?

If Gerry’s story has inspired you to volunteer, visit Northumberland CVA's Volunteer Connect to start exploring the opportunities available in Northumberland. If you'd like to share your own volunteering adventures in Northumberland, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll get in touch with you for a chat.

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Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger


This week I thought it would be a good idea to look at ‘community’ voluntary roles, whereby people offer their help to deliver a better quality of life within their own community. One such person is Rosemary Theobalds – a resident and volunteer in Hexham.

Rosemary has a large family and whilst her children were young she became involved in the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) but sadly, around the time when her children began to leave home to take up job opportunities and University, Rosemary lost her husband. So, as a widow and after years of being a busy Mum and looking after her family, Rosemary felt she needed to get more involved in her local community. Rosemary said she has always “loved Hexham” and has “always felt privileged to live here”, so it is not surprising that she felt motivated to express her thanks by improving the quality of life for her fellow town’s folk.

Hexham Partnership (which grew out of The Better Towns Initiative) was set up in the 1990’s to make Hexham a more ‘vibrant, enterprising and adaptable market town for local residents, businesses and visitors’. Around this time, and as a representative of ‘Churches Together’, Rosemary volunteered to be on the Board, saying that as a former Youth and Community Governor of Queen Elizabeth High School “it was a natural progression to become involved in the Hexham Community Partnership”.

Rosemary’s volunteering experiences over the years have not only concerned her Board work, but have involved practical work as well as Regeneration and Events with the Partnership. For instance, she regularly drives for the Social Eyes Lunch Club for blind and partially sighted people and twice a year drives and hosts the monthly Contact the Elderly Tea Party. Whatever her role has been however, she has always been made to feel very welcome by organisations and other volunteers. Indeed, just as she feels her motivation has always been to help others, so she feels others have helped her.

Being such a busy volunteer means that Rosemary has faced many challenges. However, she feels that her time management, although much improved, has been her biggest single issue, especially when it comes to “double booking” her time. Nevertheless, other challenges have also had more positive effects upon Rosemary’s self-development. She is now less reserved and willing to ‘step up’ and have her face in the local paper, for instance. She also understands how Community and Voluntary organisations work, has learnt about employment law and confidentiality issues as well as data protection legislation. Because Rosemary is involved in a number of projects she also feels valued as a ‘networker’, as someone who can connect people. “People tend to contact me,” she says, “if they want to know something, or who to contact”.

Rosemary was also heavily involved in the preparations for Hexham’s annual SPOOK NIGHT to celebrate Halloween. This event brings money into the town, brings the town together and entertains the children and their parents. It has included a Ghost Walk (by students) to the Abbey, a Witches Den, Stalls, and a Fancy Dress Competition as well as a Fun Fair. Although the event started very small in Hexham Market, it has now grown to include Belmont Street, which is now closed especially for the event, and now takes up a huge chunk of the Abbey grounds including the bandstand.

Although the event is ably coordinated by HCP staff, volunteers work alongside and support staff on Spook Night and other community events, such as the Christmas market. So much so that Rosemary is of the firm opinion that this and other events would not take place if it were not for the volunteers. Indeed, they man and set up stalls, they take publicity to businesses and tie up posters around the town, as well as helping with the road closures and the Event Control Stall. Afterwards they also help in the cleaning up process. Volunteers also acquire the prizes from local businesses. Queens Hall Theatre for instance donates a family Pantomime ticket each year and the Forum Cinema (owned by the Community Partnership) also donates tickets. Other businesses in the town also generously donate vouchers in support of this event.

When asked what THE most positive thing about her volunteering has been, Rosemary said that being allowed to express her gratitude to her townsfolk by giving back to her local community was very rewarding.

I love being able to talk to volunteers about their so many varied adventures. If you’ve had some interesting volunteering adventures in Northumberland I’d love to have a chat. Simply email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to arrange the best time to get together.

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Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger


I recently had a very interesting meeting with a young woman who has an extremely active and interesting life. Although she now works full time, Anna has been a volunteer on various projects over the years, and like many others could be seen as a ‘serial volunteer’.

Anna currently volunteers for several projects: The ORCA Project and North East Cetacean Project (NECP) looking out for whales and dolphins; British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR); and the Royal Society Protection of Birds (RSPB). All have given her experiences that Anna believes have helped her gain her current full time employment as a Volunteering Coordinator.

One of Anna’s early volunteering opportunities opened up a new and quite different interest for her. It happened quite by chance and as a result of watching a TV programme, of all things! Whilst at University studying for a Marine Zoology Degree (Anna had always wanted a career in marine conservation) she watched a programme about people being challenged to do things outside of their comfort zone. What she observed was so truly remarkable that it resulted in a change of direction for Anna. It transpired that one of the participants “a guy who was blind, completed some really remarkable tasks, such as abseiling and climbing!” Indeed, watching this courageous episode got Anna thinking ‘what must life be like for him? Or for that matter, for anybody who cannot see?’

Anna got to appreciate just how brave this man was when she herself took part in a blindfold challenge (a Blindfold 24 Hours in fact!) to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To some extent this experience got her hooked. Participating in such challenges took her out of her own comfort zone and Anna subsequently went on to do a Blind Scuba Dive, a Blindfold Rock Climb and a Blindfold Horse riding lesson!!

After her first blindfold event however, Anna was invited to apply for a dog training course called a ‘My Guide’ course. This scheme is aimed at training volunteers to ‘partner’ or ’buddy’ blind or sight-impaired individuals to help them gain some independence by working with their dogs to, for example, navigate a bus route or make a cup of tea.

Anna said she didn’t really know what to expect and felt a bit nervous at first, especially since she herself is sighted. However, she needn’t have worried, she took to the “very rewarding work” fast, and found the people to be very welcoming. Indeed, she remains very good friends with one of the people she once helped to guide. Anna also feels she developed and gained valuable insight through the role. “It makes you think outside of the box,” she said. “You become aware of every kerb or bump in the road”.

She went on to outline some of the rather obscure concepts blind people have to deal with. “I had to think about, and was able to recall visual details to describe and relay back, I had to describe colours and” Anna gave me a worried look “give my truthful opinion about how someone’s clothes looked!”

It seems that Guide Dogs for the Blind are a very supportive organisation. Anna had DBS checks and was given advice and guidance on many issues, including Safeguarding. However, much of her day to day work was self-managed. She was introduced to the two people she was to support then she made visits independently, keeping a log to describe activities to feed back to the organisation. Anna worked with two very different personalities and said it was interesting to see the difference in visual impairment and the level of need.

When asked to describe the most positive things about her volunteer experience, Anna said it was “gaining a friend for life” and “getting the experience that led to my current full time employment”.

Anna believes her volunteer work helped her gain full time paid employment, first as a guide dog Mobility Instructor, but later it had a direct impact upon her ability to access her current post as Volunteer Co-ordinator with Coast Care and Northumberland Wildlife Trust (a marine conservation scheme that aims to engage 2000 volunteers in activities to safeguard the outstanding North Northumberland coastal landscape by 2020). This individual project, in partnership with Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and The Seahouses Development Trust, aims to protect and care for the wildlife in and around the North East Coastline.

With hindsight Anna now believes that a “random quirk” that initially led her away from marine conservation also brought her back. In the end though, volunteering for various organisations (including BDB) has Anna the recruitment and training knowledge she now uses to benefit her own volunteers.

If Anna's story has inspired you to volunteer, visit northumberland CVA's Volunteer Connect to start exploring the opportunities available in Northumberland.  If you'd like to share your own volunteering adventures in Northumberland, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll get in touch with you for a chat.

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Northumberland CVA

Providing 30 years of support to the voluntary and community sector

October: Strengthening your board


Trustees Week is almost upon us – this year it takes place from 13th to 17th November – and so we thought it would be a great idea to dedicate the theme of our 30th celebration blog this month to tips on how to find and recruit great new trustees for your organisation.

Members of Northumberland Trustees’ Network will also find lots of useful resources in the online Resource Library. It is free for trustees of all organisations that are members of Northumberland CVA to become members of the network, as it is for trustees of groups based in Northumberland that have a turnover of less than £10,000. For those with a higher turnover, it costs less than £1 per week for your organisation to join.    

We’ve arranged our collection of thirty tips into the five distinct stages of trustee recruitment: prepare, promote, recruit, induct, and review.



1: Plan every detail:

You’re embarking on a process that will have a far-reaching impact on your organisation so it’s vital to ensure you have effective planning in place that lays our your timetable for recruitment, identifies and prepares the resources you need to have at hand, who will be involved in the process and what budget you have available to support the process. You’ll need to include the closing date for applications and the date set for interviews. Recruiting a new trustee can take several weeks so it’s important you allow enough time and resources to ensure you do it in a professional manner.

2: Get the whole board involved:

There is a lot of work in recruiting trustees and it is legally the responsibility of the trustees to do so. Your new trustee/s will become a member of your existing team and so, even if they’re not all going to be directly involved in the selection, the whole board needs to be engaged with the process of recruiting new members. Keep in mind the direction of the organisation, the challenges it is facing and its plans for the future when discussing the kind of expertise you want to bring on board.

3: Be clear about the decision making process:

Your governing document will usually dictate how trustees should be selected. Whether your board delegates responsibility for organising the process to a person or a sub-committee, the Chair must have oversight of the process even if other people are doing the work. If it is a Chair you are recruiting, you might consider getting an external person to lead; the Chair or CEO of a partner organisation, for example.

4: Conduct a skills audit:

You need to know or remind yourself what competencies, knowledge and experience you already have on your board and a great way to do this is to carry out a skills audit. Think carefully about how your internal and external environment has changed and what skills you now need to move forward that you may not have considered so important before. Identify the gaps and use them to develop a clear vision of what your ideal new trustee will be like and what you expect from them. This will be your brief recruitment. Reach volunteering has a page dedicated to how to carry out a skills audit.

5: Consider the diversity of your current board:

Does your current board broadly reflect the demographics or geographical spread of your service users or community stakeholders? Is it representative of the community, users and the members your organisation serves?  A strong board needs to have an understanding of the needs and wishes of all the groups of people that form it, support it and benefit from it; it needs a mix of backgrounds, approaches and perspectives to give a balanced approach to the decisions it will need to make. You can achieve greater diversity by reaching out into communities that are not presently represented, for example by advertising and by making specific efforts to assist people who might otherwise have difficulties in attending board meetings.

6: Agree who you are looking for:

In light of your skills audit and discussions around diversity, your board needs to make a decision on kinds of skills, experience and background is essential, and what is desirable in candidates. This may sound like an obvious thing to do but it is surprisingly common for boards to gloss over this decision only to find out that there is disagreement later – often at the appointment stage. If you agree from the outset about what skills, qualities and experience you are looking for, you are also much more likely to attract candidates who have the right qualities. 

7: Write a clear role description:

It’s vital that your role description not only clearly outlines the expertise you’re looking for, the general roles and responsibilities of being a trustee and the location and times of meetings, but also what it means to become a part of your particular organisation. Highlight the most interesting aspects of the role and outline the challenges faced by the organisation as well as its future prospects to breathe life into the role and give a sense of what issues the new trustee will be engaging with in real terms. And it’s a great idea to also include a sense of what the impact of the role will be on the organisation and what benefits the new trustee can expect to receive by joining the board.

8: Be clear about the different ways that you can bring new people on board:

Many governing documents have provision for trustees to be “co-opted” or added to the trustee board in between formal recruitment processes. This is useful if you temporarily want to bring a trustee on board with expertise, for instance during a staff re-organisation, rather than make a permanent appointment. Some membership organisations formally elect their trustees at the Annual General Meeting (AGM by a vote of the membership.

9: Prepare a detailed information pack for candidates:

Your pack should include a summary of the role description that covers the duties of a charity trustee and the specific skills and experience you’re looking for, an outline of the organisation and its priorities for the next 2-5 years, and clear details on how to apply for the role and the appointments process being used. It should also include links to your memorandum and articles of association, the financial accounts, biographies of your trustees and the governance structure, including sub committees and other useful information such as strategic plans. 



10: Write a punchy advertisement:

This is your opportunity to ‘sell’ your trustee vacancy to potential candidates. To stand out from the crowd, it needs to make a compelling proposition for why candidates should want to apply. You may be passionate about your cause but it can be difficult to communicate this enthusiasm in a couple of paragraphs that also need to cover, as a minimum, the trustee role title, location, time commitments, overall responsibility, key areas of ownership, length of term in office, and the minimum qualifications/experience you need. Surveys reveal that the three main reasons people become trustees are to 'give something back', to gain new skills for professional development, and because they are committed to a charity's cause so think carefully about how your charity can offer these to the successful candidate and detail them in your advertisement.

11: Think about the timing of your recruitment:

It may be possible to take advantage of a time when volunteering is already in the news such as Volunteers Week (June) or Trustees Week (November), or during a related awareness event, such as International Women’s Day, Carers Week or Movember, to boost your publicity. If you do this, be sure to use the hashtag in any social media posts relating to the event e.g. #VolunteersWeek to boost views of your post.

12: Social Media:

Make full use of whatever social media platforms you use already to recruit volunteers, for instance Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn. Share any posts with other relevant community groups in the area or with online discussion forums and blogs based around relevant topics or interest areas.


13: Consider social media sponsored advertising:

If you have a budget to invest in recruiting for a specific skill you are looking for then you could place advertising that is specifically targeted at professionals with specialist skills in a specific location. ­

14: Look at specialist association websites or e-newsletters:

This is useful if you are recruiting for a trustee who has a specialist skill. Try the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales or the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) for example. These can offer invaluable lists of local groups and networks you could approach.


15: Leaflets, posters and adverts:

If you want to reach out into specific communities to recruit, try distributing information in locations you think will reach particular groups. Options include local and free newspapers (through adverts or a weekly column); places of worship, e.g. mosques, churches, temples, synagogues; meeting/leisure places, parks, clubs, cafes, pubs; sports/leisure centres and fitness groups; health centres, or community radio stations


16: Local websites/e-bulletins:

Town and parish councils usually have a community site or send out regular e-bulletins you could use to place an advert or recruitment appeal. Housing associations or community groups may also be willing to help out. Many local councillors also send out an e-newsletter and can be asked to include a link to your website.

17: Use your current networks:

Tap into your current networks and ask the rest of the board to do the same. Make sure everyone knows there is a trustee vacancy available. But beware: your existing networks can often result in recruiting in the board's own image to so if possible, extend the search beyond this.

18: Widen the search:

Contact the HR department of local businesses and see if you could post something on their intranet or in a staff newsletter. Local authorities and large organisations may have someone who offers support to those approaching retirement who may be looking for a new role and so it may pay you to make contact.

19: Use free sector resources:

There are resources available for publicising trustee roles such as NCVO's Trustee Bank or Step on Board programme (for NCVO members only), CharityJob (you will need to create a recruiter account), Do-it - a national volunteering database, or the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland’s TrusteeMatch, which lists individuals from business backgrounds keen to share their expertise and develop their own learning and experience further.

20: Use a specialist recruitment firm:

If you have the budget available for it, consider using a professional recruitment firm with a track record of recruiting trustees. They will have a database of executives seeking trustee roles and be able to match candidates to your exact requirements. However, many of these firms are based in the south of the UK and their lists tend to reflect that.



21: Communicate, communicate, communicate:

It’s really important to ensure that, when you have received applications you make prompt contact. Taking the time to thank individuals for their application and to set out the time-frame they can expect for the process reinforces the professional approach of your organisation and works wonders in retaining a candidate’s interest up until the point of interview. Don’t just assume that an applicant will remain interested indefinitely, particularly if there is a significant gap between receiving the application and interview.

22: Create a shortlist:

Your process for shortlisting should be structured (even if this is only in an informal way) and it’s good to get the board as a whole involved in reviewing the applications. CVs and covering letters cannot always give a definitive endorsement of either a person’s skills or personality and so it’s also a good idea to have an informal chat with potential candidates to discuss their viability for the role before you take their application further.

23: Interview the candidates:

Interviews should be evidence-based to test the candidates’ motivation as well as their skills and experience. You should take the time to draw up questions that uniquely relate to the requirements of your particular organisation as well as of the role itself. Don’t be afraid to ask about motivation as well as skills and experience to establish their fit to your particular needs. Remember that this is a two-way street and invite interviewee to ask searching questions too so they can fully explore whether they want to join your board. Having such an open approach will elicit real answers to real questions and allow the candidate’s personality to shine through too, which allows you to gauge whether someone is the right fit for the role. Make sure you always take verbal references at the interview stage too.

24: Always let candidates know ASAP:

A letter should go out in the name of the Chair to both successful and unsuccessful candidates telling them what decision has been made, giving brief reasons (with reference to the interview notes) and thanking them for their interest in the charity.

25: Complete the appointment:

Always follow up on references of candidates – it's not enough to rely on verbal references or assume they are a good appointment on the basis of a strong interview – and if your charity works with children or vulnerable adults you need to ensure you carry out a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. You should also check that the candidate is not disqualified from being a trustee – this can be done on the Charity Commission website. Then confirm the formal appointment at the appropriate board meeting and register with the Charity Commission, if appropriate.

26: Offer other roles to unsuccessful candidates:

If you have unsuccessful candidates who are interested in supporting your organisation and who you feel have skills and attributes that would be of benefit – consider offering them an alternative role. Could they be an ambassador or sit on an advisory committee? Do they have specific skills that would make them a good volunteer? In this way you may be able to develop them into a future trustee.



27: Give your new trustee a full induction:

Poor induction is one of the most cited reasons for individuals stepping down prematurely, so once you’ve found your ideal candidate, ensure they receive a good induction to help them settle in quickly. Make sure they have clarity about your mission, plans and objectives, and give them copies of the minutes of the last few meetings, relevant policy documents, and importantly, the governing document for the organisation. Introduce them to the other trustees – you may even consider offering the new trustee an existing trustee as a ‘buddy’ who can mentor them through the first few months. Give opportunities to talk with staff to find out what they do, and it will help if you can include in the induction a document that explains the organisational structure with thumbnail photos and a short bio for each trustee and staff member. Don’t forget to introduce your new trustee to key partners, supporters and other stakeholders.

28: Translate:

It can be quite a culture shock for many new trustees - particularly those straight from the private sector. Most will not understand the nuances and language of the voluntary and community sector so do all in your power to avoid jargon. Remember too that decision-making in the VCS often requires a lot of consensus-building and this can be a very new experience for those in the private sector who are used to a faster pace in reaching decisions. A lot of patience may be required from both sides.

29: Identify training needs:

Each new trustee will have different support and development needs and will want to meet those needs in different ways. Support, development and training can involve: attending workshops, conferences or training courses on different aspects of a trustees’ role; receiving briefings and update sessions at board meetings; reading books and online guidance; taking an online learning course; meeting trustees from other charities, o arranging for new trustees to be mentored by existing trustees. Many organisations combine trustee induction with an annual away-day so that training serves as a refresher for the other trustees as well.



30: Evaluate your recruitment process:

Taking time to review what you have done and how it could be improved is essential to any process of learning and trustee recruitment is no different. It will help you identify what worked well, and what could be improved. It can help you be more efficient and effective next time. As a minimum, ask all those directly involved in the recruitment process for their feedback on what worked well and what didn’t and for their suggestions for improvements for the next time, but you may prefer to also pinpoint a particular part of the process and review this in more depth. For instance, have you filled the skills gaps you identified or did certain promotion methods worked better than others? Most importantly, ask the new trustee for their perspective on the process. How are they settling into their role after 3-6 months? Do they have any issues? Is this is this right role for them? Did the induction process meet their needs? This information should also help inform your process when you next recruit a trustee.


Don’t forget, for links to lots more resources on recruiting trustees, make sure your organisation is a member of Northumberland Trustees’ Network and Northumberland CVA.






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Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger


My latest blogging experience not only highlights the fact that volunteering is a great way to refresh employment skills prior to a return to work, but also shows that sometimes people need that bit of extra help – help that focusses on the individual as a whole, aimed at all their problems, not just their lack of employment.

I would like to give a Big Thank You to Sarah (not her real name) who gave me her story.

After a 12 year break in her employment history (the last time she worked was in the South East of England, where she held a variety of clerical roles including a stint as an Employment Advisor with the Job Centre) Sarah needed to refresh her skills and gain some up to date references and work history.

Sarah moved to the area with her eldest son to stay with her sister and had applied for many jobs, but through feedback she received on her applications, she soon realized she needed to refresh her skills. Like many people, she found herself in a ridiculous vicious circle of not being able to get the current experience she needed because she lacked current experience!!

After a period struggling on no income, Sarah was initially referred for employment support by the ‘Word of Life’ Church to enable her to access computers and join the Job Club. However, she was then able to get help from a number of other organisations and soon she was not only receiving support to access computers but also discovered what benefits she was entitled to and was helped with other family and accommodation issues. Soon she found that her confidence in her own abilities and skills was returning and, with additional support, Sarah began volunteering at the local Credit Union to gain some of the valuable current work experience she needs.

When asked what her initial expectations of volunteering had been, Sarah says she went into volunteering with an open attitude and has found that her role, which involves administration and customer service work, is very rewarding. She was naturally apprehensive on her first day but as soon as someone suggested that she file some documents, she immediately relaxed. “Then, I knew what I was doing!” she says.

Sarah feels she fits in well at her placement and has found her new colleagues to be “easy and welcoming” and “very, very supportive!”  Her duties as varied and include administration and receptionist work, making phone calls, opening mail, as well as taking enquiries about withdrawals through BACS, handling requests for loans, booking in appointments and giving out appropriate documentation. Sarah also handles cash and checks the previous day balance and close against the new day balance.

Sarah feels she has definitely developed through this experience and, due to her contact with the people that the Credit Union supports, says she has not only improved her customer service skills but also acquired new financial skills that she hadn’t previously possessed.  Sarah receives supervision from her Service Manager, who quickly reassured her that her development was very important to the organisation and that any issues she encountered would be promptly addressed.

When asked what she has found to be the most positive thing about volunteering, Sarah immediately said “Oh, being able to update my CV with new and more current skills!”

Sarah also feels that her engagement with the organisations involved in helping her deal holistically with her problems and find a volunteering role, as well as her voluntary experience with the Credit Union itself, have all had positive consequences. In fact, recently she has been offered interviews and feels that it’s now only a matter of time before she secures employment.

As Sarah’s story highlights, there are many reasons for volunteering. So, If you or anybody you know would like to become a volunteer then please visit NCVA website at and check out our data base of more than 140 volunteer opportunities. If you’d like to talk to me about your volunteering experiences, please email me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Northumberland CVA

Providing 30 years of support to the voluntary and community sector


September: Bringing the community together


Most voluntary and community organisations wish to host an event at some time. Whether it’s a street party, a volunteer event, a fundraiser or a firework display, such events help to encourage people to play an active part in their community. However, there’s a lot you need to be aware of before you start.

Organising a successful event is really all about good planning and taking sensible precautions where necessary. This blog – the sixth in our series of themed tips to celebrate our 30 years of providing support to the voluntary and community sector – offers 30 tips to make planning your community event a success.



1: Be clear on what you want to achieve...

Make sure your objectives are clear right at the start of your planning. Do you want to raise money for a good cause, bring the community together, encourage participation in local sport, ask people to take action on a particular local issue, or simply have fun?

2: …and on who the event is for

Is your event specifically for your local community or will you want to open it up to a wider area? Is it primarily for children, or for older people? Your answers here will help you work out your planning for the day itself.

3: Make sure you give yourself enough time to organise the event

Lots of things can affect the amount of time you need to plan your event. If you have a particular venue and specific dates in mind, you need to get your booking in their calendar as early as possible. If you want to book speakers or entertainers, you need to do so well in advance. You should allow roughly three months to plan a small event, six months for a medium event, and 12-18 months for a large event

4: Set a realistic budget

It’s vital that even before you book the venue you need to set a realistic budget for your event, with an allowance for contingencies. Be realistic. It’s better to underestimate income and slightly overestimate costs. Have you thought about the cost of venue hire, entertainment, insurance and any necessary permits, publicity, equipment, catering, decorations, transport, volunteers’ expenses, and prizes? Set up a simple spreadsheet to keep track of the money.

5: Look at ways you can generate money to cover the costs

Thing about the possibility of asking for donations from local businesses, running a raffle, selling refreshments, or charging stallholders and/or catering suppliers for allowing them to sell their goods at your event. Do try to avoid charging an attendance fee, as this may increase some of your licence fees and may lead you into a formal contract to provide those goods and services, with the attendant risks if they are not provided or of inadequate quality. Identify the breakeven point and be prepared to make savings in your budget in ways that won't affect people’s enjoyment of the event.

6: Apply for funding in plenty of time

If you can’t cover all your costs using the suggestions above and you need to apply for funding, be aware that it can take 12-16 weeks, or sometimes even longer for an application to be granted. If you’re not sure where to start, contact Northumberland CVA’s funding officer, Marc Johnson by calling 01670 858688 or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit the funding pages of our website:

7: Decide if you want to involve other organisations or agencies

Involving other organisations or agencies can add an extra dimension and they may have the expertise to take a major part of organising the event off your hands. But consider carefully how you want to involve them, how they could contribute, and what they will need in terms space, facilities and catering and keep them regularly updated about what is going on.

8: Pull together a planning team

Working with a team of people will make planning your event easier. It is a good idea to have a core group of people who will help but the size of your team can vary depending on the scale of the event.  Having too many people on board can confuse and complicate things if you’re not careful, whereas having too few can put a greater onus on individuals to get things done. If you have decided to involve another organisation, it could be a good idea to involve them at this early stage.

9: Share out the work

Perhaps the people in your team have useful existing skills so do make use of them. Allot responsibility not just for arranging a date, booking a venue, and organising catering, but also for things like marketing, safety and logistics, which will vary depending on your event.

10: Create an action plan

Creating an action plan with deadlines/milestones for key activities and a named person to take responsibility can help to keep your planning on track. It will also help focus activity on the order in which things need to be completed. If you know how to create a Gantt chart, this is a great visual aid. It can illustrate your project schedule and show activity against time.

11: Make sure everyone knows what needs to be done and when

This is not simply about dishing out a list of tasks right at the beginning of the planning process and then leaving everyone to it. Arrange regular catch-up meetings so everyone is aware of the big picture and how their own area of responsibility fits in. Knowing that other people are waiting for a certain task to be complete in order to carry out their own work can help team members to keep to schedule.

12: Pick a date and time

The date you pick for your event is very important to make sure the people you’re aiming the event at are able to attend. For a family fun day, a weekend or a date during school holidays would be best, but if it’s an action day or a then maybe a week day during term time would be better. Ensure everyone involved in running the event is available on the date and that your venue and any guests or entertainers are also available.  Think about the time too, and what that may mean for traffic, school runs, availability of public transport and the safety of attendees. And try to avoid clashes with similar events that may be taking place nearby

13: Ensure your chosen venue is appropriate for your event

Do you need outside space, one big room or more than one smaller room? Is your venue fully accessible to all? Is it easy to find? Is it close to public transport links? Is car parking adequate? Think about catering facilities – are they adequate too? Can you bring your own refreshments or do you need to have them supplied by the venue? Are there enough toilets? Are Health & Safety provisions clear? If you need additional support equipment, will it be available? And very importantly, is the venue within your budget?

14: Think about the amount of people you can invite

Work out the number of people you want to invite. Can you fit the maximum amount in? Are facilities adequate? Can you afford to cater for them all? Remember that the bigger the event, the more people you will need to plan and organise on the day itself, and the more time you will need to give yourself to plan and prepare beforehand.

15: Decide on your activities

Will you have activities for a range of different people? Consider families, children and people with different needs. Consider the impact of the event on your neighbourhood, particularly the noise level – make sure it isn't too loud and doesn't go on too late. Make sure that residents and businesses are aware of what is going on and have the opportunity to let you know of any concerns they may have. There may be specialist guidance available for the sort of activities you want to put on – see the list at the end of this blog (The list is not exhaustive. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, google it and see what comes up).

16: Apply for any special licences or permissions you may need

Many community activities don’t need a licence, but you do need to check the situation early on because it can sometimes take a long time to apply. Read our Factsheet ‘Organising a Community Event’ for more information on any permissions you may need and how to go about applying.   Check if your venue is already licenced if you want to sell alcohol, provide late night refreshment (hot food or drink served after 11.00pm), show films or theatre performances, put on music and dancing. If not, you may be able to get a Temporary Event Notice from Northumberland County Council: .

17: Think about publicising the event

First things first, make sure you know how much money you have to spend on publicity. Then, once you have all the details booked, and you know who it’s targeted at, you can begin to publicise it.  It may sound obvious but ensure that the date and time of the event, the venue and the attractions of the day are clear. It is also a good idea to provide contact details so people can find out further information if they need it.  You should also make sure you get your publicity out early enough for it to be distributed and read - don’t wait until the last moment to advertise.

18: Decide where to place your publicity

How and where you publicise the event depends on the scale, budget and resources you have. Think about who you want it to reach and where those people are most likely to see your information, as well as what images are most likely to attract them to the event.   Put flyers through letterboxes and posters in shop windows or on community noticeboards. Leave leaflets in places where the people you want to reach are likely to go. Use social media. Send a letter or advert in a community newsletter, put a piece in the local paper or find out if local radio could make an announcement for the event.



19: Make sure you have insurance to cover the event

There is no law that says you must buy public liability insurance for a voluntary or community event but you have a responsibility to do what you can to ensure people don’t get hurt and so you might want to make sure you are covered in case something goes wrong and someone makes a claim against you. However, if most of the people who come to your activities are members or supporters of your organisation they are unlikely to want to make a claim against you. It’s also possible that the venue you’ve chosen might have their own public liability insurance that also covers your activities. On the other hand, if the venue doesn’t have its own insurance it may insist that your event is insured and, if you’re applying for funding, some funders insist on you having insurance as a condition of awarding a grant. See for more information.  Remember though, that having insurance is no substitute for thorough planning.

20: Make sure any food you serve is safe

If you want to provide or sell food at an event, here are some basic questions you need to be able to answer: Are the food preparation and serving facilities and equipment clean and in good repair? Are they suitably situated so that the food does not become contaminated? Are the washing facilities adequate? Is there someone who can answer questions about the origin of the food and its ingredients for people who have food allergies? Visit the Food Standards Agency website for more information on food safety for voluntary and community events and/or get advice from food safety officers at your local council.

21: Carry out a Risk Assessment

Carry out a risk assessment of the venue and any equipment you are using. Mostly this involves using common sense but there is also lots of information available online – in particular on the Health and Safety Executive website:

22: Don’t forget about Fire Safety…

Anyone providing a venue for a public event must assess the risk from fire to those using the premises and ensure that the fire safety measures in place are suitable to protect lives in the event of a fire. Make sure you know what fire safety arrangements are in place at your venue and make sure you know what to do should a fire break out. Ask: Is the fire alarm working? Are the fire exits obvious and/or clearly signposted? Are there enough exits to let everyone, including anyone who may be disabled or particularly vulnerable, leave quickly and easily in the event of a fire? Who will be responsible for evacuating the building should it be necessary? Where are fire extinguishers or fire blankets situated? Is there suitable access for the emergency services?  If you are planning an event that includes bonfires, fireworks or Chinese/sky lanterns you should visit the specialist guidance link at the foot of this blog

23: …or First Aid

Decide who will be responsible for first aid on the day. For large events, you could ask a first aid organisation to attend. Even if you are just using your own volunteers, you need to have a visible first aid point at large events and people who are taking the role of first aiders. Some of your volunteers may already have first aid training, or the venue may have its own first aiders.



24: Arrive early to set things up

Ensure everything is set up according to your plans. Confirm that everyone knows what their specific roles are. Make sure the official personnel and anyone involved in health and safety are clearly identified and ensure that facilities such as toilets and refreshments are clearly signposted.

25: Record the event

If you are keeping a record of attendees, set up a signing in sheet at the entrance to your event.

Take photographs and/or videos of the event - ensuring you have permission from attendees beforehand. Ask people to tell you how they’re enjoying themselves and record their comments – again, with permission, or ask them to fill in evaluation forms. You could put up signs informing people that you will be photographing the event, although you still need to ask individual permission when taking the actual photos, and you should gain parental consent before photographing children.

26: Keep checking

Regularly check to make sure that rubbish isn’t building up, and keep fire exits free from obstruction. And make sure that those manning stalls or organising activities don’t run out of supplies or small change. Keep an eye out for potential issues and tackle them before they become real problems – it helps if you’ve encouraged everyone at the event to take responsibility for themselves and their children.

27: Relax and try to enjoy it!

You’ve worked long and hard to make this event a success. Once you are sure everything is running smoothly, take a moment, breath out slowly and enjoy yourself.




28: Keep the money safe

If you’ve organised a fundraising event with different stalls, you might want to count takings from the different stalls separately and bank the cash as soon as possible. Counting takings separately will allow you work out which activities made money and which didn’t do so well so you can make a more accurate budget for your next event.

29: Clean up

Check the terms of your venue hire agreement to see exactly what the owner of the venue expects you to clear up and make sure you leave those areas clean and tidy.

30: Thank everyone

Remember to thank your planning team, other volunteers and helpers; they’ve done a sterling job. Don’t forget to also report back to and thank funders, sponsors, etc. Use some of the photographs and quotes you gathered on the day to illustrate how your event went and if your event was a fundraiser, let people know how much you raised on the day.



Specialist guidance

Street Parties:

 Firework displays and Chinese/sky lanterns

Cycling events

Running events

 Community Games

 Screening a film


Street Collections

General guidance


GDPR: Our own journey to compliance – Part 2


whiteboard data flow compressed


Jackie Auld

6th September 2017


You may remember from my first blog in this new series, which charts Northumberland CVA’s journey towards GDPR compliance, that we’d initially identified two equally important action points: carrying out an information audit and bringing our consent requests and privacy notices up to scratch to comply with the new legislation, so here’s a quick update:

  • Consent requests and privacy notices: New compliant versions have now been prepared for paper forms and webpages but are not yet all in place. We have de-activated our online application form for the VCS Assembly and a compliant downloadable form will very soon be in place. We have been very careful to ensure that the information is written in clear and plain language and that it covers everything it should, including the rights of the individual data subject and how they can exercise them easily (
  • Information audit: We’ve updated our retention policy and applied it to the personal data we currently hold. All of our staff members – including myself – are now working towards a deadline to delete or otherwise destroy any out of date or unnecessary personal data they have amassed in both electronic and paper files. Everything that has been deemed necessary to retain, in the interests of delivering our current work, will form part of our next step in the process, conducting the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA).

Conducting a PIA is a process which helps an organisation to identify and reduce the privacy risks of a project and forms part of the Privacy by Design approach stipulated by the GDPR. Ideally, a PIA should be carried out at the very beginning of any project but if this has not happened, then it can still be done when a project is up and running. The Information Commissioner’s website has a useful document: ‘Conducting Privacy Impact Assessments Code of Practice’, which they say is unlikely to change under the GDPR. In the ICO’s initial document: ‘Preparing for the GDPR: 12 Steps to Take Now’ (now updated), the PIA is covered in Step 10.

As for Steps 1-9, we are continuing to raise awareness (Step 1) through our e-bulletin and through this blog, as well as in staff and trustee meetings. We have now carried out an Information Audit (Step 2) and we are in the process of covering Steps 3, 4 and 7 in our consent requests and privacy notices, although we haven’t yet touched on Step 5, which covers Subject Access requests. We’ve decided to leave that to one side for the moment, along with Step 9 (Data Breaches) to concentrate on once we’ve done our PIA. Since we do not work directly with children, Step 8 is also not a priority at this point. Step 6 is all about identifying and documenting the lawful basis for your processing activity, which we’ll be covering as part of the PIA, although we have already touched on this in our work on consent requests and privacy notices.

The majority of information and guidance on GDPR available to this point has been around the issue of consent, but this is only one of the six lawful bases for processing under the GDPR. Another basis that could be very relevant to the voluntary and community sector is that of ‘Necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by the controller or a third party’, and whilst official guidance will not be available until well into the New Year, as the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham says, “there is already guidance about legitimate interests under the current law on the ICO website and from the Article 29 Working Party” that is unlikely to change significantly. It’s important to remember though that you cannot apply legitimate interests “where such interests are overridden by the interests, rights or freedoms of the data subject”.

Depending on the sort of work you do, there may be other lawful bases you can apply. For instance, ‘Processing is necessary for compliance with a legal obligation’ is likely to apply when it comes to dealing with HMRC and to comply with employment or safeguarding law etc. And you may use the basis: ‘Processing is necessary for the performance of a contract with the data subject or to take steps to enter into a contract’ if you are taking payment for goods or services or perhaps to cover membership activities – we are exploring this now for our own memberships.

The one big thing you do need to remember though is that, whilst you may rely on ‘legitimate interests’, ‘legal obligation’ or ‘performance of a contract’ as the bases for gathering and processing information in the first place, you would not necessarily then be able to rely on the same bases for any additional processing you might want to carry out for purposes such as sending out e-bulletins, invitations to events, combining datasets etc. To cover such additional activities you would need to obtain separate consent.

So, back to the PIA: there is no legal requirement to carry out a Privacy Impact Assessment unless processing is “likely to result in a high riskalthough in draft guidance the GDPR Article 29 Working Party has recommended that, if in doubt: carry one out.

I can’t think of a VCS organisation in Northumberland that routinely carries out high risk activities as specified in the draft guidance, for example: “systematic and extensive evaluation of personal aspects relating to natural persons, based on automated processing” or “systematic monitoring of a publicly accessible area on a large scale”, although perhaps one or two of you do. And in fact, the WP suggests that even employee monitoring should be subject to a DPIA because it involves systematic monitoring and a vulnerable group (in that there can never be a balance of power in the relationship between the employer and the employee). So if your work includes the matching and combining of datasets, if you work with vulnerable individuals, or you process data which has the effect of refusing people access to a contract or service, then you really do need to cover your work with a PIA, which in GDPR-speak is referred to as a ‘DPIA (Data Protection Impact Assessment)’.

According to the Article 29 WP, a DPIA should be carried out at an early enough stage in a project that recommendations can be acted on, and should then be continuously reviewed. The ‘data controller’ (i.e. your organisation) is ultimately responsible, although it could seek external assistance. A ‘data processor’ may be required to help if it is largely responsible for the processing (This could be any third party processor for your data, and not only the third party fundraisers that have been all over the news). Although not every organisation needs to appoint a ‘Data Protection Officer (DPO)’, if you have one he/she must be involved in this process and must monitor performance of the DPIA (Find out whether your organisation needs to appoint a Data Protection Officer). Also, where appropriate’ the controller should seek the views of ‘data subjects’ (the individuals whose personal data you are processing) by means of a survey or study etc. If you decide not to seek their views, you should document your decision and your reasons for it as part of your DPIA.

Step 1 in carrying out a PIA, according to the ICO guidance under existing legislation, is to identify the need for one. Helpfully, in Annex one of ‘Conducting Privacy Impact Assessments Code of Practice’, the ICO provides a list of screening questions that can help you decide whether a PIA is necessary, which along with a very simple template for carrying out your PIA is available to download in an editable format.

Step 2 asks you to “describe information flows” (PIA) or “describe the processing” (DPIA), which essentially mean the same thing. To do this, you need to explain how the information will be obtained, used and retained. As the PIA Code of Practice explains on pages 12 & 13, this can help you identify and put measures in place to tackle any potential for what they call ‘function creep’ i.e.: any possible unforeseen or unintended uses of the data.

Whilst researching ways other organisations describe information flows, I came across lots of examples of data flow diagrams and I think this is a great method for helping your team and other stakeholders visualise what happens to personal data within your organisation in order to identify where a breach may occur and the best measures to lower the risks involved. According to Wikipedia, “a data flow diagram (DFD) is a graphical representation of the ‘flow’ of data through an information system, modelling its process aspects.”

You can make your diagram as simple or as complicated as you like. You don’t need specialist design skills to create it. Google the term ‘data flow diagram’ and click on ‘images’ to see reams and reams of examples. If you have access to tools like PRINCE2 or Agile software you can use them to create your diagrams. Alternatively, you could use the SmartArt Graphics available in Microsoft programs, or you could simply use pen and paper. The important thing is that you identify every point in your organisation at which a form of processing takes place on the personal data you gather and store as a part of your work.

If the work of your organisation has only one or two strands, it needn’t take a huge amount of time to map your data flows. However, Northumberland CVA has a multitude of different projects and themes of work as well as our core activities and I have found it to be much simpler, in terms of creating a clear visual aid, to tackle each theme/project separately. That means lots of diagrams. At this point in time, I’ve completed three out of a possible six.

Prior to Step 3 you need to think about consultation and the steps you will take to ensure you identify and address any privacy risks. You need to list who is/was involved both internally and externally, and how you will carry out or have carried out your consultation. You can link this to any wider project management processes if you have them. If you’re doing your PIA/DPIA as part of the planning process for a brand new project, you would most likely be carrying out some form of consultation anyway and data protection could easily become part of that. At Northumberland CVA, since our PIAs concerns projects that have been in operation for some time, we are consulting internally at present but will look at carrying out external consultation if and when it becomes necessary.  

Step 3: This is where you list the processing points you have identified in your DFDs and set about identifying the key privacy risks and any associated compliance and corporate risks. An Excel spreadsheet is ideal for this purpose (Quick tip: this is much easier to do, and for others to follow, if you remember to number each processing point on your diagram first).

Step 4 is where you identify and describe any actions you take already or plan to adopt as solutions to reduce the risk of a data breach and this can simply become another column in your spreadsheet, like so:


NCVA Personal Data Flow Risk Chartxx


You’ll notice that I’ve also added columns for identifying the legal basis for processing, for recording who it is who has approved the solutions and the date they have done so. You can format your spreadsheet any way you like. You may find it useful to do what we are doing in colour coding your risk level as red/amber/green for high/medium/low. You may choose to make your spreadsheet simpler than this and perhaps use the editable template in Annex one of ‘Conducting Privacy Impact Assessments Code of Practice’. That’s absolutely fine. We’re completing a separate spreadsheet for each data flow diagram.

Step 5 of your PIA/DPIA is about signing off and recording your PIA outcomes and Step 6 is about integrating them back into your project plan and processes. We haven’t got that far yet, but we’re getting there.

All of these steps follow those listed in Annexes one and two of ‘Conducting Privacy Impact Assessments Code of Practice’. The guidance on conducting a DPIA under the GDPR is not yet set in stone, but is likely to be broadly the same. For many organisations this a huge piece of work and so it makes sense to get as far as we can using the existing guidance so that any changes that do need to be made closer to the deadline of May 25th 2018, if any, are likely just to mean small tweaks here and there.

This is what I’m going to be working on for quite some weeks yet I think. Once finished, we’ll have a detailed data flow diagram for each aspect of our work, accompanied by a separate spreadsheet for each one. But not every organisation will need to split its work up like that. Whatever you decide, do make sure you consider every single point at which you process data. I’ve discovered that carrying out a PIA is a great way to put your processes under the microscope and hunt out every piece of outdated data and every unnecessary and soon to become unlawful processing activity.

I’ll update you on our progress in our next GDPR blog. Please do share your own progress towards GDPR compliance; simply email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call me on 01670 858688.

If you’d like to keep up to date with any new developments on GDPR, visit the ICO webpages:


Jelly babies Variety compressed


Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger


Wow! It has now been 6 months since I became a volunteer and the time has just flown! Not only have I changed, but so too has my role! I believe that, from the very beginning, what has kept me coming back week after week has been the variety of experiences and challenges I have faced.

I began my adventures doing data entry and trying to get to grips with Volunteer Connect, Northumberland CVA’s online database that helps match volunteers with the organisations that offer volunteering opportunities. I initially found this very difficult because I hadn’t used a PC for many years and had not used a data entry system for over 6 years. Indeed, just getting to grips with my own computer password was an achievement in itself! But thanks to the help of very patient colleagues I regained some computer literacy!

I went on to attend meetings to find out exactly what Northumberland CVA does, and its variety of functions. I have chatted to potential volunteers here at the office and gone through the opportunities on Volunteer Connect with them to encourage them to volunteer. I have handed out flyers in Ashington (despite heavy rain!) inviting the public to attend a Volunteers Fair, which I also helped to set up (with, I must say, some very artistic and strategic placing of the bunting!). I have supplied the Local Authority with 40 volunteering opportunities to post on their own internal intranet system. I have used Microsoft Publisher for the first time and produced my own flyer to encourage people to volunteer. I have been interviewed on Koast Radio and have become a voice-over for a short film.

Indeed, I think my participation in a conversation on Koast Radio has been my most memorable moment so far in my volunteering career! In fact, our volunteering development officer Michelle deliberately didn’t tell me about it and I had no idea we were going to be interviewed until 2 hours before we left the office – which with hindsight was perhaps a good thing because I would have probably ‘bottled’ it had I been given more time to think!

I have also met a lot of very fascinating people who have had some very interesting stories to tell and so far I’ve written 9 blogs (this one is number 10). What struck me most about all of these stories is that everyone wanted to do something different from their day to day lives; they wanted to use skills they already had, as well as acquiring new ones. And all felt challenged, in a positive way, by their volunteering experiences. Many people got so much out of it that they became ‘serial volunteers’ because every role has its own rewards! All described an increase in their self-confidence, a sense of purpose and achievement, of belonging and friendship, but overall every individual expressed positive effects from their involvement.

I too have found that volunteering has given me a sense of purpose and increased my confidence. I really appreciate the support, sense of camaraderie and banter amongst my colleagues within the office. I’ve also found working in creative collaboration with Michelle to be a very rewarding experience… Thank you Michelle!

To her credit, Michelle took on the task of being my supervisor, my ‘go to person’ and she has been amazingly supportive. I have had a supervision chat every 3 months in a coffee shop of my choice, where we sit and discuss what has happened, how I feel about it and decide on a loose plan of action for the next 3 months. Thanks to Michelle also for the really imaginative and thoughtful things she does to spread happiness, such as the ‘Gratitude Flower’ and my 6-month Anniversary card, as well as the very tasty scones she made for us all! Indeed, what has really surprised me about my role is just how much I love the creative side of what I have been doing. Although biographical writing was part of my previous working life, creating flyers and making a film are completely new activities for me – but they definitely utilise an innate artistic skill I’ve probably always had, and rarely used.

Finally, I would like to say to anybody out there reading this, do a little bit of research, go online and have a look at the opportunities available on Northumberland CVA’s Volunteer Connect, or come in to the office to examine the opportunities available if you feel you need a bit of extra support. You‘ll be amazed by the variety.

Think about your past experiences, what you enjoyed and what you didn’t enjoy, what skills you have and what skills you’d like to learn? Never feel you have nothing to give because there is always that special someone (you!) who is needed for as much or as little time as you can give! You can work with people, animals, or vehicles, in the countryside or in an office. You can have a ‘behind the scenes’ role or be more of a ‘people person’. The choice is yours because just as you are different so too are the volunteering opportunities out there!

If you are currently a volunteer and would like to tell your story to encourage others to volunteer, please drop me an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  If you'd like to try volunteering yourself, you can find a wealth of available Northumberland opportunities on our Volunteer Connect database.

Blyth Tall Ships volunteers

Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger


My second Blog adventure with a nautical theme is actually the result of two separate interviews and again I’d like to thank Clive Gray, the Chief Executive of Blyth Tall Ship Project, for his help in linking me up with these wonderful volunteers: Maureen, Julie, Janice and Astrid, who all give their time to the Blyth Tall ship project. Maureen and Julie work on a part of the project that is preserving and archiving a huge store of old maritime documents, while Janice and Astrid are working on creating traditionally-inspired ‘ganseys’ for the crew of an upcoming Antarctic voyage.

I met first with Maureen and Julie on a very warm July afternoon at the Centre, where they meet every Tuesday between 9.30 and 4pm. Both Maureen and Julie have a background in administration and are in the process of archiving and digitising written materials found during the redevelopment of Blyth Port. Julie is a retired Accounts Clerk, and Maureen previously worked for Lloyds Register and the NHS. However, despite this wealth of past experience, both feel that the key to their continued work as volunteers with this project has not been so much about possessing the relevant existing skills needed by the project, but far more about their own keen shared interest in history.

The project to archive this treasure trove of maritime documents is currently funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is affiliated with the Woodhorn Archives: home to 800 years of Northumberland's history. Maureen is the project lead and has been a volunteer for approximately 6 years. She initially found out about the project when her husband mentioned there was an archiving volunteer opportunity within the Ports stores. Maureen was then approached by Clive to be the Archive Team Leader and currently has a full complement of volunteers working for her. Maureen also completed a Timeline exhibition which is now on show in the Heritage Centre and has done talks to the WI on conservation materials and the History of ‘The Port of Blyth’.  

The work the team do entails cataloguing, cleaning and digitising all documents from the Port of Blyth stores. The completed documents are then stored in the Port Archives. They deal with Rolled Plans, Flat Plans, Minute Books, Ledgers, Photographs and Photograph Albums, Correspondence and Posters. As it happens, the heritage work is now very popular indeed and the project currently has a waiting list of 8 people awaiting voluntary vacancies.

Maureen offers her team regular supervision and is always at hand to support and advise them. The Archive Team are required to complete a 6 months’ course learning archival skills, e.g. Cataloguing and Conservation and are now studying with Woodhorn Museum to achieve Museum Accreditation.  

Both Maureen and Julie say they love their work, although Maureen did add that initially it was a huge challenge to develop the necessary procedures and systems to tackle the work in the first place. When asked what THE most positive thing about their experience has been, Maureen said it was the opportunity to develop friendship, and Julie described feeling a sense of achievement and of being part of a community. Both also felt that in safeguarding this body of knowledge for the future, they are doing very important work.

Maureen says that the aim of the Blyth Tall Ship project as a whole is essentially to “inspire future generations to use their own adventurous spirit to play a part in the future of Blyth”, and asks that “if anybody has any shipping or maritime memorabilia they wish to donate” she would love to hear from them via the Heritage Centre.

My second meeting at the Heritage Centre was with Janice who, along with her friend Astrid, has set about designing and knitting ‘Ganseys’ for another aspect of the Blyth Tall Ship project: a forthcoming historical voyage that will recreate William Smith’s voyage of 1819. 

A sea captain born in Seaton Sluice, Smith discovered Antarctica in a ship built in Blyth but he was never recognised for his discovery. Instead, he died a pauper and history has forgotten him – until now.  In 2019, to celebrate the 200th anniversary year of Smith’s voyage, a ship of a similar size and style, named the Williams II, is being refitted and will set sail to Antarctica. A crew of around 150 will be trained by the Blyth Tall Ship Project and some 70-80 of them will have the opportunity to sail the Williams II on various legs of the expedition.

Gansey Sketch

Janice is a very passionate designer, creator and advocate of the traditional, water resistant fishermen’s jumper called the ‘Gansey’, which are not only practical because they keep sailors warm and dry, but they’re also specific to the fishing area where they are made, with many small fishing villages developing their own design and patterns through history. Although no evidence has come to light of a specific Blyth Gansey design, a serendipitous idea for the crew of the Williams II to have their own 'uniform' Gansey has taken off.

Janice laughs when describing her initial offer of help for the project, saying “Well I just talked myself into it really” when, during a chance meeting with Clive, she and Astrid found themselves ‘volunteering’ their services.

At the beginning Janice, who’d never had any experience of such a large project nor anything to do with sailing, felt that her only real qualification for this project was that she was a keen knitter who happened to live in the area. Nevertheless, in February 2016 she and Astrid began designing and knitting the prototype Ganseys for the planned Antarctica voyage.

They designed the Gansey in 5 sizes for the approximate 150 crew members (yet to be recruited) who will be taking part in the project. Each Gansey takes 100-200 hours work so knitting 150 of them was obviously going to be a huge undertaking for anyone. However, once the project received publicity, Janice and Astrid were shocked to find themselves inundated with over 550 offers of help from all over the world!

“For the prestige of the project”, several of the overseas offers to volunteer have been taken, with preference given to those with connections to Blyth or the Antarctic, although for some it was purely a matter of chance. There are currently over 100 people from all over Britain, Europe, USA, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and India making Ganseys for the venture, and more will be recruited when they know the actual sizes of the crew. Kits started to be sent out only in April 2017 and yet several completed Ganseys have already been returned.

Janice describes the design process as a very creative and interesting activity. Initially they created prototypes, using funding from the Blyth Croft Masons that allowed them to buy needles and yarn to get started. They then acquired funding from the Northumberland County Council Community Chest to continue the work.

The design itself incorporates the three sail logo of the Blyth Tall Ship Project as the focal point along with an anchor, the Northumberland flag on the sleeves, cable to signify rope, ladders for rigging, criss crosses to signify Blyth staithes, waves for the sea and diamonds to represent ALL volunteers on the Tall Ship Project.

Traditionally, wives and girlfriends sometimes included the initials of the wearer and this tradition is now being continued with Blyth Tall Ship Ganseys that will have a label added just above the welt of the gansey, with space for both the name of the knitter and the wearer.

Janice says she feels she has really developed to become much more outgoing since becoming involved in the project. She and Astrid have been invited to give talks about the project - the most challenging of which was probably talking to a group of 5 to 7 year olds at a school near Hexham. Right from creating the gansey in the first place to talking publicly about the project, her work has given Janice a sense of achievement and given her experiences way beyond anything she imagined at the start. “It’s just mushroomed really,” she said. “It’s our little bit: not just the knitting, but the whole international side of things I mean. Astrid and I have really enjoyed doing all of that”. Indeed, the friends have also been managed to develop whole new skillsets too, with Astrid dealing with all the correspondence, and Janice mastering the spreadsheets!

When asked what has been THE most positive thing about her volunteering experience, Janice replied “Oh, definitely meeting such interesting people”.  Not only does she feel that her knowledge and confidence have increased, but she also says “my life is therefore much richer because of my involvement!”

It has been a real pleasure finding out about the wealth of volunteering activities offered by the Blyth Tall Ship project and, when reflecting back upon all my blogging experiences and interviews with volunteers, I can see running through them all that there are some abiding themes. All have wanted to do something different from their day to day life, all have felt challenged by their volunteering experience, but overall every individual has expressed positive effects from their involvement.

If you'd like to try volunteering yourself, you can find a wealth of available Northumberland opportunities on our Volunteer Connect database.  If you are already a volunteer and you'd like to share your own volunteering adventures in Northumberland, please email me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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