8 Oct 2015

For ten years our volunteer drivers have been supporting the Grass Routes Transport Service helping to tackle isolation in rural communities.

Owen Wilce (Mon)

Owen Wilce is employed by Monmouthshire County Council  (MCC)  to co-ordinate and develop volunteering within the Council and more widely. With a background in the youth service, Owen has experience of working with volunteers directly as well as of the strategic development of volunteering.  His two year appointment aims to develop more consistent good practice across Council departments and to pioneer new ways of involving volunteers within public services in Monmouthshire.

Owen writes:

We have a long and healthy history of volunteering and local action in Monmouthshire. For ten years our volunteer drivers have been supporting the Grass Routes Transport Service helping to tackle isolation in rural communities. Leisure is supported by seventy Sports Ambassadors delivering activities to their communities. Volunteers are active and effective in many departments and communities. This highlights that there is already a sense of civic pride and local activism.  

In Monmouthshire, we wish to become a local authority capable of working with our citizens, helping people do things for themselves and creating the conditions that enable people to help each other. We want to create a movement that mobilises people across Monmouthshire, to respond to the priories within our communities.

Understanding the strength and diversity of our communities, we want to create the environment that will enable all those who wish to take an active role in Monmouthshire life, developing a supportive culture. With volunteering being well established within MCC it was key to understand how volunteers were currently making an impact.

 

At the start of the process we actioned a mapping exercisewhere we met with 58 Monmouthshire staff who were supporting volunteers and 28 external agencies supporting volunteers in Monmouthshire. This gave us a baseline as well as detailed information on volunteer activity and specifics around the levels of support different departments were offering volunteers. Our baseline for voluntary activity was extremely high: 1757 volunteers supporting MCC, from Tourism Ambassadors to Community Bus drivers, Sports Ambassadors and Countryside volunteers. Volunteer input is high!

The priorities for the development of the infrastructure were determined by the outcomes of the mapping exercise. One hundred percent of staff interviewed asked for clarity around procedure in the form of a toolkit, one hundred percent asked for a network to link up and share best practice. Publicity of opportunities, training for volunteers and capturing outcomes were also identifies as priorities. The overwhelming drive was that everyone valued the support of their volunteers but all strived to improve the experience.

Development of a Volunteer Toolkit took priority, which was influenced by Volunteer coordinators and relevant officers alike to ensure there was appropriate information and ownership. The toolkit sets out guidance to ensure quality opportunities, uniformity and easy to access forms so time can be saved by managers. The toolkit will be complemented by training sessions to ensure everyone fully understands the information and procedures.

 

Building a network was the next area for development both internally and externally of the local authority. A MCC Volunteer Coordinators network was set up and piloted in June 2015, with the next meeting scheduled for September 2015. Emphasis was also put on building strong links with Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations and other third sector bodies. An external network called 'Joining Up Volunteering in Monmouthshire' has been instrumental in positive developments for Volunteers in Monmouthshire. As one  example of a positive outcome, a proposal to use the Volunteering Wales website www.volunteering-wales.net to publicise all opportunities, county wide, has been adopted by all partners.

 

One of the encouraging developments we have seen is the growing degree of trust, and new partnerships with Third Sector organisations. One clear example is the partnership between the Council and a well established befriending service in the County, 'Community Connections'. Due to funding constraints this service did not operate within the Abergavenny area. MCC recognised the  evidence of need and the exemplary practice of Community Connections. It funded the post of  a new Volunteer Co-ordinator, who was hosted by Community Connections.

As a local authority we understand that the experience and infrastructure for supporting Volunteers  lies within the third sector. Therefore it has been mutually beneficial for the partnership to develop. Now all parties benefit from the added provision in Abergavenny that was previously not available.

Support has been provided for individual  council departments around developing volunteer role descriptions, safe recruitment and impact measurement. This has been key to the programme achieving its initial outcomes.

Acknowledging the fact as a local authority we are not the experts, benefitting from the experience of our colleagues in the third sector, and seeking out best practice locally and globally, for example working with the Cities of Service programme has allowed us to shape a programme that will benefit Monmouthshire volunteers and their communities in the future.  

Monmouth CC Proclamation


Future goals for the programme include raising the profile of volunteering opportunities in Monmouthshire, increasing our offer to volunteers which includes training and recognition, and celebration of the achievements our volunteers make within their communities.


The 'A County that Serves' programme in Monmouthshire aims to support and enable volunteers to make a major contribution to our core purpose of creating sustainable and resilient communities.

One of the active priorities of  The Wales Volunteering Policy Network is to influence the practice of  public sector organisations in the involvement of volunteers. It will be working with Owen to ensure that  what is learned in Monmouthshire is shared more widely across Wales.

 

For further information about volunteering developments in Monmouthshire visit the website: 

http://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/training-and-volunteering  

http://www.befriendingmonmouthshire.org.uk/