The possibilities of working with, and learning from, volunteers
One of the most inspiring things for me about working in the charity sector is meeting and hearing about people who give up their time, for free, to make an impact on their community. In my role as a trainer for Creative English, I’ve met some incredible volunteers across the country – passionate, informed and highly skilled individuals who I’ve learnt a lot from.
The volunteers I’ve come into contact with represent all walks of life, and give a sense of the hugely diverse network of people invested in their communities and in supporting others to learn and develop. Among our volunteers, we have people of all faiths (…or if not all, very nearly!) represented, and people from all over the globe. Clearly, this diversity means there are a huge number of unique experiences and insights into working in the community. In many of my roles prior to Creative English, I’ve worked with volunteers, but my current role leads me to reflect and realise that I was often limiting the possibilities of working with volunteers. My mind-set was that I needed to provide the space and guidance for volunteers to learn, but I had never really considered what I might learn from them. Through building sustained relationships with Creative English volunteers, I’ve gained an insight and understanding of different communities that I never had before. For example, working closely with a Somali volunteer means that I’m able to ask her advice on what could work in a session, and what future sessions should cover.
This link into the community and insight into different cultures is vital to making Creative English work. And it’s not just the cultural and community insight that we can gain from volunteers. Between the three Creative English trainers, we’ve also had retired librarians with excellent ideas for using stories and craft with children, as well as Masters-level students studying the use of drama in community projects. This has helped to invigorate what we’re doing, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see volunteers develop and to shape how a project looks in practice.
For me, I’ve found that working with volunteers has been an absolutely crucial element to making the sessions I deliver work. In Dagenham, my volunteers have been able to make translations, provide extra support, and have provided feedback on what people have found useful. In Waltham Forest, having a volunteer from the local mosque meant many women, who may not have attended without that link to their community, were encouraged to come. In a research project looking at how to deliver drama-based health literacy sessions in more detail, having a volunteer who is also studying drama in the community has meant that they have been able to input fresh, deep analysis helping us to shape the future of the project.
Creating a mutual exchange with volunteers has been rewarding and led to new learning and opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible without this collaborative relationship – I know my approach to working with others has been changed, and definitely for the better!