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An Independent Social Affairs Magazine

Issue 43, 2017


VOLUNTEERING: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Forest volunteers: Back row (from left) – Aoife Casey and Grainne Maguire Front row (from left) – Cooper Jones and Alex Mirron Image: Michael O’Rourke – Story on page nine

Supported by VSB Foundation

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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Recalling the work of Martin O’Hagan


VOLUNTEER with the Media Trust, a London-based charity, and that is part of the reason why VIEW magazine was set up. I joined the Media Trust because I felt that, at times, there can be a ‘disconnect’ within the mainstream media and the people doing brilliant work on the ground to make their communities better. Over the years people like Joyce McCartan have inspired me; she famously gave an old tea pot to former US Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (then First Lady) when she came to visit Joyce’s community café on the Ormeau Road in 1995. Joyce had lost her youngest son Gary and other relatives during the Troubles and in turn channelled her grief into peace and reconciliation work. Looking back over the archives, I am one of several journalists who have had the opportunity to write about volunteering in Northern Ireland. Martin O’Hagan, the only journalist killed in the Troubles wrote a book about volunteering ‘Stories From The Edge’, which is illustrated with lovely black and white photographs by Kelvin Boyes. Martin was a trade union activist, journalist and writer who spent 12 months completing the book

By Una Murphy Co-founder,VIEWdigital Email:

and the final chapter was finished the day before he was shot dead in his home town of Lurgan, Co Armagh, in September 2001. The Volunteer Development Agency in the forward stated: “We are immensely proud to have worked with Martin and are indebted to him for his time and

commitment. Without him this book would never have been published.” Martin volunteered his time after a call was put out to the National Union of Journalists to find ‘volunteer journalists’ to write stories about volunteers for ‘Stories From The Edge’. He said in the foreward to the book: “As secretary of the local union branch I felt someone had to come forward. The difficulty was – no one did and so I got the job by default.” The feeling that “someone had to come forward” is also reflected by journalist Fionnuala O’Connor, who wrote in ‘Volunteer Voices – Belfast’s Creative Extremists’ in 2012 that: “The Troubles brought volunteering – in the sense of working without payment, with and for your neighbours at their behest – into the front line. She added “Mending the damage of the Troubles may need fresh activists for a new era.” I’m delighted to say that Jerome Dawson who is featured in ‘Stories From The Edge’ is also in VIEW editor Brian Pelan’s article on page 6 about the volunteers who founded Ballyhackamore Credit Union in east Belfast and the founders, including my father, Tom Murphy.

Regulated by IMPRESS, the independent monitor for the press. Contact IMPRESS at

Editorial VIEW, Issue 43, 2017


VIEW, an independent social affairs magazine in Northern Ireland


By guest editor, Volunteer Now Chief Executive Wendy Osborne

ome 30 per cent (429,174) of the population of Northern Ireland, over the age of 16, volunteer. This volunteering involves them giving time to help others and their communities. Their initial motivation to take part will vary but their motivation to stay will overwhelmingly be ‘to make a difference’. Without doubt volunteering is both powering and empowering our communities and our citizens. It is this dual role that makes the concept of volunteer involvement an important component of participatory democracy. Where people voluntarily, of their own free will, have the right and feel they have the responsibility to engage because they want to help others, to right an injustice, to improve the environment, to enhance the wellbeing of their community, to support the interests and causes they care about, to give something back. Take any community in Northern Ireland, large or small, urban or rural. Think of the sports clubs; community groups; arts clubs and societies; the local Lions, soroptomists and rotary clubs; schools with school governors and parent-teacher associations; youth clubs and organisations; faith-based groups and activities; neighbourhood watch groups; health and social care related groups; environmental and heritage organisations; playgroups; the emergency services and first responders such as mountain rescue, the Red Cross; local hospitals and social care facilities – the list is endless. It is about mutual aid and self-help, traditional service giving, advocacy and campaigning and building community resilience.Volunteering is the vital ingredient that quite simply breathes life into our communities. It is amazing that while volunteers can be found in every townland, village, town and city we still have a tendency to take this important resource for granted. A very huge part of why this happens relates to the dynamic of being a volunteer. My own experience over the last 45 years is the same as any volunteer I have ever met. We all say we get out as much, if

Volunteering is the vital ingredient that quite simply breathes life into our communities

not more, than we give. We make friends, we feel a sense of belonging, we learn new skills, and we feel enjoyment and a sense of satisfaction when we know we have made a positive contribution. We just do it. This volunteer experience is replicated across the communities of these islands and across the communities of the world. Through my involvement with IAVE

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(International Association for Volunteer Effort) I have met people doing work similar to Volunteer Now in Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia Pacific, North and South America. It is heartening to realise that a sense of working for the common good is something that transcends nations and cultures. This is of paramount importance to the United Nations as they have declared that the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals will not be delivered without the input and mobilisation of volunteers. Tackling the big challenges, which touch our lives as well as those across the world, such as eradicating poverty, zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, quality education, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities, climate action, peace, justice and strong institutions is underpinned by the global commitment ‘to leave no one behind’. It is not an option to take volunteers for granted. Volunteers Week is our annual reminder to value and recognise the contribution of volunteers. In Northern Ireland we have a voluntary and community sector that depends heavily on volunteer involvement and we have a public sector that already involves volunteers in a range of services and is likely to require the involvement of many more. We have communities that benefit from people being neighbourly, showing care for others and being ready to help out. We are fortunate that at a policy level Northern Ireland has a volunteering strategy and the potential to provide a greater focus on and investment in volunteering. We also have 70 per cent of the population over the age of 16 that do not currently volunteer, an untapped resource of time, energy and skills. There is therefore unlimited potential to grow volunteering, to create more opportunities, recruit more people and engage the widest diversity to ensure that civic participation is fully representative of our population. We can and should make it happen.

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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the BIG interview V


Dr Michael McBride, left, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, explains to VIEW editor Brian Pelan why he believes that volunteering has a crucial role to play in delivering strong and positive outcomes to the wider public

IEW: What’s the extent of volunteering at present in the Northern Ireland health service?

Answer: It’s extensive but I think there’s opportunities for it to be expanded further. We last looked at the numbers of volunteers in the healthcare system in 2011. At that stage there was 1,500 people volunteering in a variety of roles. There’s further work being undertaken by the Public Health Agency with a report later this year. I’d be very confident those numbers can be increased significantly. And why I think it’s particularly important is because of the added value that volunteering brings, not just for the health service, but actually for those volunteering as well.

Q: You said at a recent conference at Crumlin Road Gaol that “Involving volunteers in the a statutory health and social care setting is not about replacing paid staff. Volunteers must not be seen as cheap labour – providing services that paid staff should be doing to keep costs down”.

A: It is about volunteers being integral to the team that’s delivering the service, whatever those services might be. Whether it’s in the healthcare centres or the hospitals. They’re not an add-on, they’re not an optional extra, they’re integral to the care delivery team. The important thing to say here – and this is particularly at a time when there’s financial pressure in the health service – they’re not a substitution for staff. They complement but they don’t substitute. I know that sometimes that’s a concern of trade union colleagues, that this is a cheap way of securing labour where there’s actually a need for paid employment. It’s not about that, it’s about complementing existing paid roles.

It is about volunteers being integral to the team that’s delivering the service. They’re not an add-on, they’re not an optional extra Q: Would you have concerns if volunteers were being used as “cheap labour”?

A: I would have fundamental concerns because it flies in the face of what volunteering is about. This is absolutely not about substitution – it is not about reducing cost – it’s about improving quality and volunteers can add so much to improving the quality of health and social care.

Q: Is the health service too reliant on the voluntary element.

A: The word ‘reliance’ would suggest there is an element of job substitution going on. It’s all about adding value. I think volunteers are experts and often bring their own life experience to a particular

situation. So if we take a particular example, for instance long-term conditions and support for other people living with long-term conditions. Those individuals who volunteer to support others when they themselves are living with the same long-term condition can bring expert knowledge, practical tips and support that often a healthcare practitioner can’t do. So they add to that holistic care. Q: Can you tell our readers about the strategic public health framework: Making Life Better, and how that relates to volunteering?

A: Making Life Better is the Stormont’s executive’s blueprint for how we will improve the lives of the community here in Northern Ireland and how we will improve our life expectancy. Volunteering is identified in that strategy because we know that volunteers bring real benefits to the recipients of the volunteering. Q: How do we ensure that volunteers in the health service are properly supported.

A: The Health and Social Care Board, working with the Public Health Agency and Volunteer Now, produced a regional framework for volunteering and social care. It ran from 2014 to 2017. It outlined a framework for encouraging volunteering in the health service. It makes the case for why volunteering matters and the framework required for quality volunteering, including the support and training that needs to be in place so that individuals are able to give their best, and also the importance of recognising the contribution that volunteers make. Q: There is obviously a financial element to providing support for volunteers. Is that difficult at a

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017


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VIEW editor Brian Pelan in conversation with Dr Michael McBride at Stormont

time of austerity and cutbacks in the health service.

A: Well let me answer that by giving you a good example. I talked at the event at Crumlin Road Gaol about CLARE, a community organisation in north Belfast. It’s basically looking at a local response and engagement to supporting older vulnerable people in the community, so it does several things. What it does is it identifies what the needs of individuals are from what their wishes are, what their aspirations are and what their capacity is, and it identifies assets in the local community, and then it provides them. These are local community champions, providing support to older people in the community. It builds a caring community and it prevents and reduces pressures on the health service. It’s an invest-to-save case. I can see the CLARE example in north Belfast being a model that has real potential benefit in realising some of the aspirations within Making Life Better. I think that volunteering and that community-based approach is a strong and very compelling strategic case for us investing in it.

Q: Is there a need to explain to the wider public about the benefits of volunteering.

A: We’re encouraging volunteering for anyone over the age of 16 and you don’t need to have any particular skills or knowledge. Statutory organisations will work to support you in your preferences and provide the training. This will bring benefits in terms of your employability, or your CV. We also want to attract more older people to volunteering as they are a

There’s nothing more wonderful than feeling good, knowing that you’ve made a difference to somebody’s life that day huge asset for us. The life and experience of these people – what they’ve contributed to society, what they’ve contributed in terms of bringing up their families, but also they have an opportunity to give something back and benefit from that. There’s nothing more wonderful than feeling good, knowing that you’ve made a difference to somebody’s life that day.

Q: How do you ensure that volunteers have the right skills to deal with people who might be seriously ill.

Images: Kevin Cooper

A: There is a responsibility for employers to make sure that they have the appropriate support for volunteers. There is no such thing as saying ‘right, sign a form here, be a volunteer and we’ll let you loose’. The Making Life Better framework is absolutely about encouraging volunteering, making sure it’s quality volunteering, that the recipient of the volunteering gets value out of that, but most importantly the volunteer gets value out of that also and , feels that they’ve contributed to a job well done. I think there’s more we can do. in terms of attracting people to voluntering. I think the top 10 tips published by Volunteer Now at a recent launch was a really impressive toolkit for local government. Also as Chief Medical Officer I would be missing a trick if I was not communicating to the public that there is real benefits for you in terms of your mental health and wellbeing that volunteering good for your health.

Q: Have you done voluntary work? A: I have in the past, yes. When I was a teenager I volunteered with Volunteer Service Belfast. I can remember wallpapering in west Belfast. I recall putting paste over wallpaper at one point until I was advised that wasn’t what you did. I learnt how to ensure that you started at the door and worked your way around so that the light didn’t catch the joints of paper. I also did gardening, One of the team in my department has organised a number of events where we go off to Glebe House, a young people’s facility, and we chop down trees. I have done it once or twice, not as often as I would have liked.

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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Full credit due to five volunteers Reunited: Tom Murphy, left, outside the Credit Union office in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast, with Jerome Dawson, Val McMurray, Ronald Thompson and Malachy McMullan


By Brian Pelan

ive men who were all involved in starting up the Credit Union office in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast, were once again reunited to relive the story of how they volunteered their time to set up the branch. Between them they have around 179 years of dedicated service to an ideal of providing support to their community. Val McMurray said: “Back in 1967 we had heard a lot of good words about the work done by Credit Unions in other parts of ireland. A group of us in the parish here got together to talk about us setting up a branch in the area. “We got the former SDLP leader John Hume, who was involved in setting up one of the first Credit Unions in Ireland, to talk to us. “He explained what a Credit Union did and how it could help the community. We decided to go ahead but we all understood that it would be on a voluntary basis.” Malachy McMullan, who moved to the area in 1970, laughed as he recalled being “made a supervisor on the spot” after a friend introduced him to the Credit Union branch. “I never got promotion as quick in my life.” He has been with the branch for over 46 years now and serves on the board. Jerome Dawson recalled being

Early days: Jerome Dawson, left, with Brendan Small, Jack McDaid and Tom Fleming interviewed by the late journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was shot dead in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in 2001. The interview was for a book Martin was writing about volunteering called ‘Stories From The Edge’. Jerome told how Martin had done the entire book on a voluntary basis. “I don’t know whether anyone knew that,” he said “We started off the branch in the parochial hall next to St Colmcilles Church on the Upper Newtownards Road.” The branch has grown since its early days and now occupies premises on the front of the road in Ballyhackamore. Tom Murphy said he decided to get involved after reading about Credit Unions in a magazine. “I liked the idea of helping ourselves to help others. Also money-lending –

official and unofficial – at that time was rife and they were charging exorbitant rates. I was number 52 on our branch roll. “I would also like to mention founding member Brian O’Neill who was unable to be here today.” Ronald Thompson said he recalled being recruited by Tom Murphy. “He knocked on my door and got me to go along to a meeting about the Credit Union.” All of the men expressed their pride in setting up the branch. They also urged young people to get involved in volunteering. “It gives you a sense of social responsibility,” said Tom. “It’s not all about yourself. It’s about how you relate to other people and help build your community.”

The Big Picture

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

Volunteers Noel Johnston and Olivia Cosgrove putting their best feet forward in Belfast just before going to Batley in England to take part in a National Lottery funded walk They will be walking across England and Northern Ireland, visiting people doing great things in their community. People are invited to join them along the way - ( mes/the-great-big-walk). They will finish back home in Belfast for a Big Lunch event in the Holylands, south Belfast, on June 18, as part of the UK-wide Big Lunch Day

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The Flower Pot Men VIEW, Issue 43, 2017


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The good life: Michael Gallagher, left, with Bill Harris, Arthur Cudden, Brian McCormack and Alan Kane

By Brian Pelan

came across the ‘Flower Pot Men’ in a well-kept corner of north Belfast and I’m pleased to report that they are doing well in a community garden that bring joy into their lives. One of the volunteers, Bill Harris, who works at the community garden at Glenbank Park, Ligoniel Road, told me how he first got involved. “I was volunteering at the north Belfast’s Men’s Shed project. They were asked would they take over this site which at the time was totally derelict. “We’ve been here about three years now and have the support of Volunteer Now and Belfast City Council. “Everybody who comes here has an individual reason for doing so. It was a big change in my life when I retired as you no longer had a structure to your day. You didn’t have a reason to get up and get washed and shaved. “Volunteering helps to fill the gap in my life.” There are seven regular volunteers at the site, including a young woman. Alan Kane, who is a joiner by trade, has used his skills, since retiring, to help

The Flower Pot Men was first transmitted on BBC in 1952, and repeated regularly for more than 20 years

improve the garden.“It’s great to be here and enjoy the fresh air. “During the winter we all sit in the shed and talk about what we are going to do the following year.” Alan and Bill both urged more people across the community to get involved in the project. A variety of flowers and plants are grown in the community garden, including tulips, daffodils, sweetcorn, onions, turnips, chilli peppers, potatoes and rhubarb. “People passing the garden are able to come and take some of the produce away with them for free,” said Alan. “Also we

give away some of the surplus vegetables to pensioners living in the nearby area.” The garden is obviously a big part of Alan’s life. “I’ve been coming here for a year-and-a-half now and I haven’t missed a day yet,” he said. Brian McCormack, who also volunteers, has been present from the start when the community garden was set up. He retired from a life spent working on the railways for health reasons. “The humour amongst us is great and there is no stress involved. You get a huge amount of satisfaction from planting a wee seed and watch it growing.” The group of volunteers call themselves ‘The Flower Pot Men’. People of a certain age may recall the popular BBC programme of the same name that was broadcast for many years. A time of innocence has been captured in a little garden in north Belfast. It was a pleasure to meet these charming volunteers. • A full list of community gardens and allotments can be found at

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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Simply sensational

Enchanted woods: Grainne Maguire with Leonor Faria, Martha Faria, Aoife Casey, Cooper Jones, Alex Mirron, Anna Nolan and Killian Fludgate in Rathwood, County Carlow Image: Michael O’Rourke


By Jillian Godsil

he call went out two weeks ago on Twitter – looking for anyone willing and able to shoot fairies. And elves was added almost as an afterthought. The provocative nature of the call to action was enough to garner interest and within 24 hours the Irish charity Sensational Kids not only had secured the services of a photographer but also the services of a filmmaker and both of them were offered pro bono. There are different reasons why people volunteer. Sometimes it comes from a cause close to home. This was the impetus behind the establishment of Sensational Kids by Karen Leigh in 2007. She experienced lengthy waiting lists and a lack of affordable occupational therapy services for her own children. Her response was to found her charity that offers accessible and affordable development and educational services for children with special educational needs. She fundraised with family and friends, raising €100,000 initially, before opening

the doors to their first children in 2009. Since then the charity has grown from employing one full-time and one part-time person to nine full-time people. In the past decade the charity has helped more than 3,000 children and saved their parents more than half-a-million in therapy fees. However, the charity receives no government money and has to rely on their supporters’ goodwill and donations from public and corporate partners. One of their biggest fundraisers is the annual Fairy and Elf Festival held this year on September 9 and10 in Rathwood in County Carlow. Rathwood is a corporate partner supporting Sensational Kids but so too were the brave supporters who donned fairy and elf costumes and allowed themselves to be photographed deep in the enchanted woods at Rathwood. Michael O’Rourke was the photographer who donated his time and expertise to produce the exquisite photography. Sean Kehoe, filmmaker, had just finished his film degree college and volunteered to produce a viral-esque series of videos to promote the festival over the coming months. Such was the

impression he made on everyone he was offered filming work by the owners of Rathwood as well as by one of the fairies – otherwise known as Grainne Maguire, owner of Orthoscopics Ireland which makes lenses for children with visual colour difficulties. Ellen Kavanagh, founder of Waxperts and enjoying a huge social media following also volunteered. She brought her young son Cooper, who dressed up as a buzzy bee and definitely stole the show. Volunteerism is well engrained in the psyche of the Irish. For Karen the hard work she puts into the charity parallels the same passion she feels for her own children. Her dedication has won her numerous awards including winner of the 2017 All Stars Charity of the Year. The fairies and elves who paraded in their colourful costumes for several hours on one of the hottest days of the year were also volunteers and can now never forget their experience – captured as they are in the beautiful launch shots. For more information or to book your ticket please visit

Supporting the voluntary sector VIEW, Issue 43, 2017


he genesis of the VSB Foundation dates back to 2003 at that time Voluntary Service Bureau received a small amount of funding from Atlantic Philanthropies to investigate the need for independent charitable funders in Northern Ireland. The outworking was the formal creation of the VSB Foundation in 2005; it was not however until the merger of the majority of the volunteering infrastructure organisations and the creation of Volunteer Now in 2010 that the VSB Foundation with the residual assets of VSB became fully operational. The VSB Foundation is a small entity with assets of approximately £2.5 million. The VSB Foundation has two strategic aims: 1. To research, actively encourage and promote voluntary engagement and participation of individuals and communities in wider society. 2. To support the voluntary sector to be more effective and efficient with their resources and to promote the sector to the general public. The activities to date have included:

• Trustee Governance: – A collaborative research project and major conference with organisations in the sector lead by Volunteer Now.

• Good Governance Awards: – A three-year programme to support good governance within the sector. The first award was presented at Stormont in November 2016 to The Rainbow Project. This project is undertaken in partnership with CO3 and Volunteer Now.

• Women and the Criminal Justice System: – This work was in partnership with the Pilgrim Trust and included a small grants programme for organisations with a specific focus on female offenders. In 2015 we commissioned independent research to explore the landscape of statutory and community interventions supporting women who offend and those at risk of offending. The report was launched at a symposium opened by the Department of

By Brian Gibson, chairperson, VSB Foundation

Justice Minister David Ford in April 2016.

• Voluntary Sector and Prison Reform: – Commissioned independent research and facilitated collaborative work within the sector in responding to prison reform. The initial research was updated in 2016. The VSB Foundation also part sponsored an edition of VIEW magazine on the theme of Prisons and Justice. • The Voice of Migrant Women in Northern Ireland: – This is a new area of work in partnership with the Pilgrim Trust. The project will operate for three years and involve small awards to four to six organisations working with black and ethnic minority women. It is intended that the cohort of groups will collaborate to, share practice and experiences; create awareness of the issues facing women from the BME communities and develop policy matters.

• Voluntary Sector and Suicide Prevention: – In 2016 the Trustees agreed to investigate how the VSB Foundation could support organisations, particularly smaller community-based ones, engaged in the very sensitive area of suicide prevention. Following some preliminary work an experienced independent consultant was commissioned to assist small organisations respond to the ‘Protect Life’ consultation being

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carried out by the Department of Health. In addition the consultant was to identify if there were other areas that might benefit from a small intervention by the Foundation. This work is ongoing and the Trustees will consider future actions based on the report from the consultant for a three-year programme.

• Volunteering Infrastructure: – The VSB Foundation emerged from the strategic decisions taken by Trustees across Northern Ireland to merge their organisations and create a stronger integrated service for volunteers and organisations. As part of this legacy the VSB Foundation is committed to supporting Volunteer Now as the volunteering infrastructure organisation in Northern Ireland.The VSB Foundation has supported Volunteer Now to develop its website to promote and match volunteers and volunteering opportunities; engage with the new local councils and to produce a practice guide for councils on the involvement of volunteers. • Grant Awards: – This is not a high priority for the Trustees but from time to time small awards are made in line with the VSB Foundation’s’ objectives. Two awards have been made, one for the work by Dan Gordon with young men in east Belfast in the production of More Than A Flag and a second to the Make It Work Campaign for their project with young people on civic engagement.

The VSB Foundation was keen to support this edition of VIEW for several reasons; first and foremost it fits within our aims of promoting voluntary engagement and promoting the voluntary sector. Secondly to showcase, highlight and discuss the impact of volunteering and civic engagement. Finally, it provides an ideal opportunity to partner with Volunteer Now in the production of the magazine during Volunteers Week to celebrate and thank all those who enrich our lives as volunteers. • For more information on the VSB Foundation, go to

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VIEW, Issue 43, 2017


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Volunteering for a governance role


Eileen Mullan urges people to give time and share their skills in a charity and believes they will be amazed by what they will get in return by becoming a trustee on a board

hen it comes to volunteering, it should be about giving time to what matters to you and in doing that you get to

share your skills. We all live in a society surrounded by people doing good with many charities delivering services and support to those most in need every day. These organisations need people to serve on their board of trustees and ensure that it delivers on its governance roles and responsibilities. It’s not always easy to get people to volunteer for the role of a trustee. The worry about legal responsibilities is not usually the first reason for people not coming forward, it tends more about them thinking they have not got the skills or indeed have nothing to give. This is far from the reality, being on a board allows you support, share and ensure the future of the charity.You get to do this with a group of people who are all committed to the same cause, but all have different skills and experiences to give. I have found that there is no better way for me to support a cause that matters, than to give my time and share my skills in these civic leadership roles. When I joined the Board of Trustees for Age NI, I was motivated by watching the impact of older life on my parents, how society began to treat them differently, without dignity and without compassion. I’m not a nurse or a carer, but I knew I wanted to do something where I could help our older people live full and happy lives. Being part of the Board of Trustees at Age NI meant I got to ensure the organisation is there every day for our older people, that it continues to grow and develop to meet the increasing needs of our older people and that we influence society into understanding how valuable 1



Organisations need people to serve on their board of trustees and ensure that it delivers on its governance roles and responsibilities

our older citizens are. Governance is not that difficult to get to grips with, there are a set of rules and regulations within which we must work, and in doing so we ensure that the primary purpose of the charity is

at the forefront. Everyone can be taught about the governance role, they can be shown how the organisation works. But what is really needed is our trustees to have curiosity, commitment and courage. I never failed to be amazed by what I learn every day when I volunteer in these civic roles. I am firm believer in that we get far more in return that what we give. We all have a civic role to play, and we will all choose different ways of doing it, but boardrooms need you, don’t be afraid to give your time and share your skills.You will be amazed by what you get in return.

• Eileen Mullan is Chair of the Board of Trustees at Age NI. Eileen is a champion for encouraging people to take on board roles, she is founder of Strictly Boardroom which provides an online notice board of board opportunities across Northern Ireland. A trusted board adviser, she supports and nurtures boards in navigating their governance roles and responsibilities.

• Whether you are a member of a management committee/board or working to support management committees, you will find the site DIY Committee Guide ( full of useful resources. It was originally developed in 2005 by the Volunteer Development Agency (now Volunteer Now) in partnership with 14 other organisations. It provides a central point of access to a wide range of resources


VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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Delivery of our Public Services on the agenda

Volunteer Now team: Caroline Bickerstaff, left, with Wenda Gray, Julie-Ann Ashe and Jane Gribbin and, right the front of Crumlin Road Gaol where the Delivery of Public Services conference took place

Leadership and Good Governance Award

The Leadership and Good Governance Award, organised by the VSB Foundation in partnership with CO3 and Volunteer Now, recognises voluntary organisations, which are working hard to improve their governance. Wendy Osborne, OBE, Chief Executive,Volunteer Now, said: “Leadership and Good Governance is key to what steers an organisation in the right path. The different components of the organisation would not function correctly without leadership and ensuring procedures are followed is down to governance. It is great to see organisations recognising the need for Leadership and Good Governance in delivering high quality services.” If you think your organisation has great governance in place you can apply for the 2017 Leadership and Good Governance Awards. There will be two awards this year, one for organisations with an income of over £500,000 and one for smaller organisations with an income of below £500,000. Both winning organisations will receive £1,000. Closing date for entries is September 8, 2017. For more information and an application form go to or

Conference report

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

Crumlin Road Gaol, May 2017 By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

We believe volunteers bring something special to service provision


HE crucial role of volunteers in the delivery of public services was highlighted last month at a packed conference in Crumlin Road Gaol in north Belfast. Organised by Volunteer Now, the Delivery of Public Services conference was opened by the organisation’s Chief Executive Wendy Osborne. Ms Osborne said: “I do hope everyone here will do something to recognise and acknowledge the contribution of volunteers within and for your organisations. In 2015 during Volunteers Week Matt Hill, a researcher on volunteering, delivered a blog on volunteers involved in public service delivery and he very helpfully suggested three elements in relation to what it means. “The first is Public Provision – linked to services directly provided by statutory agencies such as health and social care trusts or schools. The second is Public Responsibility that includes services that government is responsible for even if they do not directly run or fund them, such as lifeboats or care homes. “The third is Public Benefit – this is the broadest approach and encompasses all activity that offers a service to the public; this pretty much includes all volunteering be it coaching a sport, doing shopping for an elderly neighbour or campaigning to improve rural transport services. “While Volunteer Now is interested in all aspects of volunteering, for today the main focus is Public Provision and Public Responsibility. In reality volunteer involvement is not new as part of the delivery of public services. In schools we have school governors and in health and

Vital: Peter O’Reilly, Chief Executive, Manchester Fire and Rescue Service

social care we have befrienders and volunteer drivers. Often volunteers within the voluntary and community sector lead the way in meeting the needs that eventually become part of statutory delivery of services. “As austerity continues to bite and in particular as health budgets feature high on government agendas, we are seeing a shift towards promoting wellbeing and preventative interventions that mobilise individuals and provide opportunities for people to be engaged in both shaping and delivering public services that affect their lives.” Ms Osborne added: “We of course believe that the involvement of volunteers brings something special to service provision.” Among those who addressed the conference were Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland; Arthur Scott, Director,Voluntary and Community Directorate, Department for Communities; Peter O’Reilly, Chief Executive, Manchester Fire and Rescue Service; Sharon O’Connor, Chairperson,

Wendy Osborne, Chief Executive Volunteer Now

Education Authority; John Knape, Head of Communications, Policy and Marketing, Royal College of Nursing; Nigel Grimshaw, Director of City and Neighbourhood Services, Belfast City Council, and Aine Kearney, Director of Business Support and Events, Tourism NI. Other speakers were Olwyn Lyner, Chief Executive, NIACRO; Dr Ian Humphries, Chief Executive, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, and Billy Murphy, Director of Mental Health Services, Inspire. Mr O’Reilly, Chief Executive, Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, who worked for 21 years in Northern Ireland as a firefighter, junior officer and district commander, told the conference of the vital work played by volunteers in the city. “We had just entered a challenging austerity time in Manchester whereby we had to find a budget cut of £28 million over the last six years. “We have had to reduce firefighters numbers. “I proposed that £250,000 was targeted at volunteers. It wasn’t the case that they would replace firefighters but we had to change how we would deliver a fire and rescue service. “Part of our ambition, regardless of what we had to face as an organisation, was we wanted to engage with communities that we knew we were not engaging with. “A lot of people also wanted to have a connection with the Fire and Rescue Service. They want to give something back to their community.” Mr O’Reilly added: “Volunteering is an offer to everyone living in Manchester to get involved with the Fire and Rescue Service.”


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Above: Wendy Osborne, left, Chief Executive, Volunteer Now, with Sharon O’Connor, Chairperson, Education Authority; Peter O’Reilly, Chief Executive of the Manchester Fire and Rescue Service; Aine Kearney, Director of Business Support and Events, Tourism NI, and Cate Taggart, Community Development Manager, Belfast City Council, and below, some of the audience present at the conference

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Denise looking forward to new Chief Executive role


Excited: Denise Hayward is looking forward to her new position at Volunteer Now

enise Hayward, who was at the conference at Crumlin Road Gaol, told VIEW how delighted she was to be taking on the role of Chief Executive of Volunteer Now in August after its present CEO Wendy Osborne steps down. “I have been with the organisation for just over 15 years now. “I applied for the position of COE because I love volunteering. Without

volunteers so many things in society would not happen. Sport, youth-led projects and faith-based activities are heavily reliant on people giving up their time to volunteer “The issue of support for volunteers is another area that I am passionately interested in. “Because of austerity, a lot of organisations have scaled back on their paid staff, which means that they need a lot

more involvement from volunteers but are not investing in the support that they need. We have to tackle this issue. “On a personal note I have to say that I love being a volunteer. I help out on at present on a talking newspaper in Armagh which is sent out through the library service to people who can’t read themselves. “It’s great to think that you are making a difference.”

The sisters who care about volunteers Fionnguala McCotter and her sister Maura McCotter may have had separate career journeys but both are now immersed in the world of volunteers. Both of them attended the Volunteer Now conference. Fionnguala, the principal of Scoil an Droichid Primary School in south Belfast, said: “We have numerous volunteers at the school, including students. We could not exist without them.” Maura added: “I’m the volunteer co-ordinator for the Northern Trust, which is one of the biggest trusts across the north of Ireland. My role is to manage and support volunteers and to engage with staff and management in the promotion of volunteering.”

Fionnguala and Maura McCotter


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Challenges posed by civic engagement


Dr Peter Doran from Queen’s University School of Law asks who will speak truth to power when outcomes and funding are, in the final analysis, down to a game of second guessing the limits of a civil servant’s mandate

ur uncertain times have triggered a deluge of conversations and initiatives while our practices are informed by a deep sense that we are all on the cusp of change. Old binaries of identification have been joined by new and complex choices, notably those presented by the prospect of Brexit. History appears to be accelerating and precariousness has become the new normal. A radical take on wellbeing is all about those capabilities that make us effective, empowered and engaged citizens. This is wellbeing understood as those precious human capabilities that must be protected and supported if we are to enjoy a sense of freedom and agency. It embraces language, culture, power, connection and regard, volunteerism and ecology. As one activist put it: Wellbeing “can be an invitation to transform connections so that we become “hosts and guests” rather than “delivery agents and recipients”, reclaiming the commons of mutual aid and reciprocity. Tellingly, the MIT scholar Otto Scharmer asks: ‘Why do governments deliver things nobody wants?’ There is a growing disconnect between the entrenched agendas of government and the demands of civil society organisations or NGOs demanding non-violent responses to conflict, the end of scandalous inequalities in wealth and power, and new visions of sustainable prosperity defined by the limits of our planetary boundaries (e.g. addressing climate change). Scharmer points out that what governments blithely dismiss as ‘externalities’ or by-products (environmental pollution, poverty, mental health crises, attention deficit) are actually the inevitable results of fragmented and compromised public administrations. In such circumstances the overwhelming power and influence of corporate and financial interests go by default. While civic engagement often poses complex predicaments, states and govern-

We need to cultivate more spaces for truth telling, so that civic engagement retains the integrity of speaking truth to power ments are in the business of aggregation and simplification e.g. OBA (Outcomes Based Accountability). Our wellbeing conversations taking place across civil society often imply a much more nuanced and critical awareness of the complex and interdependent systems that enfold us (ethical-social-economic-ecological) as we struggle with the day-to-day disciplines of funding crises and neoliberal logics that hollow out our sense of purpose, intention and generosity. Take complex questions of ‘addiction’ or ‘obesity’ and you soon come to the conclusion that they cannot be addressed without asking the most profound questions about the nature of our public

realm, commercialisation, advertising and the need to re-frame the very questions we ask. Who will link addiction to the crises of loneliness, the commercially-driven culture of ‘extrinsic values’ that encourage narcissism and the psychic wounds that result from unequal access to celebrity-endorsed brands and lifestyles? Who will regulate ruthless advertising of addictive foods targeted at children, whose blighted lives are treated as the externalities of profiteering and sovereign competition? Who will speak truth to power when community organisational outcomes and funding are, in the final analysis, down to a game of second guessing the limits of a civil servant’s mandate? What is striking is that the term ‘wellbeing’ has come to prominence – not so much as a hopeful sign of transformation – but as an emerging sign of recognition that our most powerful systems of governance, economics and administration are, themselves imposing material and psychological costs. Institutional and administrative demands – imprinted with the DNA of neoliberal disciplines such as austerity – impose intense competition, individualism, fragmentation and a pervasive narrative about scarcity that can compromise our resourcefulness and passion. Stories carry the truth of human experience, helping us to navigate our desires for agency and belonging. We need to cultivate more spaces for truth telling, so that civic engagement retains the integrity of speaking truth to power. Speaking and embodying our truth is intimately and integrally linked to our collective capacity to care for one another, and for ourselves. When we lose this capacity, our work is increasingly marked by routine and an alienation from our original intention: a recipe for ‘burn out’ and exhaustion. Wellbeing is bound up with questions of power and agency; questions of power often stand between the care we bring to ourselves/others, and to the practices of our organisations and society.

Volunteering to bring people on a journey into Belfast’s radical past VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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By Una Murphy

OLUNTEERS are set to help unveil Belfast’s radical past by showing tourists and local people around the magnificent Clifton House. They completed training at the city’s former ‘poor house’ and will now help staff at the 18th century Grade A listed building to give guided tours to those who are interested in Belfast’s rich heritage, including the contribution made by social reformer Mary Ann McCracken, whose brother Henry Joy McCracken helped established the first Society of the United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791. I met Jim Ferran, 57, from Ballinderry, Co Down, and Lynne Murray, 38, from Banbridge, Co Down, to ask them about volunteering to be part of Northern Ireland’s burgeoning heritage sector in the splendid surroundings of Clifton House – one of the finest surviving pieces of Georgian Belfast.

‘My great

grandmother had been here in the poor house when her father died

We chatted in the foyer of the building where the bust of Mary McCracken is on display. Lynne, a former office manager who is planning a new career in the heritage sector, said: “I found out what Mary Ann McCracken did for the poor of Belfast. She is overshadowed by her brother Henry Joy McCracken. I learned the true story of what she really did. Mary Ann had a long life of helping people.” Jim, a former NHS senior manager, who attended nearby St Malachy’s College on the Antrim Road, had a special reason for getting involved in Clifton House as a volunteer. “My great grandmother had been here in the poor house when her father died. “She was young and her family

Lynne Murray and Jim Ferran at the bust of Mary McCracken in Clifton House on North Queen Street, Belfast

who were living in the outskirts of Belfast became destitute, he said. “This prompted me to find out more about the history of the poor house. “I found information about the training to become a volunteer tour guide through social media,” Lynne added. Jim also plans to volunteer his time doing photography for Clifton House. Louise Canavan, Heritage and Archive Manager at Clifton House, said: “We are lucky with our volunteers, they were incredibly energetic and enthusiastic about the heritage of Clifton House and they are looking forward to telling the story about the history of the house.” Jim and Lynne, along with Gretta Thompson, 45, a social worker who lives in Hillsborough and works in Mount Vernon in north Belfast, have all received certificates to mark the completion of their five-week training as volunteer tour guides at Clifton House. They were among a group of volunteers and unemployed people who completed courses in tourism, hospitality, security training and care management. The training was paid for by the Barbour Fund – trust funds

established by the Barbour family who owned Barbour Thread Mill at Hilden, Co Antrim, set up in 1823, and in its time one of the largest thread making works in the world. Gretta told me that she volunteers for the heritage tours on her days off and at weekends due to her interest in history of the city in the late 1700s – around the time the poor house was first opened. “I’m a history nerd and when I saw the volunteer training advertised I thought it was a great way to find out more about the history of Belfast, as Clifton House is central to that history. It was kind of volunteering through a personal interest,” Gretta said. Her most difficult question to date was when she was in the board room at Clifton House and a visitor asked what the value of money listed on the subscription list for the poor from members of the congregation of St George’s Church in High Street was worth today. She said she has now honed up on her mental arithmetic, which proves you learn all sorts of skills when you’re a volunteer. • To find out more about Clifton House, go to

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Friendship on the menu Some of the runners and helpers from the Belfast Friendship Club at this year’s marathon in Belfast


By Catherine Couvert

he Belfast Friendship Club (BFC) is an international meeting place where solidarity and respect for diversity are basic principles. Members from all walks of life and nationalities put a tremendous amount of time and energy into making the club run smoothly, and volunteer in myriads of wonderful ways for other organisations. Sonam, from Tibet, has been in Belfast for six years. He is not allowed to take on paid work while waiting on his asylum decision. A talented photographer, he has documented BFC events through images and film. He served food at the 2015 Big Lunch, and joined marathon relay teams to raise funds for the club. He took photographs at a major international conference last year, and gave help to SOS NI, offering tea, soup and support to vulnerable people on the streets of Belfast. “I always want to do something for others. I volunteer to help people, meet new people and get experience. Coming from a different culture, I have a lot to learn about here. It’s a good way to do it.” Vicky, from Belfast, is BFC’s resident DJ. She had volunteered for many years as a charity shop deputy manager before she

came across the group in 2015. She often takes on meet-and-greet and other responsibilities for BFC events, including a Refugee Week concert. “It means so much to be out, meet people, it gives you a purpose.’ When Common Ground Café in Belfast, where the BFC meets, offered the group an old turntable. “Stephanie (BFC’s coordinator) says my eyes lit up. I offered to bring some vinyls and that’s how I started. I have a passion for vinyl and disco. I like that the music makes people visibly happier when they walk into the place,” said Vicky. Also from Belfast, Bronagh raised her two children as a single parent. “Now that they have lives of their own I have more time for community involvement,” she said. She organises refreshments for the Thursday night gatherings, and was one of this year’s marathon runners.  Having lived away for 11 years, Bronagh said she understands how “a new city can be a very lonely place, so to know that there is a welcoming place where you can make friends from all over the world and get a free cup of tea or coffee is very reassuring. I get so much from seeing others enjoying the gatherings and knowing that for many it’s a vital part of their week”.

Sarah first came to Belfast as an international student and now works for an NGO. She describes her BFC role as “meet and greet, being approachable, making newcomers to the group feel welcome and safe, and being an ideas person”. She was given the task of coordinating rotas for the club’s annual weekend away, “ensuring everyone has a meaningful role”. She is also on the board of a youth art organisation and volunteers for a women’s group. “The BFC is my place to be myself. In work I’m the American, I’m different. In BFC everyone is different, so I belong,” added Sarah. Gobi, a Sri Lankan refugee, cooks for larger BFC events, and will be one of the chefs for a Big Lunch event coming up on June 18 in the Holylands area of south Belfast: “I have learnt new food preparation techniques and built relationships. Now I know everyone and everyone knows me. “And I like to tell them about BFC, where everyone is respected and can freely share problems and information.”

• You are very welcome to the Big Lunch:


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Developing a positive relationship

Catherine Taggart, Community Development Manager, Belfast City Council, says their Volunteering Charter aims to enhance the positive contribution which volunteering makes across the city


ouncils are about delivering services and meeting needs; and as the civic leader for Belfast, we want to engage with citizens and volunteers to build positive relationships so that we can design services and activities that meet their needs. As well as supporting and extending service delivery, quality volunteering gives us an insight in to what citizens really want and this is complementary to but quite distinct to the contribution made by paid staff. Belfast City Council has a long established and highly valued relationship with a wide range of volunteers across the city – we recognised a long time ago the value volunteers can bring to the organisation. This volunteering tradition supports the delivery of a range of services, including projects in community and play centres, parks, environmental clean-ups and city events – so we can often find the right role to match the individual’s interest. In 2015, Belfast City Council decided to broaden its service Volunteer support by developing a Corporate Volunteer Policy in line with the NI Volunteering Strategy published by the Executive in March 2012 to help us support volunteers effectively. We also developed a Volunteering Charter which commits to a set of underlying principles and good practice. It recognises and supports volunteering and aims to enhance the positive contribution volunteering makes across the city. To help us develop an effective and realistic policy we decided to focus the 1



We were delighted to secure the support of Volunteer Now who acted as an advisor and a ‘critical friend’

initial work on our Community Services section, which commits to over 70,000 hours of volunteer support every year. We began by looking at our position, the impact of volunteers and what needed to improve to ensure a positive experience for both the volunteer and council. We were delighted to secure the support of Volunteer Now who acted as an adviser and a ‘critical friend’. Helping us to identify not only the gaps in the process, but how to deal with these. The result of this initial work was the Volunteer Framework for Community Services which set out our intentions towards volunteers and outlined procedures and guidelines. Having tested the framework, the next step was to engage with other council services to develop a Corporate Volunteering Policy. We engaged with staff and involved trade unions, which helped staff feel comfortable with volunteers working alongside them, helping them see the value added by volunteers. The Council Volunteer Policy was ratified in March 2017. However the work isn’t finished. We’re now beginning the roll out of the policy and finalising the supporting procedures and guidelines. Developing the policy has been an ongoing learning experience, we’re now raising awareness of the policy and providing related training for staff and volunteers. Our Corporate Volunteering Policy is already reaping rewards, including the council’s formal commitment to volunteering and to the celebration of our volunteers through the annual Older Volunteer Awards.

How ‘volunesia’ helped Lora-Jane VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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By Una Murphy

ora-Jane McDonnell, 37, is a volunteer with the East Belfast Independent Advice Centre (EBIAC). After working in Belfast City Airport in a highly pressurised job as a load controller, ensuring aircraft fuel and passengers are loaded and the plane is cleaned during a tight turn-around, she was struck down with mental illness. “I felt I was not ever going to have control of my life again,” she told me when I visited the busy advice centre on Templemore Avenue. Lora-Jane appears very much in control of her life now. Professional and efficient she has been able to turn her life around through volunteering. She calls her experience “volunesia” – a new word to me, I have to admit. It simply means getting even more out of your volunteering experience than you put in. That’s not to say that Lora has not put a lot into her volunteering as well. Encouraged by the staff team she has completed all the necessary training to give high quality advice to people who are now coming to the centre in distress themselves, many unable to cope with completing forms to receive welfare benefits. Lora-Jane, who lives with her family in east Belfast, told me: “I joined a self help group run by the Oasis Centre to get me out of the house. Someone from EBIAC gave a talk about the services they provide and said they were looking for volunteers. “Following the training I gained through EBIAC I am now able to give people factual advice. The support I got for the first year was unbelievable.” Lora-Jane spent a year training under close supervision from her colleagues and also took courses at the Law Centre Northern Ireland. “There is a great appreciation from the clients for what I can do to help them, such as helping them to fill in benefit forms. Some of them are not able to cope with the forms because they are ill. Some older people also struggle, as do people who do not have English as a first language or those who have literacy problems. ”Many elderly people also don’t have an awareness of what benefits they can claim. They have worked all their lives and if their spouse passes away they don’t

Lora-Jane, above, and Carlie Martin, left, who both work at the East Belfast Independent Advice Centre on the Templemore Avenue, east Belfast

know they can get extra help on top of their small pension.” Lora-Jane was asked to give a presentation about her work to an audience of more than 200 people who gathered in the Titanic Centre to celebrate the contribution volunteers make within the advice sector. Some of the staff at EBIAC first started as volunteers at the advice centre, including Carlie Martin, 29. “I live in the local area and I started as a volunteer. I didn’t realise advice services like these existed and while many more people know about the services now, many don’t get in contact until they are in dire straits,” Carlie said. “We help people who are out of work due to ill health, people with family members who are ill, even people who think they know the benefit system but

don’t know about all the changes.” Carlie said her own volunteer experience brought her essential qualifications and training which led to her present job as an EBIAC adviser “The staff at EBIAC would be lost without volunteers like Lora-Jane,” Carlie said. “The volunteers shadow staff members and discuss issues with Gerard Morgan, who manages the volunteers and takes them through their qualifications and training at the Law Centre NI, Advice NI and Housing Rights. “Anybody can apply to be a volunteer with EBIAC as long as they are happy to give up their free time and must be willing to learn,” Carlie said. • For more information about EBIAC, go to


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Call to invest in capacity building

Kate Clifford, Director of the Rural Community Network in Northern Ireland, says that volunteers have played a vital role as communities grapple with the effects of austerity


o what is it like for rural communities today? The answer is that it is a diverse situation. As a region Northern Ireland has undergone significant change. We have seen the outworking of the reform of public administration in the education and youth, health services and the reform of local government structures. With the added complication of Brexit it feels like everything is changing and with that comes uncertainty and challenge. For some rural areas, there is evidence of them having the capacity to rise to these challenges and they are able to respond to them in a way that somewhat defers the potential negative impact from their community. But for others, the challenges have been hard to bear and the response hasn’t been as positive. Some of these communities are being well supported by local networks and regional bodies but crucially they need consistent, ongoing support and this can be difficult to secure when agencies are working on short term contracts and with uncertain funding streams. The impact of the economic downturn on the whole region means some employment sectors have suffered more than others; while engineering is booming, construction is in decline, while farming employment is in decline there is growth in the agri-food industry. The result is that rural areas are fairing differently during this time – some areas are thriving and some are facing deepening challenges. We have become increasingly aware of the issue of the working poor – those who have employment but who are barely surviving the increasing costs of fuel, food and essentials. We have seen a growth in food banks, the closure of some community services and the ending of funding streams which bring with them an end to local provision of some services 2


We have become increasingly aware of the issue of the working poor – those who have employment but who are barely surviving the increasing costs of fuel, food and essentials

and support mechanisms for communities. But we have also seen fantastic community and volunteer led responses to these issues. Food banks are being established and supported, communities are seeking ways to support those who are marginalised or in danger of falling through the net through the development of Good Morning projects, luncheon clubs, youth clubs, etc all run and managed by volunteers. We see those who are building new facilities and refurbishing halls undertaking hours of fundraising activities which not only engender a self-help spirit but also bring a sense of community achievement when the halls and facilities do open. Our experience of working and living in rural communities enables us to see the resilience and ambition of many communities to provide state-of-the-art facilities, centres of excellence and in some cases provide wrap-around services from cradle to the grave. We see a drive and an enthusiasm within communities to develop new projects and programmes of work to continue to meet local needs. We see the development of new volunteer-led groups and initiatives and the growth in interest of groups and individuals to respond to and engage with policy makers, politics, and agencies like ours who provide support guidance and advice to local groups. The building of capacity for individuals is core to this process and it is important to understand that capacity within and between communities is different and develops at different rates. There is real danger that if the state passes power and responsibility to local communities without the necessary resources and support, some will rise to the challenge and others will not. We believe government must continue to invest in capacity building for rural communities, even in times of financial austerity.

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I can see my imagination

Creative: Children taking part in the Fighting Words Belfast scheme


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Retired English teacher Jane Craven talks about her work as a volunteer with the Fighting Words Belfast project

n 2015 I volunteered to assist with the Fighting Words Belfast Project – a creative writing centre based at the Skainos Centre in the east of the city that aims to spark the imagination of children and young people across Northern Ireland. I had just ended a connection with a children’s centre and missed the contact with children in a learning environment. As a retired English teacher, I was also greatly interested in the experience of creating stories. I attended a training session where I met people, young and older, students, retired people, workers whose employers encouraged participation in some voluntary work. The session was enlightening, joyful and very encouraging. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to enjoy this experience. For nearly two years I have been taking part in a variety of sessions. The structure is clear, well directed and always allows for the production of amazing stories. Imagination runs away with itself and produces the funniest, strangest, most enlightening stories. The presence of an illustrator is invaluable. But I have to say it is the illustrations produced by the children themselves that I find most wonderful. One day a boy of about nine years of age had been having a hard time getting his story down on paper. Another boy at the table spoke with him quite a lot and with

only 10 minutes left he took off. It was amazing to watch how quickly the most fantastic story flowed from his pencil. When he was leaving I was saying goodbye and asked him how he felt. He said, “I can see my imagination and it is this big!” as he extended his arms as wide as he could. We were both delighted with ourselves . On another occasion a girl of about 13 years of age had been very quiet through the whole writing process and had looked very serious. She had not asked anyone for any assistance. In the end she volunteered to read her story (there is an opportunity for some participants to read their stories to all the other participants). It was excellent. For the first time in the afternoon she smiled. When she was going home I asked her if she had enjoyed the session. She said: “It is the most stressful thing I have ever done.” There was a short pause and then she said: “This is the best school trip I’ve ever been on. Can we come back?” So as a volunteer I feel I am participating in a project which is of enormous value to the participants. It gives me the opportunity to use some of my past experience. My contribution has some value. It is also a joy to meet so many great young people. A part of my life has been spent trying to have the world focus on the centrality of children.You could not invest enough in work such as this. And as a volunteer I

have a responsibility to ensure that the children are happy, challenged and productive. But I also have the opportunity to be in the company of wonderful children and to hear and enjoy their experiences.

• Since opening its doors in March 2015 more than 4,000 young writers have been inspired and encouraged by the project’s roster of trained volunteer mentors. Fighting Words Belfast offers free creative writing workshops for school and youth groups, runs weekly after-schools Write Clubs at both Skainos and the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts in north Belfast, and delivers special programmes and outreach activities. Conversations between volunteers and young people are the trigger for the extraordinary story-writing journey that each young person embarks on during a workshop. Volunteers don’t need to be writers themselves (although some of them are); all that’s needed is respect for, and a capacity to enjoy engaging with, creative young minds. To find out more about Fighting Words Belfast, go to


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Fostering hope amongst the gloom

Writer Harry Reid believes that the spirit of volunteering and the desire to help other people can play a key role in facing up to the many challenges which face humanity in the 21st century


n his scholarly masterwork ‘The Ball Is Round’, the auteur of sports writing, sociologist David Goldblatt demonstrates that by exploring the history of the global phenomenon that Brazilians call o jogo binito or ‘beautiful game’, and examining its numerous variations of style, the way a continent, country or indeed club approaches and plays football, reveals the worldview of those engaged in what is simultaneously the planet’s favourite pastime, and in Europe, China and the oil rich Gulf States at least, the most stomach-churning branded greed-fest. So it is with social policy in general and volunteering in particular. The academic Richard Titmus demonstrated this in his book ‘The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood To Social Policy’. As he showed, the nature, extent and context of voluntary activity, motivated by a desire to assist and enable other human beings, contribute to healing and protecting our wounded, imperiled planet or otherwise make a positive contribution to the collective wellbeing of living creatures of any stripe, can act as a penetrating prism into the values, ethos and fundamental philosophy of the society in which the cumulative acts of volunteering take place. It is beguilingly easy for our individual and collective consciousness, shaped and warped by the relentless catastrophising of so much social media content, and pummelled by the 24-hour-a-day banshee of a news cycle, riddled with its whiz-bang shallowness, to conclude that we live 2


As one Declan MacManus, a.k.a. Elvis Costello, caustically asked in song: ‘What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?’

in an irredeemably dark and getting darker world. Yet key factors will require individual societies to find and nurture the spirit and practices of fraternity as a dominant credo. Volunteering will play a central role, underwritten by universal incomes, of the radically altered societies that must be forged if we are to avoid the dystopian One-Per-Cent Reich that otherwise beckons. I’m not talking here about a mass conversion to Zen Buddhism or Taoism. Rather, it is a matter of simple enlightened self-interest for collective, and indeed individual, survival. Firstly, the digital revolution is about to go into disruptive overdrive. Artificial intelligence, robotics and the automation they’re bringing, not to a Blade Runner sci-fi medium-term future, but to the day after tomorrow, will surgically scalp so much of work in terms of paid employment and present one of the greatest challenges to people’s self-worth, identity and purchasing power we have ever witnessed. Secondly, climate change will, amongst other things, propel a torrent of refugees from countries in the developing world that will make the Syrian exodus to Europe look like a trickle, unless imaginative collaboration between the first and developing worlds emerges. As one Declan MacManus, a.k.a. Elvis Costello, caustically asked in song: ‘What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?’ Quite.

Escape from Syria: Ahmad tells why he loves volunteering with Oxfam

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Inspiration: Ahmad Alissa volunteers at the Oxfam Botanic shop in Belfast

hmad Alissa, from Aleppo in Syria, has been praised for bringing a positive attitude to volunteering with Oxfam, despite facing and overcoming great difficulties in his life. He came to Northern Ireland more than four years ago, along with his Tunisian wife Jihen and their young family (two children, aged 10 and eight). Ahmad also has a two-year-old daughter who was born in Northern Ireland). They secured their refugee status 19 months ago. Ahmad’s mother and several siblings remain in the Aleppo area. Sadly, Ahmad lost a brother in the recent aerial bombardment of the city. One sister and her family are refugees in Lebanon while two sisters and their children are refugees in Turkey. Ahmad said it was difficult to keep in touch with his family back in Syria and in the region. Despite the hardship they have experienced, Ahmad and his wife volunteer for the Oxfam Botanic shop in Belfast. He has shown exceptional commitment and per-

formance throughout his time in our shop. He has supported us in every aspect of running the store and engages with our customers to drive sales. Ahmad has made a real difference to our shop. Ahmad is the volunteer team leader in the shop on Saturdays and often calls in during the week to see if we need any help and covers the till to enable the manager to carry out other duties. He has encouraged others to volunteer in the shop too, and his wife Jihen covers the shop so we can trade on Sundays. And Ahmad has also volunteered for Oxfam in other ways, inspiring campaigners working on our Syria initiative, becoming an engaging media spokesperson and a contributing panellist with an insightful story to tell as part of a discussion following a film screening. Ahmad says: “Everything is difficult. Many refugees are stuck in limbo, not getting official recognition of their refugee status and so finding it hard to get access to services, to get jobs – so they have to go

without a lot of things.” The language classes that Ahmad attends are now free and valuable “because they break down barriers”. Despite there not being an established culture of volunteering in Syria and other Arabic countries, the couple say they have since suggested the idea to their fellow refugees in Northern Ireland, and their own example and leadership has now led others to volunteer too. Both Ahmad and Jihen feel comfortable living here in Northern Ireland, they have made friends here now and they say the public have been very welcoming. Ahmad wants to stay here in Northern Ireland “as that’s my home”. “My family in Syria have land, they have a farm, they have tractors, all these things… but you just need somewhere to be safe.” “Ahmad is an inspiration to us all and we are proud to have him as one of our valued team members,” said Mark Kinneen, Oxfam Ireland’s District Retail Manager.


VIEW, Issue 43, 2017


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Volunteering is ‘not a cheap option’

Dr Justin Davis Smith, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at the City University of London, believes volunteering contributes to good physical and mental wellbeing


olunteering is in pretty good health. Surveys have suggested that levels of engagement have remained relatively high and stable over the past couple of decades and, compared to other countries, the UK is pretty well up the international league table of participation. A recent survey of what makes Britain great had volunteering at number one. And evidence continues to mount about the impact volunteering makes both on the individual, including contributing to employability and good physical and mental wellbeing, and on society in terms of building strong and cohesive communities and reservoirs of social capital. But there is no room for complacency. Academics have pointed to the existence of a ‘civic core’ in which most volunteering and giving is carried out by a relatively small proportion of the population and recent surveys have suggested that although overall rates of volunteering remain constant the number of hours contributed over the past decade has fallen significantly. If volunteering is to retain its gloss there are certain challenges which will need to be addressed. First, we need to make sure that the opportunities for volunteering are open to all. This will mean looking at the ways in which we promote and market opportunities and ensuring that any financial barriers, such as non-payment of expenses, are removed. Second, we need to ensure that volunteering moves with the times and reflects the ways in which people live today. This means making better use of digital technology – the rise of online volunteering has been one of the major developments of the past few years; 1



Volunteering has the capacity to change lives for the better, but to fully maximise its impact in the fast changing world in which we live, we will need vision, passion and, yes, resources

and redesigning opportunities to take account of the move away from longer-term volunteering to more episodic or micro forms of engagement. There are some fabulous new groups such as Parkrun, Casserole Club and the GoodGym which are revolutionising the way we think of volunteering by seeing it not as an activity separate from leisure pursuits, but one which can be integrated with, and wrapped around, other activities such as cooking and keeping fit. We also need to find better ways of engaging business to encourage their employees to contribute their skills and experience for the good of their community, moving away from the rather tired team-challenge to a more productive skillsbased model of corporate volunteering which has been proven to deliver benefits to the business as well as to the volunteer and the community. Third, and most importantly, we need to safeguard the values of volunteering and ensure it is not exploited for political ends. Volunteering is not a cheap option to get things done when there is no money around. To get the best out of volunteering we need investment: in the infrastructure which oils the wheels and in the coordinators and managers who can ensure that the volunteering experience is the best it can be for the volunteer and the beneficiary.Volunteering has the capacity to change lives for the better, but to fully maximise its impact in the fast changing world in which we live, we will need vision, passion and, yes, resources.

For more information about the Centre for Charity Effectiveness, go to


VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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A crucial role in peace building

Neil Jarman, Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Queens University, Belfast, looks at how volunteers have benefited the peace process in Northern Ireland


orthern Ireland has benefitted from a large amount of money from the European Union, the International Fund for Ireland and a range of other sources to support and enable a wide diversity of peacebuilding work over the past two decades. But while a large number of organisations have benefited from (and continue to benefit from) these monies, many have also continued to draw upon a diverse body of volunteers to complement and extend the work of paid staff as part of the process of conflict transformation. Disputes over parades have been one of the recurrent features of the peace process and an area where voluntary activity has played an important role in reducing tensions in many locations over a number of years. Starting in the late 1990s, staff at the Community Development Centre, north Belfast, used mobile phones to connect networks of community volunteers to help reduce tensions in interface areas during the summer marching seasons, an approach that soon became ubiquitous across the north. Around the same time groups like Innate and the Committee on the Administration of Justice pulled together teams of people, largely drawn from faith and higher education backgrounds, to observe the policing of contentious parades, and later Mediation Northern Ireland developed this model to deploy groups of monitors to areas experiencing sectarian tensions to act as a deterrent and create space for dialogue. Their monitors were used over a number of years at interface areas in east Belfast, at a school in Antrim and at bonfire sites in 1



Disputes over parades have been one of the recurrent features of the peace process and an area where voluntary activity has played an important role in reducing tensions

south Down. The loyal orders have also made significant efforts in improving the behaviour of their members while they were on parade and thus reducing tensions. In 1997 the Apprentice Boys put a number of their members through a steward training scheme, based on an approach used by a Premiership football club, and over the next decade more than 1,200 members of the loyal orders undertook similar training and then regularly acted as marshals at parades and also at a range of other public events. Many of these initiative were local responses to local tensions, all relied on the time and effort of a large number of volunteers. And while they were local initiative they nevertheless drew upon approaches that had been developed in other contexts, in particular the approach to monitoring and observing borrowed from practices that had been successfully implemented in South Africa as part of their transition. And while much of the monitoring and observing work has been scaled down here as local tensions have reduced, the work has in turn been used to inform work in other locations. Over the past decade the approaches developed in Northern Ireland have been used to train volunteers in eastern Europe (Moldova, Ukraine), the south Caucasus (Armenia, Georgia), central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) and the Western Balkans (Kosovo, Serbia). Groups in these countries have in turn drawn upon local civil society networks to build teams of volunteers to monitor protests and the policing of demonstrations in their own countries as part of the process of building democracy and increasing levels of civic participation.

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017


Chairperson: Malgorzata Wojcik

By Annamay McNally

algorzata Wojcik is a busy mother-of-two who juggles a voluntary role as the Chairperson of the Polish Community Association in her adopted hometown of Dungannon, Co Tyrone, with all the demands of running a family home and holding down a job. And yet, despite all that juggling, her community role is one she relishes and thrives under, because volunteering and helping others is something which has been in her blood since childhood. “My experience with volunteering started when I was in primary school,” Malgorzata tells VIEW. “I was a member of the Polish Red Cross and I always loved dealing with people and helping people in any way I can. “At a later stage I opened a Youth Association in Poland. Through that we exchanged internationally with French and German children under 15 years of age and organised holiday camps for them. “That lasted for about two-and-a-half years until I came to live here in Northern Ireland.” Malgorzata has been living here for the last eight years and has held the role of Chair of Polacy Dungannon (the Polish Community Association) since last July, The purpose of the association, Malgorzata explains, is to encourage Polish families living in the area to come together and enjoy fun days and social events, which receive funding from Mid Ulster District Council under its Community Develop-

Page 29

Volunteering and helping others is something which has been in my blood since childhood

Facebook page for Polish community in Dungannon

ment Fund, and for which Malgorzata is extremely grateful. But there are wider and more encompassing reasons for the group, she adds: “We would like to build bridges between nationalities. To show the local people we can offer our heritage and culture as something to enjoy, so that they can become more aware of our heritage and culture.” That culture was celebrated recently with a very successful Polish Heritage Day on Dungannon's historic Hill of the O'Neill, where hundreds gathered to enjoy music, history, dancing and food, including local politicians and the Polish Consul in Northern Ireland, Jerome Mullen. Celebrations aside, Malgorzata's role sees her and her fellow committee members receiving enquiries from within the community about everything from welfare and social benefits, to complaints about workplace harassment and problems with pay.

Brexit and all the uncertainties surrounding that are also to the fore in the minds of those the group represents. “Brexit is a big fear for us as a community and individually.” Malgorzata continues. “We are seeing that lots of Polish people are considering after as long as 15 years going back to Poland from here. “And it doesn't matter if their children are born here. I have friends who are a long time here but have decided to go back to Poland. One friend is pregnant and she is not entitled to tax credits, her husband is on minimum wage. “With increasing rent and living costs, many people are deciding that to be poor here is the same as being poor in Poland.” To better equip her to deal with the growing number of welfare and social issues she is hearing from her members, Malgorzata hopes she will be able to study towards a professional qualification in providing advice, but, for now, all such queries are referred on to organisations such as the Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB) or STEP (South Tyrone Empowerment Programme). And such are the demands currently being experienced by the CAB in particular, she adds, people whose language proves difficult can often find themselves with nowhere to turn to. • You can find out more about the work of the Polish Community Association by following their Facebook page under Polacy Dungannon –

VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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Attitude: Matthew Holland believes that there are more important things than money when you are starting out on your career

Matthew makes the right move with housing choice


By Una Murphy

OUNG people like Matthew Holland, 25, from Larne are turning to volunteering to find a career path when they leave university. Matthew met me at Housing Rights, a charity based in Belfast city centre which provides independent housing  advice, training and information in  Northern Ireland. He is helping them research housing policy which has just led to some paid temporary work as a research assistant on the organisation’s award nominated telephone helpline. He also does some other paid work during the week elsewhere. Matthew also volunteers at a youth club in Carrickfergus run by Mencap, a charity for people with a learning disability. At one time he was interested in teaching as a career but now believes he is destined to be a ‘policy wonk’. He has been with Housing Right for around one year during which time he has

undertaken training about the housing sector and shadowed colleagues. “I am learning how to conduct research properly,” Matthew told me over a cup of tea in the staff kitchen. Clare Aldworth, Peer and Volunteer Development Coordinator at Housing Rights, also sits down for a cup of tea with us. She is keen to find more volunteers like Matthew. He found out about the opportunity to do policy research for Housing Rights following an internet search and Clare is putting structures in place to find more volunteers and assure them their time will be well used by the charity and will not be a “box ticking” exercise. “Volunteers are still quite a new thing for Housing Rights. Since last year there has been a push towards actively pursuing volunteers as opposed to waiting for someone to turn up randomly,” she said. “There are loads of different opportunities and we welcome people interested in policy, communications and administration.”

Matthew feels that volunteers are really needed in society today and said charitable initiatives such as food banks could not be run without volunteers giving their time. His attitude to his career goals has also changed since becoming a volunteer. “I think that there are more important things than money to consider when you are starting out in your career. I know not everyone shares that view. I definitely take that sort of attitude now after volunteering.” Matthew has even run the marathon with a relay team made up of staff and volunteers from Housing Rights to raise money for the organisation. So, while he may have came to volunteering to get ahead in the job market, I think it is fair to say he has developed a mindset about his career goals that will last a lifetime. • To find out more about Housing Rights, go to

And now for another thing VIEW, Issue 43, 2017

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Volunteers are “the mayonnaise in the artistic sandwich, the grease easing the squeaks of the massive cogs running the Arts”


Columnist John Higgins says that volunteers in the Arts world do it for reasons that tend to bewilder politicians who view culture in the way that a dog views television: all noise and movement and paid for by someone else

s somebody who works in “the Arts” I volunteer my services quite a lot. Which is to say that I can’t give ‘em away. It was never my intention not to get paid for what I do, quite the opposite, in fact. I’d dearly love the base metal of my words, my pig irony, to be alchemically transmuted into coin. But that’s just not where my career is at the moment. I’m still at the foothills of Parnassus, doing stretching exercises and grappling with me crampons. And that’s fine. I mean, I live in a cave licking wet moss off a rock for sustenance, but that’s none of your concern. I may have tightened my belt so often I’m numb and blue beneath the waist, but never mind (I claim to be wearing a pair of tight, furry jeans). In order to produce anything at all I’m flailing around, trying to do as many things as possible, trying to get some work out there. My friend, Douglas, laughs at artists complaining about not

being paid: “Boo hoo! I’m not getting any money for all this difficult art I made that nobody asked for and nobody wants!” He might have a point, but then he also gets physically aroused by slide-rules and protractors and bleeping machines. He’s that sort of bloke. I’m an involuntary volunteer; I’m playing a longer game, with a Trojan career, hoping that the sheer tonnage of my work will develop its own gravity, like an avalanche or a slag heap or a sheep in the rain. But there are volunteers who do it for love, for the love of giving up their free time to help others, for the love of doing something useful. They abound: smiling, twinkly eyed and often grey haired, doing invaluable work in return for a T-shirt, a bumbag or a hi-viz baton. And the arts scene could not function without them. They are the mayonnaise in the artistic sandwich, the grease easing the squeaks of the massive cogs running the Arts.

Much like religion, the Arts rely on the unstinting grunt-work of the faithful. The Arts don’t even offer them an eternity of unending bliss – they might get a few quid off the price of a ticket if they’re lucky. Why do they do it, then? Most people use their free time for sleeping, box-set bingeing or getting drunk. The volunteers do it for reasons that tend to bewilder politicians who view culture in the way that a dog views television: all noise and movement and paid for by someone else. They do it because society – if it deserves the name – needs art in order to function. It is a safety valve, a commentary, a way of ensuring we don’t further descend into philistinism. Unlike the politicians, they understand this non-materiel value. They are benign, right minded people with our best interests at heart. We should probably show our appreciation. Actually, we should probably just pay them.

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