Volunteer Workshops

This blog post reflects on some of the discussions we had as part of the Volunteer Workshops conducted to gather views/ideas about what the volunteer programme at HOS should look like.

To get a handle on the current volunteer programme and assess potential directions to take it in, I designed a workshop to gather the thoughts of current volunteers. The design of the workshop went through several iterations;

Initially, I planned on hosting a large in-person event in Edinburgh/Glasgow. Given difficulties in finding appropriate venues / dates for people to attend, I decided this was not feasible. Following this, I decided to move the workshop online. The idea was that this would give as many people as possible the opportunity to take part – nobody would be restricted by geography or time. An online workshop was designed using Padlet. I tested the workshop with one volunteer – Danny – but we decided that aspects of the workshop were difficult to navigate online. You can see the workshop here. As a middle-ground solution, I decided to host several, small, in-person workshops instead. These happened in Edinburgh (25th July), Glasgow (7th August) and Cardross (8th August) – 5 people took part in total. The small workshops were informal and covered the topics from the online workshop.

What did we discuss?

The workshop covered three main topics –  

  1. Discussing why HOS should seek to develop its volunteer programme and why individuals might want to volunteer with HOS
  2. Assessing the current volunteer programme and identifying gaps / opportunities for development therein
  3. Thinking about prioritisation – which aspects of the volunteering programme should we focus on first?

As part of these discussions we looked at certain aspects of volunteering in detail – e.g. the development of a volunteer blog and the Housing Buddies programme.

What ideas came from the workshop?

It became clear that volunteers were keen to design a volunteer programme which fitted around the journey of clients. We discussed how the volunteer programme should support the work of HOS at each of the following touch-points:

1. Promoting HOS, 2. Supporting clients during their housing journey, 3. Helping with next steps

Promoting HOS
Volunteers felt it was important that their role supported HOS to grow the number of clients we support, and get the information out there that help is available. A number of ways of doing this were discussed:

Events
Attending externally organised events with HOS (with adequate training provided). There was some discussion about the value of attending large conferences and whether this was the best use of time/resources. Smaller events were discussed as being favourable.

Establishing local links
Visiting local groups and passing out information about HOS there – establishing ‘links’ with appropriate organisations and acting as a local point of contact for anyone interested in our work. Suggestions for places where we could build local links included other charities and voluntary groups; MPs and Cllrs (locally); health centres; community centres.

Supporting clients during their housing journey

We discussed how our volunteers can complement the work of the staff team in supporting clients throughout their housing journey. Part of this involved reflecting on the HOSmates peer support programme designed in previous years. Several ideas were discussed:

Housing Buddies
The new Housing Buddies programme was considered. We discussed what kinds of things buddies could support with – accompanying clients to property viewings/homelessness interviews, interpreting letters/emails, explaining housing related systems/processes in detail. It was agreed that this support would be useful.


Blog
We discussed developing a separate volunteer blog taking inspiration from other charities (e.g. Age Scotland). We discussed possible blog posts/entries and whether these would be valuable. It was agreed that celebrating the work of our volunteers via the blog was important, and also the sharing of information and stories of former clients to give hope/reassurance to people as part of their housing journey. It was also suggested that the blog could contain posts including ‘tips’ and checklists for moving into a new home e.g. how to get the best deal on energy/broadband contracts. There was some concern about whether the blog would be the best way of engaging people as it would be hosted online and not everyone has access to the internet.

Volunteers also discussed the HOSmates programme. We discussed how previous difficulties in getting the programme off the ground meant that it would be important to look at other ways of offering emotional support to clients – e.g. through the blog and check in calls (below)

Settling down / finding a housing solution

We discussed opportunities for volunteers to support clients once a housing solution has been found. Our ideas centred around the idea of using the volunteer programme to support clients to “make a house a home”:

‘Welcome to your area’ directory:
Volunteers spoke about the first steps they had when moving into their new home and getting to know the local area. At the moment HOS provide an information sheet which covers local housing association contacts to make this process smoother. We discussed the idea of expanding this to include details about local charities / organisations which can support in a whole host of ways. Volunteers could produce one of these for their local area.

Volunteer ‘check-in’
We discussed the possibility of having local volunteers make contact with clients a few months after they have settled into their new/adapted home (and area). This would be an outreach call where volunteers would see if HOS could support with anything – e.g. checking that clients are set up with furniture and are unpacked; showing how to book groceries online or how to compare energy/broadband deals; touring the local area together. The idea would be to have volunteers on hand to support individuals to make their new house a home.

Other ideas were also discussed – e.g. developing community fundraising plans – but volunteers were less keen about this.

What about prioritisation?

At the end of the workshop I wanted to get a sense from volunteers which aspect of the volunteer programme would be the best to focus on initially. This would help me to establish a timeline for my work, looking at the ideas the volunteers thought were most useful first, other ideas second.

I split the ideas into three categories and gave the group 10 tokens to split amongst the different sections of the volunteering – the more tokens meant more focus from me on developing that part of the volunteering. The categories were:

1. Online work (covering the blog, case studies, )

2. In person work (events attendance, making links with local groups)

3. Something else (e.g Housing Buddies, ‘Welcome to your area’ directory)

In total, the tokens were split:

What next?

The workshops have been useful in providing me with steer about what our volunteers would like to be involved in. They have also revealed a good way of framing volunteering in terms of the journey of our clients, and offering support at each of those touch-points. Going forward I am:

  • Writing up guidance for how volunteers should contact local groups and creating a log for where/when local contact is made
  • Working with volunteers to produce a ‘Welcome to your area’ guide; I am producing a template for volunteers to populate and edit with me
  • Developing the blog further
  • Conducting three inductions for the Housing Buddies programme
  • Writing up guidance for the volunteer check-in calls

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