There are an estimated one million volunteer trustees/governors in the United Kingdom, a number that continues to grow as more charities and non-profit companies are created to cope with the fallout of the pandemic. In 2020, a staggering 12.4 million people contributed their time to many different causes including foodbanks and to combatting loneliness.
People turned out in their droves to help during this challenging time, but volunteering has been at the heart of the community in Letchworth Garden City for many years - around 700 people contribute their time to Garden House Hospice alone!
Volunteering has a wide range of benefits from helping with confidence building to skills development, CV expansion and work experience. I know that I have made some interesting and lasting friendships whilst volunteering over the past 50+ years: from my early days helping my mother with her voluntary activities, through a wide variety of volunteer roles with Save the Children Fund, Samaritans, refugee camps in Hong Kong, a UK wide Patient Network at the Royal College of Physicians and with Humanists UK as a celebrant and Trustee. More locally I have been Chair of both Letchworth Settlement for six years and of the Foundation for the past three years, having joined as a Governor at the end of 2015. I was also a chaplain to the emergency services in Hertfordshire for six years. I combined these volunteer roles with family life and a busy paid career, involving further studies from time to time. So, I feel I am qualified to say that it can be done!
When volunteering, I have seen humans do the most compassionate and amazing things when responding to some of the worst situations, something I can reflect on now in my mid-70s with a long volunteering career. The experiences have been both challenging and personally extremely rewarding.
At Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, we currently have 30 volunteer Governors, of whom ten are Trustees, but we continue to see the impact of the pandemic taking its toll on what the Foundation can fund or provide directly. We will need more ‘hands on’ volunteers in a variety of distinct roles as we move forward and try to deliver much needed services with a reduced workforce. For example, in the past we have had volunteers working at the Garden City Collection where amazing work was carried out from collating and cataloguing materials to documentation and archival of photographs. Many of these materials arrived from different sources and contributed to the continuing development of the town’s history and the collection. Now we have a team of volunteers supporting the Broadway Gallery and have started to look at several other areas.
We are talking to our local partners about their experiences of volunteering which I am sure will help us all enormously and facilitate closer working relationships.
The role of Trustee within the Foundation is a critical and complex one as Trustees, and Trustees alone, have full legal responsibility and accountability for the affairs of the organisation. That work has been particularly arduous over the past 16 months or so as we entered the pandemic and had to fight hard, with the Leadership Team, to survive and support our core services in the face of much uncertainty and difficulty. It has been a worrying and exhausting time for both the Board, staff, and those Governors who sit on Committees and Working Parties, and I am personally incredibly grateful for their support. The commitment needed is immense and in my own case as Chairman, rarely a day has passed over the past year or more, without my involvement being needed in some discussions or matters needing resolution.
As we look forward to restrictions easing, there is a huge amount to be done to re-energise the economy of the town we all love and care about and to deliver services to those who need them. I very much hope to see an expanded role for volunteers in the Foundation in a wide variety of interest areas, ages, and cultural backgrounds.
Knowing our history to understand our future
I know, because a lot of people have told me many times, that they would be happy to work as a volunteer with the Foundation in different areas but they are not interested in the formality of becoming Governors or attending meetings – they simply want to help in the ways which they can make the most positive or practical contribution. I very much hope that we can expand our horizons and opportunities in this way in the future and find ways for the Foundation to involve, reflect and represent all its citizens through volunteering and active community engagement, something I regard as being critical to the town, and the Foundation’s future success.