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Using crafts to overcome barriers to volunteering

Using craft sessions to boost your CV? Yes, it works, and let me explain how.

My role at MVDA is volunteer development officer for the Step Forward Tees Valley project which aims to overcome barriers to work for people. One of the ways we do this is by supporting a participant into a volunteering position to enhance their skills, develop their confidence and boost their CV’s.

A challenge of my job is to find long term volunteering positions that can meet the often complex needs of our participants. I have been running craft sessions welcoming people in and getting them involved and relaxed before even raising the topic of volunteering. The sessions are deliberately limited in numbers so they do not get too loud. It's a quiet safe space to develop confidence and alleviate anxiety. It allows me to get to know them and work out the best way to ease them into volunteering. One participant told me that while his hands are busy his concentration isn't on his problems.

One participant told me that while his hands are busy his concentration isn't on his problems.

Since January I have secured positions for 30 people of which 27 are still in the positions found for them. The 3 that are no longer in the positions found, 1 is due to ongoing hospitalisation, 1 has been recalled to prison and one moved area due to domestic violence.

1 participant has been in post since early January and continues 2 days a week even though she came off programme some months ago.

Improvement in people's mental health

One of the most obvious benefits is the improvement of people’s mental health. One participant suffered from extreme anxiety and depression and was not leaving the house at Christmas. She started attending my craft group once a week and from there I encouraged her into a voluntary position at a lunch club. She enjoyed helping so much that she started being in charge when the leader could not attend and even took over running a book club completely on her own.

Another participant started at the Salvation Army breakfast for the homeless for one hour a week. He now runs their café 3 days a week and when exited from the programme last Friday, wanted all 10’s on his outcome star as he has come so far and is so active in his community.

Many of the participants face challenges in their lives which can also impact on their ability to secure a voluntary position.

I have dealt with several sex offenders on programme.

  • One had severe restrictions, but I have managed to place him on a life skills project
  • One started one day a week as van support for a charity shop after discussions with the CEO and now does 3 days a week. He has built up good relationships with staff and if he learns to drive, they would like to offer him paid employment.

One participant with Downs Syndrome only had 2 days a week available and was very into performing arts. I spoke to a Community Choir director and we have created him a role within the choir. They have never had a volunteer before but are now looking to expand their offer within their music groups.

A participant with several convictions for armed robbery now helps out at a lunch club for the elderly and is on a kitchen project with a view to opening his own café.

A participant with multiple health problems, an inability to read and write and living in sheltered accommodation, is learning new skills in a workshop attached to a community store and now refurbishes furniture for sale with them.

One survivor of domestic abuse is now volunteering as a translator for refugees and asylum seekers and we are looking to expand this into gaining a qualification as a teaching assistant for functional skills and ESOL classes.

Some of the wide variety of roles I've sourced include:

  • Digital web assistant
  • Lunch club cook
  • Interpreter
  • Minibus driver
  • Furniture restorer
  • Film editor
  • Local history researcher
  • Sports leader
  • Social media expert
  • Neonatal unit support

All roles have been sourced in order to advance the participant to overcome barriers. This is not necessarily to find work in the first instance as for some overcoming their social isolation or skills shortage is more pressing.

A young man with autism who has gained a master’s degree has been unable to find a job due to a lack of experience. He has now been placed as a volunteer digital film editor, (his chosen field), which has resulted in practical work experience to put on his CV and a job reference.

2 learning support volunteers are using the experience to decide if they would like to go into teaching. They will be fully supported into teaching by the voluntary organisation if they choose to go down this route.

My volunteers have also painted a community room, helped out the woodland ranger, refurbished street planters, helped at a Dementia vintage fayre and many other projects by way of a taster session to the voluntary sector.

If your organisation needs volunteers or can offer taster projects, get in touch and let's improve things for everyone.

Ruth Barnes


Volunteering Development Officer (Step Forward Tees Valley)