“It was just fantastic to see these people who give up so much of their time – and whose efforts so often go unrecognised – have one evening when it’s all about them for a change. It was great to see them really enjoying themselves.”
Michelle’s meeting with Here & Now takes place the morning after a reception she organised in honour of local volunteers, held in the Mayor’s chambers at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Town Hall. 36 volunteers from the Wornington Green area, accompanied by their guests, were presented with certificates in recognition of the work they do; it’s an event she’d like to hold every year.
The three organisations – Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre, Meanwhile Gardens and the Venture Centre – are the projects between which Michelle splits her time as a volunteer coordinator, a position funded by Catalyst Gateway. Michelle works with each organisation to help manage their volunteer programmes, advise on best practice and oversee policies and procedures; it’s a role that brings each project benefits, as lessons learned in one place can be applied to another.
Michelle started working in Wornington in the summer of 2013, having previously been part of the extended children services team at Hammersmith & Fulham Council. It was here that she oversaw a number of high-profile projects, including a 3pm to 6pm after-school youth club and an association with Burberry that saw young people not in education, employment or training taken on under an apprenticeship scheme by the fashion house.
“A lot of the young people involved in those projects didn’t have anyone making sure they were getting up, getting to work on time and meeting their responsibilities, so I became that person,” says Michelle. “I won’t give up on people, so I became alarm clock and motivator. At the time they would hate it, but when I bump into them now they thank me for making sure they did what was required of them.”
Her experience at Hammersmith & Fulham underpins much of the work she now undertakes in Wornington. The tenacity that proved so successful in motivating apprentices is put to good use identifying and recruiting volunteers for the projects. Volunteers are needed for all three of the projects, and Michelle has a canny knack of recruiting helpers from both the local community and further afield; for example, a group of American teenagers from a London US school have recently come to the end of a volunteer period at the Venture Centre.
From help with the spring planting at Meanwhile Gardens to professional advice at Al-Hasaniya – not to mention inspiring career talks to teenagers at the Venture Centre – it’s surprising the range of volunteers that are needed. The message is simple: no matter what your skills, or how much time you can give, you can make a huge difference by volunteering in Wornington.
“The key,” she says, “is to be as flexible as possible. These people are giving up their time voluntarily, so we’re quite aware of the need to make sure they can fit it into their schedules. We’re always looking for new volunteers, and are especially interested in hearing from those that are able to come and teach a class or speak about their job.
There’s an actress who comes to the Venture Centre to hold drama workshops during school holidays and it’s one of the most popular programmes we have. Volunteers often think that they don’t have the skills or others wouldn’t be interested in their field of expertise, but nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone has something to give, and we welcome anyone willing to do so.”
Anyone interested in volunteering in any capacity at the Venture Centre, Al–Hasaniya or Meanwhile Gardens should contact Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.