Be Inspired Series
Community Engagement Officer
What does your role involve?
My role as a Community Engagement Officer with Volunteer Now is largely two fold. Firstly it is to support those volunteer involving groups in the local community providing them with training, information and guidance amongst other things. These groups and organisations could be anything from youth clubs, senior citizen groups, community groups and charity shops to churches, support groups or environmental groups. Secondly my role involves promoting volunteering with members of the public by raising awareness of volunteering opportunities in their area.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
Well volunteering is something I have always been involved in since my teen years. I have volunteered at various bag packs and fundraisers as well as in my local church where I worked with children and young people. After leaving university I became a church based youth worker and worked closely with volunteers across a number of projects in churches, local schools and in the local community. I quickly realised the important and valuable contribution volunteers make, without whom much of the youth work in this part of the world would not happen. Having experience of being a volunteer as well as managing volunteers meant that my current position was a good fit.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
Yes I think so. At school the careers advice we were given was very much along the traditional lines of medicine, law, education, business or IT but I never really felt they were for me. This area of work provided a big attraction as there really is a strong sense of making a difference largely because much of the work is face to face with individuals and organisations both big and small.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
As a teenager I gained a lot from people who either volunteered or worked in the voluntary sector. This encouraged me to get involved and give something back and the experience as a volunteer has greatly helped. Furthermore I gained a lot of experience in the recruiting and managing of volunteers in my previous role as a youth worker. I think this insight has been of great value for my current role. In addition to my own experience my employer, Volunteer Now, has provided excellent relevant training, which has also been invaluable.
What is your organisation's role in the local community?
Volunteer Now works to promote, enhance and support volunteering across Northern Ireland. Volunteer Now is about connecting with individuals and organisations to build healthy communities and create positive change.
With organisations our role is to provide training, information, guidance and support to volunteer-involving organisations on issues of good practice and policy regarding volunteering, volunteer management, child protection, safeguarding vulnerable adults and governance.
Furthermore Volunteer Now seeks to enhance recognition for the contribution volunteers make, as well as providing access to opportunities and encouraging people to volunteer.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
My role is to provide support and guidance at a local level. On a daily basis we have different organisations and members of the public dropping into our local office seeking information and support. When I’m not helping them there I’m usually on the road meeting organisations in their offices, community centres or a local coffee shop. On top of this we are continually taking the message of volunteering into the public domain in town centres, schools, libraries and local events.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
I think you really need to be a people person in this role. My role with Volunteer Now is not a desk job; it is all about meeting people from different backgrounds most of whom are trying to make a difference in their communities. I think at times creativity is key, helping people to think outside the box when it comes to creating volunteer opportunities or seeking a volunteering role.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
A huge challenge is getting volunteers to recognise the valuable input they have to many great organisations and causes across Northern Ireland as well as further afield. The common response is usually “sure its not a big deal” but without their input many churches, charities and local groups could not provide the service they do to the community. Its difficult speaking to people who feel they have nothing to offer because of age, unemployment, illness or a range of other things but that is also where the biggest reward lies as helping them find the right volunteering role lets them see they have a lot to offer, boosting their confidence and self esteem.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
At the minute we are seeing the old war time slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ everywhere. I think this is good advice as no matter where we feel pressure or stress, worrying about it solves nothing.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
I think I would tell people that if they want a cosy office job that this isn’t the job for them. The most effective way of carrying out this job is by being out and about, meeting organisations and volunteers where they are and offering relevant help and support.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Living so close to the Mournes means I can spend a lot of time hiking or walking on the beach. The odd bit of tennis, squash and football also keeps the blood flowing. In work I’m encouraging people to volunteer and outside of work that’s what I do – volunteer. Currently I’m involved with a local youth project and in various roles in my local church. These things keep the head fresh!
To find out more about Volunteering and Volunteer Now please visit: www.volunteernow.co.uk