“I really enjoy seeing some of the ideas I have had come together, it’s very rewarding.”
Colleen Allwood tells us how volunteering at her local parish church has helped enhance her skills at work.
Q: What is your volunteering role?
A: I am a Parochial Church Council (PCC) member for my local parish church and the website and social media “officer” for the benefice (a group of parishes).
Q: Who do you volunteer with?
A: We are lucky. Our PCC has 8 members so we have some ability to spread the load within the parish, although the majority are now in their 80’s and so want to take a step back. Across the benefice as a whole there are about 35 people who volunteer regularly to support their local parishes.
Q: Why did you get involved?
A: Originally, I only got involved in the PCC to support funding raising. For a couple of years we ran a successful jigsaw festival together with Ryedale Carers Support and I was the link person. We collected donated jigsaws and distributed them to people in the community, many of whom were isolated at home, and once completed displayed them in an event similar to an art festival. After a couple of years I was voted onto the PCC as a full member.
I got involved in the website last year as I was aware that it needed to be more responsive and useful to the benefice. However, the old website was developed and maintained in code and required someone with experience to manage it. Having seen the benefits of an easily maintainable platform at work, I volunteered to take on the changeover. I commissioned a local company to move the website across to the new platform, but in the process I helped to redesign and rewrite it to make it more friendly and useable. Unfortunately, it went “live” over Christmas and there were a number of issues that needed to be resolved over the break.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, I have been incredibly grateful that we moved the website across when we did. It has enabled us to be more responsive and self-sufficient and to include items in the website which have never been on it before. I have set up a new Facebook page for the benefice and learnt how to embed that into the website, along with YouTube videos of services. Overall, it has enabled us to be better connected with others and to link in with other community groups.
Q: What do you like about your volunteering?
A: I have really enjoyed seeing some of the ideas I have had come together, especially the work on the website and it becomes very rewarding. Developing and managing the site has also given me a good set of new skills to add to my CV.
Q: Are there any challenges with your volunteering?
A: Like other community groups and volunteer sector organisations, the church is struggling with fewer volunteers to work with. Many of those are elderly and want to take a step back. This limits the things which we can do, the fundraising we can achieve and ultimately what we can put back into our local communities.
One of the biggest challenges is maintaining our buildings and we simply don’t have the resources, either financially or feet on the ground, to project manage the work that needs to be done. This can leave PCC members feeling disheartened and frustrated with many choosing to resign rather than take on the burden. When you are faced with a 65 page architects report on the state of the building it is perhaps not surprising!
Q: What do you think is the biggest myth about your volunteering?
A: That I don’t volunteer. This period of lockdown has really reminded me that I do volunteer within my local community. At the beginning, I was constantly seeing posts and adverts on social media about volunteering with our local Covid-19 network and getting frustrated because I couldn’t do anything. However, I have had to take a step back and recognise that actually, I DO volunteer and actually yes, I am a trustee in the eyes of the Charity Commission. We just might need to reframe what we do in the eyes of the rest of the community and within the church itself.
Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about getting involved?
A: Many of us probably think that we don’t have the time or the ability to volunteer, however, we may already be volunteering within our communities – picking up shopping, walking someone’s dog or simply going around and having a cup of tea and a chat. Creating these connected communities is as much volunteering as anything else however small it might be. Linking in with broader organisations and groups can help give what we are doing some added energy and focus leading to even greater things.