Community Action Dacorum welcomed four senior volunteers – two from Pistes Solidaires, two from CEMEA – to Hemel Hempstead for three weeks this summer. We organised a programme of activities to give them an insight into the importance of the voluntary sector in the area in supporting people with learning difficulties, the elderly, vulnerable, and those who are homeless or just lonely. They also undertook conservation work and environmental projects and as a result, had the chance to see and experience a wide variety of roles and organisations.
We started by briefing them thoroughly, giving them detailed information about the voluntary sector, charities and how they are organised and funded.
Our volunteers learned a great deal from the differences between the UK and Italy. Stefania noted that: “in Italy the volunteering is totally different, [and] I take some ideas to share [in] my central municipality of Rome.” Mauro, also from Rome, learned from CAD’s experience of working within a network of organisations and felt it a good example to follow: “The experience was positive and I would like to share in Italy some ideas that I have enjoyed in England. I would like to put these ideas into practice with the help of a network of people”. We also made sure all volunteers had a very enjoyable time in the UK by offering cultural opportunities such as going to “Dreamboats and Petticoats,” a musical theatre trip accompanying elderly people. Two people also volunteered at a ‘Canoe Day’ on the Grand Union Canal, which runs through the Hemel Food Garden at Sunnyside and two others helped at an outdoor family day where they watched a display by the Army Motorbike Display Team, local dancers, musicians and even the Fire Brigade who showed how to put out a fire in a chip pan! The variety ensured that two days were seldom the same.
The volunteers mostly travelled in pairs to their volunteering work. They were given the chance to experience the following:
- Producing wooden items to sell at the Repair Shed
- Weeding in the newly-established garden at The Elms hostel for the homeless
- Giving a presentation about their countries and cultures to elderly visitors to the Centre in the Park
- Joining in songs, games, chatting to elderly visitors and serving them lunch
- Helping manage school parties doing nature studies at a local river on the Boxmoor Trust estate
- Sorting food and packing food parcels for families in crisis
- Accompanying elderly people on shopping trips to the supermarket
- Giving interviews at Radio Dacorum
- Cleaning, as part of the restoration work being undertaken at the historic Paper Mill
- Supporting people with learning difficulties at a Mencap lunch
Our volunteers shared a modern 6th floor apartment in the centre of Hemel Hempstead which gave them easy access to shops, public transport and our offices. Independently, they visited London on several occasions, Oxford and Stonehenge as well as the ancient cathedral city of St Albans, which they much enjoyed.
They were very appreciative of the whole experience. Rosalyne from Pau commented that she found the experience valuable for her own volunteering: “It was very instructive to learn about other ways of creating, managing and thinking about projects”, she said. “And above all to share with the other volunteers and charities, and to learn from this experience how charities, who are members of the same organisation (CAD), work together.”
The opportunity to practice English was an added bonus: “Speaking English for three weeks will be useful for me in future when interacting with refugees”, she said.
We, too, saw the volunteers learn and develop over the three weeks. Without exception, their level of English improved and they all grew in confidence.
We also learned from the experience. We have been reflectiong on ways that can help have more knowledge and understanding of the volunteers and their expectations before arrival.
On the last day, we presented our volunteers with certificates outlining the volunteering they had undertaken. All had completed at least 60 hours, and in one case, 70. We held a farewell lunch, said sad farewells and promised to keep in touch. I hope we do.
European Project officer
Hemel Hempstead UK
July 14th 2017