Last year, an incredible 15,585 volunteers gave 1.8 million hours of their time to support Barnardo’s vital work. Thanks to their dedication, our services are able to reach more children, young people, and families across the country. We spoke to Alison Nicholas, the Children’s Services Manager of Gloucester City Targeted Family Support which covers six children and family centres, to discuss the crucial role that volunteers play in supporting children and family centres in Gloucester.
What does your team do to support the local community in Gloucester?
“Across Gloucester, we run six children and family centres where we primarily work with children pre-birth up to the age of 11 and their families. Our main purpose is to provide targeted family support, which includes one-to-one sessions, parenting advice, and sensory play activities. Our centres are really busy, and they're getting busier all the time, so we’re proud to have a large team of brilliant family support workers, assistant project workers, administrative support staff, and volunteers who go above and beyond to support the families we work with,” she said.
All six of the Gloucester City Targeted Family Support children and family centres provide a space for a lot of other great services like adult education classes, mental health support, and church groups. Asylum seekers and refugees that are placed in hotels in Gloucester City can also come for group sessions and use the centres’ kitchens to cook food from home. As long as a child or young person is going to benefit, our services and spaces are free to use.
“More recently, we've been focusing on putting our green spaces to use for local families. Gloucester City unfortunately doesn't have a huge amount of green space, so we were excited to put in our first raised beds to grow herbs and veg.
“Now we’re trying to do that across all of our centres so that we can offer fresh food to the families we work with or the refugees or asylum seekers who come through our doors. We're promoting healthy eating but also an appreciation for green spaces – anyone is welcome to come and get their fingers in the mud and help out and we often do gardening groups for children and their families that do just that,” Alison said.
How do volunteers support this work?
Volunteers support the children and family centres in a range of ways, explains Alison. “We’ve got a few types of volunteers that help us. David is our gardening guru who has given lots of his time and effort to helping improve our green areas. He's retired, but he's a busy man! He's got his own allotment and he's involved in lots of different projects,” she said.
David told us what volunteering means to him. "Having spent much of my working life behind a computer screen, for me it is a real joy to be able to spend time out in the Barnardo's gardens. There is something special about creating a connection with a plot of land and watching the garden change across the seasons.
“Little things, like the song of a robin, some new flowers coming into bloom, or the visit of a butterfly lift the soul on even the hardest of days. Here, the problems and worries of life can be put on hold and, if only for a short time, there is time to breathe and space to slow down.
David appreciates how much of a positive impact his volunteer gardening has on his mental and physical wellbeing but finds the impact he is having on the local community and the children and families who come to the centre the most worthwhile thing.
“And it makes such a massive difference,” said Alison. “I mean, honestly, the before and after photos of the outdoor space he’s worked on are amazing and he’s also going around other centres to fix up their green spaces as well.”
Other ways to get involved as a volunteer
David’s gardening is just one way volunteers support the children and family centres. “We also have administrative volunteers who help in the centre with paperwork and reception to make sure everyone gets a warm welcome. We have a former journalist who now volunteers with us by attending groups and taking minutes – she's fab! She amazes me with how she comes to a meeting, hears all this complicated information, captures it, and gets it spot on, "Alison told us.
One of the centres that Alison manages, the Gloucester City Children and Family centre, has nine volunteers who support their community groups and family support volunteers who go out and support the centre’s work in the community with things like home visits or their parenting programme. Almost every group depends on the help of volunteers who set up toys, welcome the parents, or even run group activities.
Children's Services Manager
Sensory play is important for children’s development, especially as so many children have spent two years of their early development in lockdown.
Our children and family centres additionally provide a great space for parents to socialise with each other too. Our volunteers also help to pick up on those families that might need a little bit more help – like noticing when a child has additional needs or if parents are suffering from postnatal depression.
“Our volunteers tend to be parents we’ve supported – they've been so happy with our work with them that they want to then give back. We also have plenty of volunteers like David who are people from our local community who want to give their time and effort towards helping us run our services. We’re so grateful for everyone who takes time out of their busy lives to come and volunteer with us,” she said.
How important to the community are these services, and how important is the support of the volunteers?
“I would say that the need for family support is higher than it's ever been,” Alison says, “but we do our best to meet the needs of the local community through our centres. We want parents to know they can come here, and they won't be judged or criticised and that we are genuinely there for them and their children.
Children's Services Manager
Recent events, such as the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, have made these services and the help that volunteers provide more important than ever.
“COVID did have a big impact on the work we could do, but we kept many of our services going because we had really crucial services that needed to carry on, like midwives’ clinics and supervised family contact where families could meet when they couldn't otherwise. It's fair to say that it has taken us a while to build back from COVID, but we're nearly there!” said Alison.
In 2021-22, 96% of our volunteers said they would recommend volunteering with Barnardo’s to a friend. If you’re thinking about volunteering with us, find out how you can get involved.