We’re Here To… mystery shop The Saturday Night Project

At Here To, we regularly invite our Wizards to go and try out some of the live opportunities we have on the Here To website with a view to letting us know how it went as a helper. Super-Wizard Tanya took a visit to The Saturday Night Project, one of our most popular opportunities. Here’s her feedback…

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Another entry from a Here To Wizard. After exploring the connotations of and unpacking the thoughts behind the term ‘volunteering’, I have returned to the Here To blog to talk about a recent experience helping out in Islington locally.

This time my escapades took me to The Saturday Night Project at the Sobell Centre. Once every last Saturday of the month, this leisure centre magically transforms into a night jam-packed with activities for 13-19 year olds. The aim is to us the event to encourage a healthy attitude towards fitness whilst giving teens a safe environment to hang out.

My motivation behind volunteering for The Saturday Night Project was my experience growing up: there weren’t all too many places for ‘youths’ to go in my hometown. This led to a lot of hanging around in car parks and putting ourselves in compromising situations. With this in my mind, I thought that any event that can provide teens a chance to escape those situations and get them into a safe environment where they can chill, be merry, and, well, be teens, is a project worth being part of in my books.

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I arrived at the Sobell Centre at 5.30pm and was merrily greeted by the other helpers. I was pleased to see that they all looked quite young themselves and saw this as a sign that they believed in the project and were dedicated to its cause: ‘taking back Saturday nights!’ It did, however, make me feel a bit old!

Alexis, the lead organiser of The Saturday Night Project provided me with a t-shirt to wear. As I’ve written in my previous blog post, something as small as a t-shirt really does do the trick in terms of making you feel like you’re a part of something exciting and a valued part of a team.

I had a quick look around the centre to see what the night had to offer and, boy was I jealous! It made me wish I was a teenager again just so that I could come to the Sobell and get my skates on – because, yes, there was roller skating! But of course it didn’t end there. The ice rink was shiny and glazed, ready to be chiseled by skates, there was a dance studio set up, the gym was opened, and makeshift 5-a-side football, basketball, and badminton courts were all ready to go! You name it, Saturday Night Project had thought of it. It didn’t end at sporting events, either, as there was singing, competitions, and general hanging out too.

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As the clock hands hit 6pm, teenagers started trickling in and I was ready, donning my new t-shirt, and preparing myself for growing crowds. My role for the evening was to greet guests and put their wristbands on to show they had paid the affordable £3 entry fee. However, there was a special offer on that night where free entry was given to anyone dressed up along a Christmas theme. I admired many Santa hats and tinsel accessories that night!

Apparently, The Saturday Night Project I went to was a relatively quiet one. According to some of the young people, ‘it is usually way busier!’ It didn’t feel that quiet though, as it seemed as though I was putting wristbands on an endless number of people!

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I liked the role that I was given as a meet and greet/registration helper, as I’m naturally a gregarious person: speaking to teens made the task all the more entertaining and I think they liked it that there was someone approachable and older manning the entrance. However, I only wish that there was another volunteer beside me as, when there were less people coming in, it could feel a bit lonely with no one to chat to.

The biggest Perk of the experience, for me though, was doing something productive on a Saturday night. I don’t always like to go out but that’s not to say I enjoy sitting on my backside on a Saturday, either.

I’d definitely recommend The Saturday Night Project as it’s a fantastic place to go with a great atmosphere and overall goal. I would probably recommend it more to younger volunteers who aren’t afraid to get stuck in, but if you’re up for it, love kids/sports and are willing to give up a Saturday night, then this is the place for you!

Tanya : )

We’re Here To… talk about the word ‘volunteer’

‘Volunteering’ or ‘volunteer’ are words that you may have noticed are largely absent from the Here To website and the Here To blog. This is no coincidence!

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Research and experience at the time of launching Here To showed that people have (often negative) preconceptions about what ‘volunteering’ entails: read as hard to do, costly, long term commitments, lots of waiting around, a lack of clarity, menial jobs and one-way etc.

Here To is less about exhorting people to ‘volunteer’ and more about helping people to find bite-sized ways they can meet personal goals – e.g. get work experience, meet new people, get fit – that just so happen to be good for the community too. So we wanted to use a different language to ‘volunteering’ to reflect the different way of thinking embodied through Here To.

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We’ve tested this approach for the last year and found that not talking about ‘volunteering’ inspires people to see their Secret Skills differently and what they can do to help out in new and exciting ways. You just need to take a look at our gallery of Here To Photomatic Machine pictures to see that in action.

But it also creates a couple of challenges:

a) It’s harder for people to find us online – people tend to look for ‘volunteering in Islington’ rather than ‘helping out in Islington’ or ‘lending a hand in Islington’ when searching online. As a digital platform, we’re worried those people aren’t finding us.

b) People aren’t always sure what we do – we might consider the preconceptions attached to ‘volunteering’ to be a weakness, but they’re also a strength in that people tend to know exactly what you’re on about. As a project that wants to be making helping out easier and clearer to do, we wouldn’t want to be inadvertently confusing people.

As a result, we’re opening up to using the word ‘volunteering’ a bit more when it is really necessary. As one member of our community put it at a recent Food for Thought meet up, ‘I would rather than you focused on innovating volunteering rather than worried about whether or not to use the word itself’.

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We’e spoken to a lot of people about the language we use to talk about Here To, including some of our Wizards. Tanya writes below about why using the word ‘volunteering’ should be kept to a minimum and should be supported by other more inspirational language. This blog post will also act as a healthy reminder for us to avoid overusing it in the future!

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Islington Volunteering Wizardry: how re-naming your volunteers can benefit your organisation

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A quick look through the Here To website and blog and I’m quite tempted by what’s on offer: the Here To website shows that there are so many opportunities I can get involved with locally on my doorstep.

What can I do next? Where can I do it? How to I choose?

Well for a start, the thought of becoming a Here To ‘Wizard’ was all too appealing…

Becoming a Here To Wizard

So what is a Here To Wizard? Why a Here To ‘Wizard’? And does being a Here To Wizard come with the chance to yell ‘abra-kadabra’ every so often? The answer: only if you want it to!

I personally think the term ‘volunteering’ is a bit outdated and it doesn’t always give a feel for what’s expected of you as a volunteer or what the company culture is like. Committed and hard-working volunteers no doubt form the backbone of many different types of organisations, and that’s great. But what’s to stop us adding a spin of creativity and call them something different that sounds a bit more spectacular?

I believe that more projects offering the chance for people to get involved with what they’re doing should shy away from using the term ‘volunteer’. Talking about ‘lending a hand/brain’, ‘doing a good deed’ or ‘helping out’ can sound much more attractive to someone with a bit of free time on their hands. A good example of this was London 2012, where it was Gamesmakers, not volunteers, that captured our hearts and minds.

By fun-ing up some of the language, organisations and charities may be able to get people to give more of their precious time to good causes, as it is an efficient and clever way to communicate a project’s ethos.

Let’s take ‘Wizards’ at Here To as an example. Hearing the term showed me that the Here To team are fun, lively, and dare I say… magical. The use of language made me want to get involved as it gave me a clearer idea of what to expect and whether it was for me.

Becoming a Here To Wizard not only gets me more excited than helping out, it also means that Here To are getting more of the kinds of people they’re looking for, and that it creates a shared sense of belonging.

So, if you’re a charity that is looking for people to help with the upkeep of a community garden, why not enlist a team of ‘Shovel-wielders’ instead of volunteers? If you require some admin assistance, you may want to call on local ‘Administeers’ instead?

If I ran an organisation tomorrow, then I’d probably use the term ‘Rockers’ just to see what what happen and what kinds of people that might attract!

So in sum, I’d urge you to get out your thinking pads and start thinking of names that really show what you’re about.

Yours truly,

Tanya (proudly a Here To Wizard)

We’re Here To… practice what we preach

At Here To, we’re curious about how other projects and initiatives galvanize their volunteers and how they make helping out as fun and enjoyable as possible. Joanna, the Here To Community Development Co-ordinator, recalls her experience at TEDxEastend…

When my alarm rang on Saturday morning, my initial reaction was to hit snooze: despite loving my day job as Here To Islington’s Community Development Coordinator, I really do enjoy a good lie in after a busy week.

But as I realised why I had set my alarm on such a ‘sacred’ morning in the first place, I shot into action: TEDxEastend was about to land!

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Signing up and getting ready

1 month earlier, a half glimpse of a Facebook shout out for volunteers caught my eye. For those who don’t yet know, TEDx Talks are a series of independently run events that bring together inspiring speakers to spark conversations and the sharing of ideas.

An avid TED fan, I had previously organised TEDxMiltonKeynes, but quite fancied the chance to participate as ‘one of the team’ for TEDxEastend as was being advertised on Facebook (the added perk of free entry to the event was a bit of a clincher too!). Additionally, this year’s theme was ‘Society Beyond Borders’, which really appealed to me as I have spent a lot of time abroad and consider myself ‘a global citizen’.

Planning

Having made it through the selection process to the final 40-odd volunteers, I was then invited to attend a brief info session at Impact HUB Westminster, were we found out which vital cog in the TEDxEastend machine we would be playing on the day. I was assigned Registration, which was right up my street: as a people-person, I wasn’t fazed by welcoming puzzled guests as they arrived at the slightly ‘off the beaten track’ venue.

After a Friday night walk through of the space, the diverse army of bite-sized volunteers had began to bond. Croissants and coffee fueled last-minute preparations on Saturday morning, and all hands were on deck to pull off a pretty amazing space transformation!

Helping out on the day

My overall experience of TEDxEastend was one of occasional chaos. People got confused, tickets were lost and their were even the odd set malfunction. But nobody really minded: it was all part of the beautifully imperfect experience that comes from turning a dream into a walking talking reality.

In between managing the busy Registration desk, I got to sneak into the back row to listen to the programme of talks ongoing throughout the day.

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One of the speakers that resonated with me spoke about the irony that ‘the more we connect, the less we collaborate’. This really got me thinking, particularly about my experience of helping out at TEDxEastend. Sure, there were a few hiccups with communication while in the throws of delivering an ambitious and busy event. But with good process in place and sound preparation in place, people improvised with passion in line with a common vision. For me, this creativity was the ‘magical ingredient’ that made helping out at TEDxEastend so enjoyable. So, based on my experience, I’m not sure I agree with Leandro!

The overall verdict

TEDxEastend was a win-win for me, as I could both share my skills in a one-off way that fit around my full time job AND I also got the perk of attending one of the hottest events in happening in London at the time (there were over 200 people in the waiting list!).

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My view is that time is the ‘new’ currency in such a fast-paced world, and its time we made it work for us by creating more opportunities to volunteer like I did at TEDxEastend!

Here To… reflect: diary of a HeadStart intern

You may remember that a few weeks back we introduced our youngest ever recruits to the Here To team: Elisa and Samira.

They joined us as interns to help organise Here To’s 1st Birthday Party in January 2014 as part of HeadStart, a new project from The Challenge Network, where in exchange for 16 hours of helping out in the local community, young people can get a job interview for a paid work placement.

Now they’re ‘out of the other side’ and the event is over, here are their thoughts on the experience…

Elisa Ly

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Hey! It’s Elisa. As you probably know, the 1st Birthday Party has happened and, now I’ve had time to reflect, I’d like to tell you about the amazing experience I’ve had working with Here To Islington.

First of all, I’d just like to start off by saying that organising events is not as fun as you might think! Admittedly, I did have that idea that it would be all fun and games (with a bit of work), but in reality it was more like the other way around. Don’t get me wrong, there definitely was some fun times (shopping for decorations and of course the event itself) but there was a lot of hard work that had to be put into it that you just don’t normally see from the outside.

The main lesson that I have learnt from working with Here To that I will take away with me in future work is that the most effective way to get the information you need from people is to phone them. I had a bit of a fear of phoning people before getting this internship, but with some firm encouragement from Katherine, I plucked up the courage to make my first phone enquiry! It definitely got easier after that.

My proudest moment working on the event has to be the actual event itself. Seeing people enjoying themselves, taking part in the different micro-volunteering activities and receiving their hard-earned star in return, made me realise that all the hard work leading up to the event was really worthwhile: it was great to see so many people being enthusiastic and getting involved.

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One of my personal goals from getting involved with the event was to get more creative because I study the sciences at Sixth Form. I’m pretty certain I achieved that as I spent half a day making huge paper chains (they were seriously long) to decorate the venue and masterminded the decoration of the main staircase in Islington Town Hall with ribbons and balloons!

Overall, I would say my experience with Here To has been a little hectic but rewarding. Balancing Sixth Form and a work placement simultaneously was difficult at times, but I’m glad I had this opportunity to experience what it’s like to organise a big community event.

Favourite activities at #HereToParty: sewing with The Handmade Alliance, guessing the number of sweets in the jar with Help on your Doorstep and singing with Chaps Choir

Samira Conteh

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Hey! This is Samira. Unfortunately, my paid internship with Here To has now come to an end. The experience was a complete eye-opener for me as it wasn’t what I first had in mind when I thought about event panning but I’ve definitely learnt lots of new things.

One major thing I’ve learnt, is that event planning is about ‘more than just going out to buy decorations and starting decorating’ (which has become a favoured catchphrase of mine). This was my initial expectation but I came to realize just how much preparation and research goes into an event like Here To’s 1st Birthday Party.

When I was first offered the job, I knew that my strengths lied in the creative aspects. So it was amazing to see our ideas at the initial brainstorm turn into being part of the actual event. It is relatively easy to come up with ideas but in practice carrying them through can be quite difficult. But looking back on the experience, a large majority of the themes and activities we brainstormed were present in the end product: I’m proud of that!

Taking part in this internship has allowed me to explore different aspects of work and careers too. When I started, I wanted to gain some insight into the kind of career path I wanted to go down.

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So taking part in the many different aspects of event planning has allowed me to explore what I’m good at, what I enjoy and what really lies behind a job description. I’ve done everything from researching local companies, to making calls and enquiries and making decorative paper chains (I’m officially an an expert in the latter now!).

I would like to say I was amazing at making calls, but at times my speech would fail me and I would just start talking gibberish (I do feel bad for the people that had to decipher my voicemails). Here’s a lesson-to-self: prepare what you’re going to say beforehand!

My experience of working at Here To has taught me some interesting lessons, like how to balance school and work at the same time (as I’m currently in sixth form), how to make ice-cream in 5 minutes and how to communicate and network with a range of different people.

When it comes to approaching people, I’m normally get quite nervous, but I’ve been able to overcome this with Here To: at the event, I spent a great deal of time talking to Islington Council employees and found out about their graduate trainee course and work experience opportunities. I also took my chances while as Islington Town Hall and introduced myself to a few people who were producing an MTV event in the Islington Assembly Rooms next door. This has got me thinking about possibly exploring event production…

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My proudest moment during the experience was seeing the event come alive. I was great seeing all our hard work and planning finally turn into the actual event and I’m so glad I was able to take part. My main job at the event was as a ‘star sticker allocator’ but I also helped as an usher, welcoming them to the party and encouraging them to get involved in the activities. This included my mum and brother who showed up to support me by getting involved.

Looking back at the personal goals I set myself for this placement, I believe I achieved them: I was able to use my creative skills in coming up with ideas for decorations, I’ve improved my communication skills by networking and approaching people, I’ve gathered more information as to what it really means to be an event planner, and networking has made me more open to different careers paths. That’s success for me!

Favourite activities at #HereToPartysewing with Handmade Alliance, ice cream making with Udderlicious and learning to knit and lace with Age UK Islington

Accolades: Winner of The Saturday Night Project’s Tweet and Balance championship (I won ice skating tickets for sending a tweet whilst balancing on a ball in the shortest time: 26 seconds!)

A huge thanks to Samira and Elisa for their hard work and energy on the Here To 1st Birthday project. We wish you the best of luck for the future!

Here To… introduce our HeadStart interns

It’s been a busy week for the Here To team, particularly as we’re expanding at a rate of knots!

On Monday we had the pleasure of introducing Joanna, Here To’s new Community Development Co-ordinator, but now we’re Here To share a bit about Elisa and Samera!

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Hi everyone. We’re Elisa and Samira!

We’ve just landed the role of interns at Here To Islington, specifically to help organise Here To’s 1st Birthday Party at the end of January 2014.

Getting here has been a really exciting journey, with helping out locally at its heart.

We both took part in the National Citizenship Service programme in the summer which was powered by The Challenge. We worked in a team to build and deliver projects that made a real difference to where we live.

We then continued on to take part in HeadStart, a new project from The Challenge, where in exchange for 16 hours of helping out in the local community, young people can get a job interview.

Our job interview was with Here To Islington, and we’re both pleased to report that we were successful!

Coincidentally, we both go to the same school, but we’ve not spent that much time together as we study completely different subjects at AS-Level: Elisa studies Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, while Samira’s taking Music, Drama, English and Chemistry. So between us, we’ve got most bases covered!

Here’s a bit more about us individually (and our best ‘silly faces’ in the Here To Photomatic Machine):

SAMIRA

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Secret skill(s): acting and playing instruments.

Interests: playing basketball, learning new songs on the piano, jamming to music on my bass guitar, art, drawing, One Direction (I’m a secret fan) and socialising with friends.

Helping history: Islington Food Bank – I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would and I was surprised to find out just how many people depend on Food Banks as a source of food. This was a good eye-opener for me and I intend to continue helping out on the project.

Most looking forward to at Here To: planning the event and seeing the outcome of all our hard work. I hope that this internship will help me improve my communication skills in the way I articulate my ideas too.

ELISA

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Secret skill(s): listening.

Interests: reading (particularly Harry Potter and The Hunger Games), listening to music from the likes of Ed Sheeran and Bastille, studying the sciences, graphic design and sleeping.

Helping history: St John Ambulance CadetEnvision (helping young people to create a campaign to help their local community) and fundraising events and face-painting with Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice. Across all three of these opportunities, I loved feeling part of a community and the smiles on the children’s faces at Noah’s Ark were priceless!

Most looking forward to at Here To: having the opportunity to express my creative side, which is something I don’t get to do very much at school considering the subjects I am studying.

That’s all from us for now!

Stay tuned for more updates on our time with Here To and how the planning is going for the Here To 1st Birthday Party.