In 2006, 25 volunteers from Barclays Bank decorated the exterior of an Addaction centre in Hackney, east London, painting a mural on its wall. This year, staff from the bank will give their time to the drugs and alcohol charity while dressed in suits rather than overalls, as they help unemployed Addaction service users with CV advice, mock interviews and IT workshops.
The change reflects a growing trend among companies to refocus their volunteering with charities and make better use of the skills of their employees, rather than help out only with everyday tasks.
"We've always been strong on volunteering," says Danny Reardon, head of community relations for Barclays' London and southern region. "Historically, it's been about painting and decorating. But we're trying to develop more skills-based volunteering because, as far as we're concerned, it has a greater impact."
The Barclays volunteers will be working on a new project to help 200 Addaction clients in Brent, north-west London, back into work. People with drug and alcohol problems find it particularly difficult to get jobs. Only 19 per cent of Addaction Brent service users are currently employed; the majority are on benefits or without any income at all.
"We had approaches from clients asking for employment-related activities," says Jo Greenhouse, corporate fundraising manager at Addaction. "We have a basic literacy programme, but a lot of our clients needed more than that. So we approached Barclays with a specific project and said this was what we wanted to do."
As well as releasing staff, Barclays has donated £25,000 to pay the salary costs of a project leader. But to get approval, the project needed to be assessed by the London Benchmarking Group, a coalition of 100 companies that assesses corporate community involvement. The evaluation did not consider only the project's potential for getting Addaction clients into work, but also the savings that would be made as a result of their leaving the benefit system and issues such as the likelihood of gaining match funding and media coverage.
Both parties will benefit practically from the project, because Addaction workers and clients will visit Barclays' offices and branches to talk to staff about drug and alcohol awareness. Greenhouse says: "We run a drug and alcohol workplace programme that will be offered to corporate clients to help them develop their policies. We also promote wider awareness. For example, we help parents talk to their children about these issues."
The Addaction partnership reflects a recent change in Barclays' corporate social responsibility priorities. Themes that were previously wide-ranging have been honed down and the focus is now on financial education and employment-related projects. The company is also funding a job club for ex-offenders run by Addaction in Manchester.