Interview: Julie Corbett-Bird

The director of the Blackfriars Settlement explains to Femke Colborne why the charity is appointing a staff member to coordinate and manage the volunteers it relies upon

Julie Corbett-Bird
Julie Corbett-Bird

The Blackfriars Settlement is a charity based in south London that helps the local community by offering social, educational and recreational activities for people of all ages. It runs services in four major areas: education and training, mental health, older people, and children and young people. The charity has 35 paid staff and uses about 100 volunteers across all its activities.

In January, it successfully applied to the Transition Fund, the Office for Civil Society's programme to help charities whose public sector funding is being reduced. It required money to pay for a new staff member to manage its volunteers. The charity hopes to have appointed someone to the role by the end of April.

"Our volunteers bring vital skills to support the work we do, but to date we haven't had anyone central to manage them," says Julie Corbett-Bird, director of the Blackfriars Settlement. "Volunteers approach us in a rather ad hoc way. We take references and do CRB checks, but the whole process is quite onerous for us to monitor. There has been no one to oversee the process, so we wanted more consistency in practice across the organisation."

Volunteers help to run a number of services for the Blackfriars Settlement, including a legal clinic, befriending services and a singing group. The charity also runs three lunch clubs, all of which are managed with the help of volunteers. According to Corbett-Bird, however, it has struggled to maximise the potential for using volunteers across its different services.

"At the moment someone might begin volunteering in our services for older people and just stay there," she says. "But they might like to move to another service. We have no one who could organise that." Part of the volunteer administrator's remit will be to ensure that volunteers are aware of opportunities across all the charity's areas of operation.

Administration is an important part of the role, says Corbett-Bird. "There is a lot of work in the recruitment and placing of volunteers and making sure they've had the right training," she says. "The post-holder will produce a personal development plan for volunteers - an induction into the organisation."

There will also be more strategic elements to the job. The post-holder will look at ways in which the organisation could use more volunteers and identify opportunities for them to receive free training. By the time the year's funding ends, Corbett-Bird hopes the charity will have recruited an extra 50 volunteers.

The Blackfriars Settlement is already looking at ways to pay for the post, which offers a salary of £27,000 a year, after the Transition Fund money runs out. Corbett-Bird says the charity would consider funding it from within its existing budget.

"If our level of service delivery depends on volunteers, it might be appropriate for the services to pay from their budgets towards the management of those volunteers," she says.

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