Corporate Responsibility: Whitbread to back mentors skills scheme

John Plummer

Hospitality giant Whitbread and charity Groundwork have launched a £1.15m mentoring scheme for volunteers. The two organisations secured £1m from the Big Lottery Fund for the initiative, known as Whitbread Action UK.

The environmental charity will run six residential courses over the next three years to train 120 mentors for volunteers.

The courses will also train 300 volunteers to develop skills ranging from erecting fences to fundraising, giving their environmental schemes a better chance of survival.

"The programme is devised for people who have started doing something but need skills, confidence and support to continue doing it," said Graham Duxbury of Groundwork.

"You can often get Lottery money for practical projects, but it's much more difficult to find funding for people development schemes, even though they are difficult to sustain without funding."

He said the charity needed a corporate partner as part of the application process and that it hoped the scheme would promote volunteering among Whitbread's 40,000 staff. The scheme was launched a week after the Russell Commission called for a more joined-up approach to volunteering.

Piers Blake, head of corporate responsibility at Whitbread, said it chose to work with Groundwork because the charity "was a leading organisation in terms of helping volunteers do their jobs effectively".

He added: "Self-starters need support and mentoring if they are to make the most of their community projects and deliver maximum impact."

Whitbread hired a CSR consultant to find a charity partner 18 months ago. Blake admitted the company, whose CSR logo is "helping young people achieve their potential", had not been successful in its previous environmental programme, Whitbread Action Earth.

"It didn't seem to be working for us," he said. "It wasn't about skills; it was about putting Whitbread's name to projects, and we didn't think it was adding value to individuals."

Whitbread is contributing £150,000 to the scheme, which runs for three years. It already has charity partners for its brands - for instance, Brewers Fayre adopted Whizz-Kidz as its charity of the year in 2004.

MONITOR

Rob Jackson, chairman, Employees in the Community Network

I welcome the partnership scheme. Anything that will help volunteers in the work they do, both personally and in the sector as a whole, is a positive move. The training of volunteers means they can offer a broader range of skills and make a more valuable contribution in an area that really requires those skills - instead of, for example, giving their time to repaint charities' offices.

Whitbread has a very good track record with employees in the volunteer sector, so I think it will certainly make the scheme effective, and it can build on its previous experience.

Depending on the PR the scheme generates for Whitbread, it might encourage similar companies to forge such partnerships. Corporate support for funding and volunteers sustains the core work of charities. It's important and very welcome.

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