Volunteering special: Mission's volunteer-friendly ethos has them queueing to help

Indira Das-Gupta

Not many charities can boast a waiting list for volunteers, but the Whitechapel Mission already has enough volunteers for the next three months and its Christmas volunteering slots are all taken.

Tony Miller, director of the charity, would be the first to admit this was not always the case. "I had to go back to the drawing board and ask why volunteers were not coming," he said. "We had to become more businesslike.

We sell a product that can be adapted to people's needs. For example, breakfast is from 8am to 10am, but we allow Bank of England employees to come at different times so they can go to work afterwards.

"Volunteers should not be seen as a pain in the arse; they make a valuable contribution."

In order to make the charity more volunteer-friendly, the building was redesigned. The kitchen is now a 'safety cocoon' in which the serving counter forms a partition between volunteers and clients. There are CCTV cameras throughout, and swipe cards are needed to get into any of the rooms.

Miller also changed the way the charity was funded. "When I joined, one of the first things I did was to stop statutory funding because we had to go through too many hoops," he said.

Now the charity gets much of its funding from corporates such as Deutsche Bank.

"We get £50,000 a year from them, and it's completely unrestricted," said Miller. "We also get a donation from companies when one of their employees volunteers for us, because they understand there's an administrative cost."

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