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We are showcasing some of our amazing volunteers each day of Volunteers' Week. This year we are profiling volunteers who represent some of the more diverse volunteering roles we have within our organisation.
Mags Robinson, a volunteer since 2009 at our children’s centres in Oldham, tells us all about her experiences volunteering with us.
Q: What do you do as a volunteer?
A: I lead Stay & Play sessions at children’s centres.
Why did you choose to volunteer with us and how did you get involved?
I was attending a Stay & Play session with my one-year-old grandson, Oliver, when I was approached by the volunteer co-ordinator for the centre at that time. She explained that there was to be a launch to celebrate the taking over of five Sure Start children's centres around Oldham by The Children’s Society, and she asked if I would be able to give a community perspective of the centre.
I agreed, not realising how terrifying the experience would be. At the time I was new to the area and knew no one apart from my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. It took me three weeks to write something down and a few sleepless nights worrying about standing up in front of a lot of people.
I am glad I agreed to do it because I am very happy in my role.
What is a typical day volunteering with The Children’s Society?
The day begins at 8.45 or 9am. I have already planned the session to the EYFS framework and I set up after carrying out the usual safety procedures.
When the session begins at 10, I greet children and the parents and carers. First-time visitors to the session will be given a warm welcome and a tour and I will keep an eye on them to be sure they are happy. I am available for advice and I have a brilliant centre leader and staff who are always there if I need them. The session ends at 11.30.
At 11.15 the children and parents/carers get involved with a tidy up time in the main room and are able to join in the singing session where the children sit in a circle and get to choose from the song sack and I finish the session with action songs such as Wheels on the Bus, The Hokey Kokey and a goodbye song. We then see the families out and then set about tidying up the rooms because another member of staff has an afternoon play session. Afterwards, we sit down with our notes and set about writing the session evaluation to the EYFS framework and begin preparation for the planning of next week's Stay & Play session.
I often stay behind to prepare resources for activities, such as paper templates (eg leaves, petals and stems for crafting), Play Dough, searching pictures of insects/bugs to laminate for an outdoor bug huntm and anything else that I can do to help staff where I can. The parents’ forum is currently planning a fundraising event for the end of June and as I am the treasurer, I am in touch with other members via the telephone or email.
What have you enjoyed the most about volunteering with us?
I enjoy everything I do.
I have been fortunate enough to have had the best training, support and belief from the staff of Royton and Shaw & Crompton children's centres during the past four years. I have also visited all of the other children’s centres in Oldham many times and gained valuable experience about the different communities and their needs.
The Stay & Play session is very important to me because feedback from the parents/carers is so positive, they tell us how their children really enjoy and benefit from the sessions and they feel that the service would be really missed if it ever stopped.
What is a highlight of your volunteering?
In 2010 I wanted to show the staff of Shaw & Crompton children’s centre how much I appreciated the faith and support they showed in me, words seemed inadequate. I came across the chance to nominate the centre and the staff and to highlight their wonderful work with families of under fives in the area and with myself and other volunteers. As a result Shaw & Crompton children’s centre was chosen as 'Children’s Centre Team of the year 2010'.
It was a fantastic accolade and I travelled with the children's centre's leaders to London to receive the award. I felt so proud of these people who had given me the chance to make a difference with my volunteering.
Was volunteering what you expected it to be?
Because I had never planned to volunteer and the opportunity found me, I found myself being carried along with events without really realising what was happening. The staff seemed to know me better that I did and she somehow recognised that I needed something to help me integrate with my new home town. I moved to Oldham from Walsall, West Midlands following redundancy in 2008 after 36 years in a factory, in order to be closer to my only child who had met and married a Royton girl.
Visiting the children’s centre helped me bond with my precious grandson. We both have happy memories of our play time there and just as importantly, becoming a volunteer really helped me integrate into my new home town.
I feel volunteering empowers me in ways I would never have thought possible.
What have you gained from volunteering with us?
I suffered from depression during my 40s and early 50s and if I had stayed in the West Midlands I feel that I would not have had the chance to get well. I wouldn’t have had the chance to see my family and grandchildren very often and I’m sure that my illness would have hindered me in gaining employment or other opportunities. I feel that day when Karen, the volunteer co-ordinator (guardian angel in disguise), approached me, she gave me my life back and gave me direction.
Staff, including Helen, the current volunteer co-ordinator, have helped me to gain knowledge essential for my role by providing many training and practical opportunities and continue to support me 100 percent.
When I first became a volunteer I couldn’t have envisioned myself standing up in front of 35 parents and carers and 36 children reading a story and singing but I do and I am still amazed about this, so gaining confidence is a major plus for me because it has helped me to heal and realise that life is wonderful.
What would you say to other people who are interested in volunteering with The Children’s Society?
I would say to anyone thinking of volunteering to consider The Children’s Society because there are many opportunities and roles available with excellent training and support.
Just as importantly, despite the year being 2014, there are still many children and families who face many difficulties including poverty, abuse and health problems and need support in many ways, so believe in yourself and realise that as a person you have so much to give and can really make a difference both for those children and just as importantly to yourself.
What would be your three top tips for new volunteers?
- Believe in yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to shine.
- Above all, enjoy volunteering as you make a real difference.
Get involved in volunteering
We have over 11,000 volunteers supporting our services, and this is just one of the many ways you can get involved and help children, young people and their families.
Find out more about how you can become a volunteer.