Our Volunteering Development Worker, Steve Hendry, spoke with Irene, a trustee at Reading Community Learning Centre (RCLC), as well as Farzane, an administration volunteer.
How did you get involved in volunteering?
Farzane – I worked for 15 years in a University before I moved to the UK about two and a half years ago. I was looking for work but I was afraid, because my English language is my second language, I asked myself; how can I start a new job? What kind of job? Because lots of jobs are similar, but some jobs are different from my country. Then I accidentally found here [RCLC} and I asked ‘do you need volunteer?’ They are very welcoming and they are very flexible. They tell me ‘yes, why not?’.
Now I work in office alone most of the time, and they trust me as well. I love them, because they are very flexible; it’s helped my self-confidence. I started my [paid] job last May. Before I was afraid, but now, in my job (I work part-time), they are happy with me; they ask me for extra time as well.
“Now I’m very busy, but I come here, help them, and then go to work”
Irene – I always wanted to volunteer, but… So my first three years in the UK, I was working in hospitality, so the times I was working were not really flexible, so I couldn’t find a volunteer position. Then I moved here and started my PhD, and that’s quite flexible in the sense I can choose when I work. So I started looking for volunteering positions, and to be honest at the beginning I didn’t know in what I could help, but then I went to the website for Reading Voluntary Action and I saw quite a lot of charities were looking for volunteers in marketing, and as it was my degree I was thinking ‘well, maybe I could help with that’.
There were different charities, but I especially liked RCLC because they were helping women; I consider myself kind of a feminist, so I loved the idea that they were working with women, and also I’m not a native [English] speaker myself, so I like it more because of that, because they were helping women learn English. So I had an interview with them, I loved the staff, I loved the environment, everyone was so friendly, I started helping them with the website, social media, then I did some research as well. I was doing my bit basically.
What does the volunteering involve?
Farzane – Here, I work with the computer, as well as registering students enrolment forms; I help the students fill in the form… anything they need I can help with. l also answer the phone…. filing, copy, print… all types of everything.
Irene – To start with I volunteered helping them with marketing, because they didn’t have anyone working in marketing at the time. I was a volunteer since April 2014 until September of that year, when I became a trustee, mainly working from home. They had people with great backgrounds in social work, in finance, in human resources, but they didn’t have anyone working on marketing so they though I could be a good asset for the board.
Steve – When you were approached to join the board, how did you feel about that? Because it’s obviously a very responsible position.
Irene – I was quite scared because I didn’t have any knowledge about how a charity should be managed, and so it was a bit scary at the beginning, but all of them were really nice to me. They have a lot of experience, so they were aware that in some issues I couldn’t be of help, because I don’t have the knowledge.
“They were always taking my advice into account, and they were really helpful”
What do you get out of it?
Farzane – [Having] a volunteer job makes self-confidence and experience in a new country. I think it’s really nice, because I hadn’t any voluntary job in my country. I don’t know for English people, but for those from other countries I think it’s good, because for myself it helps me to understand something different from my country. For example, after school club is new for me; in my country, if you like it you can pay extra and schools look after your children.
Steve – And how have you found the experience of being part of the trustee board?
Irene – Well, I’d say it’s very very nice, because it’s not only that you feel you’re helping others and you’re feeling better and all that; it’s that you learn how a charity works and I’m personally really interested in charity work. In this case, it’s very good because it’s a small charity, so you kind of have the chance to be part of anything that happens here. I suppose in other charities that are bigger you will have that opportunity, but here you can have your voice in every decision.
I love the work RCLC is doing. I was interviewing learners this year, and I was about to cry a couple of times. A lot of people see volunteering like ‘oh, yeah, we’ll gain skills, put it in my CV’, but it’s not all that. I mean, you can see that through your work, the few hours you spend helping people, is changing their lives in the case of RCLC. It’s like this place really changes their lives, and that is really rewarding.
It’s very useful for me, because you see real stories. I used to read articles in books all day, but here you get to know the real people; how they are getting helped and support, ’cause this place is not just about learning.
“I mean, you can go for learning to a lot of places in Reading and in general, right? But here it’s about a friendly, supportive environment, where they feel safe and supported”
Steve – That community element of RCLC comes across when you visit here.
Irene – Yeah, we have learners here that say they don’t have any friends before coming here. They didn’t have anyone to talk to, apart from their family, before coming here. They couldn’t even talk with teachers or doctors because they couldn’t speak with them. Because it’s not only about learning English, but about their self-confidence.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about becoming a volunteer?
Farzane – Um, if they can speak English very well, I would advise go straight away and start new job. <laugh> If not, the same as me, I advise go and start a voluntary job, because it gives us self-confidence, understanding, and we can speak more than before. If you stay alone and just read some book to try to learn some English, you can’t. You need dealings with the other people, and try to speak and speak, even wrong.
Irene – I would say don’t be scared. When I was going to be a volunteer, because I hadn’t done it before, I was looking at it like a job interview and was very nervous. Just relax, you are going to volunteer to help others and they are going to be grateful that you want to give your time to do that.
Inspired? Take a look at 150+ opportunities at our www.rgneeds.me site