Meet the RVA Team – Steve Hendry, Volunteering Development Manager

The first in a new series, in which we ask members of the Reading Voluntary Action team to tell us about their work, and reflect on how things have changed over the last few weeks. First, we have Steve Hendry, who has been with RVA for almost 9 years in a variety of roles and coordinates Team Reading. As the Volunteering Development Manager, Steve works with organisations across Reading to help them involve volunteers in their work and promote volunteering to those who want to help. He is part of the Stronger Together partnership, supporting people to move closer to the workforce, often using volunteering as a way of building confidence and skills. He also oversees the day-to-day activities of the Social Prescribing service.

How has your role changed since the coronavirus outbreak?

My role has changed significantly since the outbreak, both in terms of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I have overseen the launch of a volunteer-run shopping service, as part of the One Reading Community Hub response, supporting those at particular risk or who are self isolating as a result of suspected infection. This has involved rapidly developing the infrastructure to be able to receive, process and deliver shopping orders across the town in a way that is safe and effective for all, remotely, from my home in Didcot. I now feel like an old hand with a number of video conferencing platforms – the use of which I could probably count on one hand 5 weeks ago. It has also given me a new insight into the challenges of volunteer management that I hope I will be able to use to support groups in the future. Callers to the One Reading Community Hub seeking support with their shopping, but also with anxiety and wellbeing concerns, are coming through to members of the RVA team. The quantity and intensity of the challenges facing callers is particularly high at the moment. I have been supporting the RVA team members taking these calls, and doing this remotely has required a steep learning curve for us all.

What has been the most challenging part of the changes over the last few weeks?

Not being able to simply turn around and talk through an issue or challenge with a colleague has been difficult and finding new ways to provide each other with peer support has been important. Trying not to spend the whole day snacking has been a particular challenge for me, made extra difficult by the fact my new office is next to my kitchen!

Our Team Reading service had been used to support the recruitment of approximately 750 volunteers in the 3 years since it was established. In the past 5 weeks, 2000+ people have signed-up via the platform.
Have there been any positives to lockdown for you?
Initially, much of my work was about adapting our systems for promoting and managing volunteers in normal times to accommodate the huge uplift of interest in volunteering the outbreak has sparked. To put this in context, our Team Reading service had been used to support the recruitment of approximately 750 volunteers in the 3 years since it was established. In the past 5 weeks, 2000+ people have signed-up via the platform. Obviously, as someone who has been involved in one way or another with promoting volunteering in our town for the past 9 years, this is a tremendous positive. My hope is that this wave of desire to help others will last beyond this initial phase of the outbreak and continue on once life starts to approach something closer to the normal we enjoyed before the outbreak. In my view, it is at this point and on into the recovery, that the work of volunteers will be needed the most. It has also allowed me to explore new ways of doing things and has at times taken me out of my comfort zone in terms of the way things needed to be done. I have already started to embrace this by planning to run my first webinar on volunteering for University of Reading students next month.
As we start to look to a future shaped by coronavirus, are there things you are particularly concerned about or hopeful for?

I am very concerned that the economic aftermath of the outbreak will disproportionately impact upon those with the fewest resources, much like the austerity policies seen during the past decade. I also worry about the availability of support for those who have been in the frontline and supporting the frontline throughout the outbreak, but have perhaps not had the visibility that others, quite rightly, have received. Their needs could be all to easily ignored or forgotten.

Again, I think an important next step will be in communicating the critical role that volunteers can play. Supply of volunteers is far outstripping the immediate demand, but we’ll work hard to ensure the skills and talents of potential volunteers who have not had the opportunity to get involved so far can be put to good use in the coming months.