Reflections on partnership


As National Volunteers’ Week 2022 looms on the horizon, I have found myself pondering the nature of partnership and specifically how adversity drives organisations (and people) to answers they otherwise would not have found. Specifically, from a Volunteering Kingston perspective, it manifested itself with the partnership that became Kingston Stronger Together (KST). As we tip-toe back to a world where pandemic viruses are not all-embracing and other issues become dominant in the media it is worth taking a moment to appreciate some of the gains made. 

The KST came together in late February/early March 2020 at the beginning of an unprecedented medical crisis. It started because the then Leader of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBK) had a clear vision of genuine partnership for Covid-response and she found the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations willing collaborators. Civic leadership has changed since then and the individuals who were the core elements of that partnership also moved on but the mechanics of partnership remain.  

From Volunteering Kingston’s (Groundwork London) perspective the value in the KST came from the partnership approach and the utilising of resources that accrues from it. By engaging the VCS as equals rather than as sub-contractors (something at the time we hoped to be reflected in the conclusions to the RBK Voluntary Sector Commissioning process review) RBK had been able to garner almost unique levels of service delivery cooperation and ensure a communication cycle unpreceded within the borough. For just under two years, the partnership was central to safeguarding the local community. 

There was a sea of goodwill from within the community of Kingston borough which saw an initial rush of 1200 volunteers for Covid-response.

This, combined with the contribution of informal and spontaneous localised groups, was pivotal to supporting professionals in coordinating the various delivery tiers. Despite an over-supply of willing volunteers (which mirrored the experience of the NHS volunteers) the volunteer experience in the borough rose to new levels and looked like it would continue to do so for some time to come.  

About a year in, whilst others were looking ahead, we understood it was absolutely vital that the core elements of the KST/Hub approach were maintained. 

The organisation’s key to success was retaining the leadership element whilst remaining open to all civic and stakeholder contributors.

The response to Covid-19 demonstrated how co-operative and collaborative approaches can be enacted quickly and become efficient and effective. Between March 2020 to March 2022, the KST proved to work and, in some form or other, it must continue. 

It is now May 2022 and, as needs decline, not all physical manifestations of that partnership are still in play, understandably. However, the KST has made the concept of positive partnership a reality, supported by a massive body of work and experience. The VCS* side is still here and responding to needs. It is still the place where individual volunteers connect to be part of the whole, still being partnership personified. On reflection, it was a massive achievement!   

By Michael Green, May 2022. 


* Including Volunteering Kingston, Kingston Voluntary Action, as well as organisations such as the Foodbank and Voices for Hope and informal contributions from the Good Gym groups etc. 

Barriers made gateways

When those of us in the Volunteer Services business think about barriers to volunteering we are inclined to think in big picture terms. Accessibility, diversity and ensuring a positive volunteering experience are all important issues to think about but do they reflect the reality of the individual?  

 Often for those of us professionally working in the Voluntary Sector and engaging with volunteers, we miss some of the nuances of what prevents people from putting themselves forward. The large number of people who have appropriate skill-sets but don’t seem to be able to take an intention to serve their community through action is a resource opportunity missed. Sometimes the barriers are smaller than you think, don’t require extensive training courses or attractive volunteering opportunity scopes and that begs the question what can be done to overcome them? The answer can sometimes be found in the human experience. 

 Let’s take my better half as an example. A very busy life, bookended between civic responsibility and parenthood and yet still keen to somehow do more. Whilst she has been a volunteer in various organisations for many years, the idea of stepping up a level was one she baulked at. Now, as much as I’d like to say my persuasive coaxing helped her grasp the nettle the reality is that it all came from her. In her own words, this is what allowed her to take that extra step: 

 I took on my first voluntary board member role earlier this year. The organisation is a housing association for people with complex mental health needs. A lot of my volunteer roles have centred around mental health, an issue close to my heart, so it seemed an obvious step. 

 I was warmly welcomed by the other board members and officers and got stuck straight in. It is different to the more personal volunteering support I was used to, but just as rewarding. I’m looking at the financial sustainability of the organisation; the long-term vision and goals; the quality of services; better working with stakeholders and the community; and the set-up of the organisation itself. Because of my skill-set, I’ve joined a subcommittee looking at quality and compliance, including resident and stakeholder satisfaction. As a regulated service working with NHS and local authorities, there are multiple aspects to this work, but putting clients and service users first is a must for me. They come to us via various methods, but all of them need support and care to help them move on to more independent living. Their voice is vital in the running of the service, so we take time to listen to what they want and need. 

 I was worried that the time element would make it difficult for me, but that hasn’t been the case. We have board meetings every other month in the early evening, then there are a few emails and papers a week to read through, some mandatory training videos and occasionally an away day. I can fit this into my schedule without any problems and mostly work at a time that suits me and my family. 

 I know that by being a board member, I am helping shape the organisation to provide what the organisation and the clients need. The reward of joining a board comes in knowing that my work will help change their lives for the better and there is nothing more satisfying than that. I’m glad I made this step. I’m still doing the personal volunteering in other organisations, but this has given me the chance to help with wider changes that need to be made to give the best services to this vulnerable group of our community. 

 I use this close to home example to show that even though my partner had access to someone like myself, with best practice and up to date volunteer stimulation skills, it was the ability to fit her new responsibilities within an existing busy life that drove this forward. Volunteering and the roles we create in its name isn’t a vacuum, it has to reflect the real-world experience of the community you are hoping to tap into. This is the case even more so in the current hybrid “nearly post-pandemic” age where reluctance has been increased. 

 The lesson for me, and I suggest for others, is that whilst it is very important to have a good policy framework for encouraging volunteers it is the capacity to be flexible that allows an individual to see where they can add their unique value. Talking to individuals can go a long way to opening up possibilities. Once a person is freed from the restraint they can quickly become an asset. Barriers become gateways and we all benefit.  


Michael Green. March 2022.