Connie with her tablet 2020

Connie, one of our Re:connect service users with her new tablet.



We all know how much COVID-19 has disproportionately affected our elderly population, who have been at much greater risk of being hospitalised or dying if they are diagnosed with the disease. To keep themselves safe, our older people have been shielding at home now for almost a year.

Even before the virus reared its ugly head, those whose loved ones had passed away or who’d lost touch with families were already particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation, which research has proven time and again to have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing. And of course, declining health and mobility problems often meant they were unable to get out and about without support.

Working with older people has been my focus for many of the years I’ve been with Northumberland CVA (which still operated as Wansbeck CVS back then), particularly since our Re:action Assisted Shopping Scheme was set up over 19 years ago to address social isolation issues amongst older people in South East Northumberland.

Using accessible minibuses and a team of volunteers, the project collects elderly users from their own front door and takes them out to popular shopping areas so they can benefit from social connections, continue to make their own shopping choices and maintain their independence.

In 2016 we also launched a new Doing Digital service, taking our existing digital inclusion training sessions out into local communities to help older people develop IT skills and gain confidence online to carry out practical tasks such as applying for and renewing a blue badge online, carrying out price comparisons on utility bills and car insurance, using email and social media, and installing apps on tablets and mobile phones.  

But of course COVID put these activities on hold and we were unable to continue the shopping trips and IT sessions at community venues. However, since the pandemic began, everyone one of us at Northumberland CVA has remained fully committed to supporting all of our service users, and particularly the older people who access our services.

As an organisation, we’ve constantly changed and adapted how Re:action works so it can continue to give support. My role, with the support of our volunteers, has involved keeping in touch with our older people through email and regular phone calls, and pulling together a directory of local businesses and shops providing services within the South East Northumberland area covered by the project for shopping, meal deliveries,etc.  Along with useful contacts, including numbers for Northumberland County Council and emergency services, this has been turned into a valuable resource that we’ve been able to distribute to our service users.

And we’ve had wonderful feedback on the adapted service. One Re:action service user said, “The contact I've had from you and the local information you've sent has been a lifeline. I use the numbers regularly. Even though I can't get out, I'm going to Glenton’s for my bread and cakes, Morrison’s for my food, and I even treat myself to a cooked meal from one of the local cafes. It is so lovely to know you care and are keeping in touch. Thank you.”

We’ve also done all in our power to continue offering IT support remotely, although many of our older service users didn’t own a smart device that could make staying in touch easier. This issue led to us developing a new project called Re:connect.

Re:connect is a tablet loan scheme for older people that has been funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. The project is supported by IT volunteers and utilises Northumberland CVA’s links with local community organisations, including Bedlington Creative, Choppington Disability Group & Mind Active.

Re:connect aims to help older people become more digitally savvy and keep them connected with each other, with friends and families, and with any local community groups they may have been involved with before the crisis hit. Volunteers help people learn how to use the tablet device either via phone calls or in small group sessions online, giving them the knowledge and skills to not only stay connected during the COVID restrictions but also to more easily re-establish their normal social connections outside of the home once restrictions are eased.

We host weekly Zoom sessions where participants can talk freely about any IT issues they’re having, take part in a fun quiz, and hear from speakers who come and talk to the group.

One lady who has used the Re:connect Tablet Loan Scheme said “This has opened a whole new world to me. The volunteers are so patient when they are talking to me over the phone. I didn’t realise how easy it is to use [a tablet]. I wished I had got one years ago. The best bit for me is each night I facetime my sister and we talk for hours, it’s like we’re in each other's living rooms. Brilliant!”

And Re:connect has not only been great for the older people, it has also been a boon to our volunteers, one of whom has said, “I was feeling a bit lost during lockdown as I am usually a very active person within my community, and then suddenly it all stopped! To help with the Re:connect project has been great; I’ve been able to occupy myself with sessions and organising the quizzes. It's not just the older people who benefit from this project, the volunteers do too.”

Once we begin emerging from lockdown, when things are able to return to normal, Re:connect will continue to be a great addition to our services for older people. The project will complement our Re:action Assisted Shopping Scheme and Doing Digital projects in tackling loneliness and promoting independence in advancing age, helping to prevent the health issues that are known to arise from social isolation and that add pressure on our wonderful NHS.

I’m always happy to talk about our work with older people, so do get in touch if you’d like to know more about Re:connect, or about any of the other services I’ve mentioned here. Simply email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or you can call me on 01670 858688 (N.B.: At the time of writing, we are still in lockdown; Northumberland CVA’s phone line is being monitored part time and messages are being forwarded on, so this may create a slight delay in me getting back to you).

Stay safe





Karen Cox is Northumberland CVA’s Project Co-ordinator for our older people’s services

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One of the main purposes of Trustees’ Week, which takes place every November, is to raise awareness of opportunities for people from all walks of life to consider taking on the vitally important volunteering role of trusteeship in a charity or a community organisation.

When people think of offering their time as a volunteer, becoming a trustee to help steer an organisation is not usually the role that springs to mind first, and yet there are lots of voluntary and community sector organisations out there that are desperate for new trustees with a variety of skills.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many thousands of people offered their time as volunteers, perhaps for the first time in their lives, to help support those most vulnerable in our communities by delivering food parcels and prescriptions or ferrying the elderly and disabled to hospital appointments etc. When the need for such immediate support wanes and the focus begins to shift towards rebuilding rather than simply reacting, many of these new volunteers are likely to find they have been bitten by the volunteering bug and will want to look for new ways they can donate their time.

So this blog is for those who might be open to considering volunteering in the role of trusteeship, even if the thought has never before crossed their mind.



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Trustees in Northumberland

We estimate that there are in excess of 2,170 charitable organisations based in Northumberland, each one of which is steered by a board of trustees. In the run up to Trustees’ Week 2020, we carried out our own very small survey to ask how trustees in Northumberland feel about their role. 26 trustees responded to tell us what made them want to become a trustee, what they think are the most important attributes a trustee needs, and to offer advice for anyone thinking about becoming a trustee themselves.


Why people become trustees

42% of respondents told us it was their passion for the cause of their organisation that persuaded them to become a trustee, so if there’s a cause you feel particularly passionate about and if there’s an organisation locally that addresses that cause, whether that be campaigning for the environment, providing support for people in poverty or with a particular disease or health condition, saving the whale or researching local history, then that’s a great place to start looking for trustee opportunities.

27% of respondents simply wanted to make a difference, while 8% wanted to use their skills for good and 4% took on the role in order to help them develop new skills. The boards of all voluntary and community organisations need a variety of skills to keep moving ahead, and many people looking for a new volunteering role may already possess those that are most sought after. So if you’re skilled in managing money, in business strategy, or marketing and communications, if you have secretarial, PR, or digital development experience, or a well developed knowledge of your particular community or work sector, there are trustee opportunities out there that are exactly right for you.


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Their most important attributes

The skills we’ve talked about so far have mostly been hard objective skills that have been learnt and developed mainly through education and work experience. We also asked trustees to list the most important attributes, or soft skills, a trustee will need in their arsenal. These are more subjective and difficult to quantify, and not something easily evidenced through certificates and diplomas or CVs.

The highest scoring attribute was that of a commitment to the purpose, objects and values of your organisation (29%), followed by being prepared to make difficult collective decisions and stand by them and the ability to analyse information and, when necessary, challenge constructively (both 21%). The ability to respect boundaries between operational and strategic functions scored 14%, while being a good listener and being non-judgemental came in at 8% and 6% respectively. If some of these attributes ring a bell with you, you are admirably suited to becoming a trustee.

And of course, the role of trustee offers great opportunities to develop new skills that can help progress your career, such as strategic development, critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills, as well as team working skills.

So, you’re considering becoming a trustee and you now have a good idea about the sort of causes you could commit to and the skills you could offer.


Advice from trustees on becoming a trustee

The last question we asked in our survey was “What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a trustee?” Based on the responses we received, here are some tips to keep in mind if before you take the plunge:


1: Be clear about what’s involved

Trustees are responsible for governing their organisation to ensure it carries out its purposes for the public benefit and managing its resources to that effect. The decisions they are called upon to make as a team can impact on people’s lives, so it’s a big responsibility. Read the Charity Commission guidance on what’s involved before taking on the role.


2: Find the right opportunity

As we’ve seen above, for some this is about finding a cause they can be passionate about, while for others its more about using their skills to make a difference more generally. You can find a range of trustee opportunities in Northumberland listed on our website and in our fortnightly e-bulletin (sign up via our homepage), and also along with general volunteering opportunities on our interactive Volunteer Connect database.

VONNE lists opportunities across the whole region, while TrusteeWorks takes a more national view.

Of course, if you have a charity in mind, but you’re not aware of any trustee vacancies, you could always give them a call, or send in you CV with a covering letter to let them know you’re available and theirs is the cause you want to support.


3: Understand the organisation

Find out how the organisation works. Look at their website, read and reread the governing document until you understand it thoroughly. Meet the people, not just the trustees and the CEO, but ask if you can meet the staff and volunteers too, and ask lots of questions. Until you understand how the organisation works, how will you know what it is you’re taking on?


4: Don’t overcommit

Before you make your decision, be clear on how much time you’ll be expected to commit in an average month, and then add on some more so you know you’ll always have the capacity to cope with unexpected demands on your time and energy when it comes to steering your organisation through a crisis, live COVID-19.

And of course you must always be prepared to give that time and effort.


5. Go for it!

The respondents to our survey were quite clear that, once you’ve checked out all the previous points and know you can fulfil the role to the best of your ability, you should follow your instincts, get involved and use your skills for the benefit of your chosen organisation. Go for it.

As one respondent said, “Give it a try; it will surprise you!”  



Jackie 3

Jackie Auld

Information & Communications Officer

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It’s Trustees’ Week 2020: an annual event that calls on the voluntary and community sector to celebrate the great work that trustees do and highlight opportunities for people from all walks of life to consider getting involved and becoming trustees themselves.

But this year, in the middle of a pandemic and a new lockdown, how can we achieve this? Is it even appropriate to be celebrating our trustees when there is still so much uncertainty out there, and so much need in our communities?

Of course it is!

This year, it’s even more important that we do so. Because this year, our trustees are experiencing their most challenging year yet.

The COVID-19 crisis has meant that traditional methods of generating income in charitable organisations have all but dried up. The first results, published last week, from the new national COVID-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer show that the financial position of 39% of responding organisations has deteriorated in the last month, while 56% expect demand for their services to increase in the coming month, and 60% say that the COVID-related safety measures they’ve had to instal have increased their operating costs.

That’s a lot of extra pressure on the shoulders of our trustees, the vast majority of whom are unpaid volunteers who have taken on the role because they have a deep passion for their organisation’s cause and want to make a difference in their community.


Trustees in Northumberland

There are around 1,020 registered charities based in Northumberland (and approximately 400 more that aren’t based here but include Northumberland in their geographical coverage, but let’s forget about those right now). Based on previous estimates of 3.66 ‘under the radar’ charitable organisations per 1,000 head of population, there are also likely to be more than 1,150 of these unregistered groups operating in the county.

Add those figures together and you have in excess of 2,170 charitable organisations based in Northumberland. Now if we assume that all of those charitable organisations have just the bare minimum of the three trustees necessary to run their organisation effectively, then we can come up with a very rough, extremely conservative guesstimate that puts the number of voluntary and community sector trustees in Northumberland at somewhere over 6,500.

That’s 6,500 people who volunteer their time in our communities to take on the vital role of steering their organisation; 6,500 people who could never have foreseen the events of the past eight months and the difficult decisions they would be called upon to make!

In Northumberland, 71% of responding organisations surveyed in April by Northumberland VCS Assembly expected coronavirus to have an impact on their total income, while half of respondents had less than 6 months of reserves at that time and it remains to be seen how many will have succumbed to COVID pressures and ceased activities permanently.  


Their biggest challenges during the pandemic

In the run up to Trustees’ Week 2020, we carried out our own very small survey of trustees. There were 26 responses. As part of the survey, we asked the question: ‘What has been your biggest challenge during the COVID-19 crisis and how have you dealt with it?’

More than 20% of respondents talked about the extra workload caused by challenges such as ensuring any emergency response they undertook was covered under their existing charitable purposes, understanding the risks and applying new COVID rules to their particular setting in order to keep people safe and do the right thing by everyone, or as one respondent put it, “balancing the safety and the social requirements of our beneficiaries.” Another respondent told us that “shaping and shifting emphasis to account for emerging needs and restrictions” had required a much greater investment of time than would normally be required.

For almost 80% of respondents, their greatest challenge lay in changing methods of delivery and communication, in quickly putting into place arrangements to establish remote working and maintain contact with staff and beneficiaries, as well as each other. Some talked about the problem of online meetings via platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams feeling so much less personal and so causing some participants to feel uncomfortable contributing. Others talked about the issue of digital exclusion in a lack of IT equipment or reliable internet connection, or simply a lack of confidence in using the technology. Two respondents said that they had been unable to continue delivering their service at all during the pandemic, although they had tried to maintain contact with each other.

While almost 50% of respondents said in response to another survey question that they would like support with funding, only 3 listed this as their biggest challenge during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s true that funders have done a great job in refocusing their priorities to make short term grants available to organisations to help them survive so they can support their communities through the crisis, but not all organisations have been eligible. One respondent, a trustee of two different charities, told us that while one organisation was able to access a £10k grant from Northumberland County Council to help them keep going, the other – a faith-based charity – had ‘fallen through the gap’, despite being “for a considerable part of lockdown, the only one supplying food to people in need in the locality.”


All the more reason to celebrate our trustees

It is clear then that during this COVID-19 crisis, our trustees have had many complicated issues to wrangle with and difficult decisions to make, and have been called upon to volunteer more time than usual in their trustee role to establish what is likely to be a ‘new normal’ for their organisation for some time to come so that staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and communities remain safe when interacting with their services.

Trustees’ Week 2020 then is far more important this year than in any other. Our trustees need to be celebrated. And while we may not be able to mark the occasion in the usual ways by having a coffee morning, celebratory meal, or a drinks evening, we must still let them know how appreciated they are.

So, why not organise a special Zoom event, talk to your trustees on the phone, call in a dedication to a local radio station, use the #trusteesweek hashtag on social media and tell the world how much you appreciate them...

Don’t let a pandemic stop you from celebrating Trustees’ Week 2020.


Jackie 3

Jackie Auld

Information & Communications Officer


Unfortunately, this week will be my final blog as I am ready to move on to pastures new and will be leaving my volunteering post with Northumberland Community Voluntary Action.


However, before I go I would like to thank my colleagues for their support and their patience over the past two years and for giving me back my confidence and self-belief. I would also like to thank Michelle Cadby for being a bit eccentric, for challenging me and pushing me further than I sometimes wanted to go and for being a real support. I would also like to thank all of the people who have opened up and given me their stories, every one of which has been amazing and inspiring!

Another inspiring tale this week has come from octogenarian Rob who is a volunteer at The Alnwick Garden, Blooming Well (Elderberries) programme (see

The Project is a community based initiative run by Alnwick Garden with the aim of improving the quality of life for people with dementia and their carers using a mixture of targeted therapeutic horticulture and arts activities. The programme offers older people monthly ‘clinic’ café sessions in partnership with NHS and offer a range of informative talks. Activities offered range from Keeping Active classes, including Pilates and a Walking group, to Tea dances and Foot-care sessions. There are also opportunities for a variety of arts and culture sessions including music performances, silk painting sessions and memory sessions. Drop-in sessions are available three times per week too for the over 55s to relax, chat and enjoy tea and cake and make new friends. There is also a Gentlemen's Garden (or allotment), run specifically for men who enjoy gardening and woodwork. The projects aim is to reduce isolation, increase a sense of identity and belonging as well as improve the physical and mental health of older men.

Rob is 85 years young and volunteers to help people living with Alzheimers and Dementia. He believes that as he is on the mature side himself “I’m on the same wavelength when getting everyone to talk of their long term memories” including WW2 and the 1950’s and 1960’s. As he sings in a choir he also finds it natural to lead in singing many of the “old time favourites”.However, Rob doesn’t just volunteer for the one organisation, he is a very busy gentleman. In fact, he reads the Talking Newspaper for the Blind (every fortnight), acts as a host on the Arthritis Care minibus (once a month). He is Steward at the Alnwick Playhouse and a story teller for the pre-school children as part of the Playhouse Creative Cocoon programme.

Rob is a retired Environmental Scientist and during his career he worked in Westminster within the Chief Scientists Group at the Admiralty. He has also worked for Ministry of Agriculture, Fish and Food as well as for the Department of the Environment. Rob originates from Surrey where both he and his wife were involved in the Brownies, the Guides, the Cubs and the Scouts, where he became the Science Badge Examiner. So volunteering is something that has been part of his life for many years. Indeed, when he originally retired and moved to Wensleydale in 1994 it appears to have been a natural move for him to help coach the juniors in the local badminton club.

Whilst in the Dales Rob and his wife ran a Guest House, but they decided after the B and B became too difficult to look after to move closer to their daughter who lived in Alnwick, and more or less immediately began to volunteer here too. From singing in the choir, and having a good voice, Rob was invited to do the talking news then from his work in the poison garden at Alnwick he found it a natural progression to volunteer for the Blooming Well role after his Arthritis began to make some movements restrictive. Things develop and change, but “most times the roles just found me, as time and time again I would be approached to see if I could help” and for the most part Rob found the majority of organisations to be extremely grateful and supportive.

Rob admits to not being too old to learn and says he has developed an ability to listen carefully to children and “get them to feed their ideas into various activities”. But, he also feels that he listens more in general and has developed more patience especially with the group of people he works with. Although Robs background was in many ways dissimilar to what he does now he uses lots of transferable skills and “my experience in all the jobs I’ve done is that they keep both the brain and body active and a sense of humour goes a long way in breaking down barriers.”

Volunteering, Rob feels “keeps me young at heart, if not young in body!” and he said he would encourage others to volunteer because “I often come away from sessions feeling better than when I started…”

What more can you say?


Maureen volunteers for Mind Active (MA) in a role supporting people with dementia to access a social life. The MA ethos is to support local volunteers to improve the lives of people living with debilitating conditions like dementia, who live in care homes or in their own home. Sessions are planned to improve well-being and social interaction as well as mental stimulation. The project facilitates many activities including quizzes, history talks, sing-alongs, poetry and karaoke. The client group also participate in reminiscence work, gentle movements and outdoor interests as well as many other community interactions.

I met with Maureen one morning just before an activity session at the Briardale Community Centre. Describing her role she explained “it requires empathy and an understanding of the difficulties people face in the community and you need to be non-judgemental and friendly”. Indeed, she does anything to assist the team to provide a successful service or event. But specifically Maureen, welcomes guests, both the person with the condition and their carers, as well as the bereaved carers of dementia sufferers. “I engage in conversation with them and listen to what they have to say, and try to put them at their ease”. She believes understanding their loneliness and isolation “makes a huge difference”. However, Maureen does very practical things to help too, such as making and serving drinks, setting up and serving food, clearing away and washing dishes. “I encourage people to join in with the entertainment, making sure they are happy, safe and comfortable.” Furthermore, she really enjoys working alongside the young students “providing some mentoring where needed” and raises awareness of the project using social media. Maureen has attended Planning and Trustee meetings, where she has learnt about fund raising sources, in fact she participates in many of the fundraising events herself.

Maureen spreads her volunteering time between Mind Active at Briardale Blyth and The Salvation Army building in Bedlington “doing a very similar job but with a slightly different group of people.” Spending between 4 and 6 days per month working between them both, although she does do more “if there are any trips out arranged, or parties to attend!” She feels that volunteers need to show the client group that nothing they do is abnormal, but at the same time acknowledge that partners of people with dementia have needs too. So, for that reason people need to show they are ‘genuine’ people, willing to take a risk. For example,” I know it’s not easy to get up and start singing or dancing in front of total strangers that’s why I have to demonstrate that I’m a bit shy too, but willing to get up and dance anyway!

The early part of Maureens career was insurance and finance based giving her an organisational background and a sound understanding of administration. However, she spent the last 10 years of employment working in a more person centred but totally different environment, within the elderly care sector, which gave her a good insight into the needs of people with dementia. “I was widowed 7 years ago and retired 18 months ago. But, after I retired I wanted to continue to be useful in the community and have a purpose in life. I also wanted to keep some structure to my life” and “offer the skills I had, whilst giving me a chance to socialise and continue to build new relationships”.

Whilst working in the care sector (as an activity co-ordinator for the RMBI at Scarborough Court) Maureen had become familiar with MA, finding their support in her role to be invaluable. She knew the team and had a good idea of what they did, saying “they fill a huge gap in the lives of people who use the service”. After retiring and a chance meeting at a charity run with Project Manager Stephen Ward, Maureen was encouraged to attend an activity. “That was back in August 2017 and I've been involved ever since!”

Maureen Rolfe garden 11.3.2019

Skills from both of Maureens previous jobs have helped her in her current role, although she emphasised that previous training isn’t necessarily required. Undeniably, she admits, due to the underlying condition, that some situations or personalities may come across as quite challenging. But, she feels these situations are manageable because “the secret is to find ways round the issue using distraction techniques.” Maureen passes on this knowledge and reassures the students she mentors so they’re not startled by any unexpected behaviours.

Although she hasn’t attended any so far, there have been opportunities for Maureen to attend further training with MA, and the project also offers other benefits such as a volunteers petrol allowance and “you can get a bite to eat whilst you’re here”. Maureen recently began thinking about the administration side of things “because an awful lot goes on behind the scenes to give people this service” In fact, she has attended a Trustee meeting to understand better, how the organisation functions and how it supports itself financially, and hopes to develop her role in that direction.

Maureen said she has never volunteered for any kind of reward, except the sense of reward she gets from helping people. Saying, “I suppose it’s a selfish thing really, seeing people really enjoying themselves” then thinking “I contributed to that!” However, as a reward for her volunteering with Mind Active she was put forward to receive an award from the Duchess of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle last year, and taking her proud son with her, she had an amazing day out. Maureen smiled saying “It was wonderful to get that recognition for the work I do. I felt quite important and it gave me a lift…all that getting up and going, well it was worth it after all!”

“I was made to feel very welcome, the team made me feel very comfortable and relaxed”, she feels there is nothing better than feeling that you are needed in a positive practical way. “I think I have developed my counselling and listening skills and have more empathy for carers in the community and a better understanding of their issues and needs.” The team led by Stephen “give feedback to one another continually, as we evaluate each session in post event discussions and debriefing sessions”, thereby learning to improve on what they offer. The work itself provides immense satisfaction and the team are constantly told how much their events are appreciated “how much folk enjoy the events, in fact their return to our events time after time and the friendships they forge are very strong indicators of how much our service is valued”

When asked about any positives she takes away from her volunteering role Maureen said she felt very privileged that her efforts had been recognised and was recommended for an award at Alnwick by the Duchess of Northumberland. But “every single member of the team thanks me personally at every session and I always come away feeling of value”. She feels her role has actually brought many positives experiences including, “working with genuine positive and like-minded people, making a lot of good friends, being able to make a real difference to peoples lives and witnessing the many happy moments that we make happen together”. Ultimately, however she feels the greatest positive has been the focus and interest it has brought to her own life by “simply feeling useful!”

If you or anyone you know is interested in any Mind Active volunteering opportunities please visit Alternatively, get in touch with Stephen Ward Project Manager: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or telephone 01670 820461

On the other hand, If Maureens story has inspired you to volunteer more generally, but you’re unsure how to, please visit Northumberland CVA’s Volunteer Connect database to start exploring all of our many other opportunities.


I recently went to meet an amazing volunteer who has suffered a great deal of personal tragedy, but who, when it comes to overcoming challenges in her volunteering role, is a remarkably resilient and versatile individual.

Justine volunteers for the Full Circle Food Project, a charity that educates people living in Northumberland about growing food to eat, healthy cooking on a budget and supporting people to lead healthier lifestyles. She volunteers at the projects Ashington allotment every Thursday, cooking up tasty meals for other volunteers and staff. Justine laughingly told me “basically, I cook in a shed!” But, she says “we have lots of fun and I absolutely love doing it”. Describing herself as “the one pot wonder woman!” Justine has proven again and again that she can actually make anything in the one pot. She recently got to cook using a “brand new” Dutch Oven, cooking fresh, home grown produce directly from the allotment. Accessing some of her recipes from the internet, Justine has learned to be quite inventive too creating some unique but very tasty recipes, such as “pickled beetroot with cinnamon” anyone?


Justine has been volunteering for “7 or 8 months now” and jokes about being “head-hunted” for her current role as allotment Chef. Although she acknowledges having a life-long interest in food and cooking, her new culinary journey began when she accompanied her ten-year-old son, to an after school club. The club, run by Full Circle (and funded by Northumberland Children’s Trust) called the ’FEED ME’ project, is a 3-year programme that aims to encourage an interest in food and teach children how to cook. After a couple of months helping out with the class however, Justine was invited to take part in another challenge “to come over and work at the allotments!” which she quickly accepted.

Justine said she brings her young son to the allotments site to help out on occasions, especially when they hold events or during the school holidays and describes having a wonderful Christmas this year. She went on to explain how, just before the holidays, she prepared a “magical” Christmas Dinner for all the volunteers and staff. “I cooked all the chickens in the one pan” and described how they all had great fun making the site look seasonal, decorating the poly-tunnels for the event and setting up the tables. “It was my best Christmas ever!”

inside                       xmas dinner

Sadly, Justine has been through a lot in the past few years “I lost my sister first in 2013, when she was only 13 and I thought I’d never get over it!” Then, last year not long after the death of her grandmother, her brother also died suddenly when only in his twenties. Justine says she just didn’t know how to cope and describes going through a “rollercoaster of emotions”. Her role as a volunteer, she says has helped her “turn off from my thoughts and everything, it helps me relax… worry less.” It appears that her role also gives Justine time to forget and time to reflect, helping her cope with her loss and associated mental health issues. “It takes me out of myself, if I didn’t have this I would just stay indoors!” Justine has a very good relationship with Jane, a project worker (PW) and feels like “I can talk to her about all of my stuff!” In addition, Justine said she is better able to deal with her thoughts and emotions thanks to a creative writing course and the support of a counsellor.


When asked what her initial expectations of the role were Justine said “I suppose I knew that I would enjoy it because its cooking and I’ve always loved to cook” One of the difficulties at first “was getting the tea order right, but now we have a board so that’s all sorted!” For the most part Justine cooks on her own, but sometimes gets a little help from Jane. She has studied for and completed a Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate and “I go in now, I got my own set of keys, so I can set up before the others arrive” and “I just get straight on with it really”. She was made to feel very welcome by the allotment team and has developed a close bond with Jane who she describes as “a real character who doesn’t push me” allowing Justine to go at her own pace. “Jane said I give her spirits a lift on a Thursday, she loves coming in ‘cos she said, I make her laugh”

pot                       broth

Although confident by nature, given recent traumatic life events, Justine felt a justifiable loss of confidence, becoming apprehensive and nervous. However, she now feels as though she has developed in several ways. Her cooking skills have been expanded thanks to the challenging circumstances and she has personally benefited from the support she receives from Jane and the company of others. One of the positives, she feels, has been her renewed confidence “I can talk to people and have a laugh” whilst at the same time “it gives me something else to think about”. I’m always getting complemented on my cooking too and people thanking me and telling me I’m ‘a life saver’. Wish I could do more than just one day a week if I’m honest”, but Justine also accepts she needs to “build up to it, I’ve still got a lot going on at the moment”

Justine believes her most memorable time was Christmas, which she says was unforgettable. “This was my first Christmas at the allotment, decorating the tables and dressing the poly-tunnels has got to be up there as…well, memorable!” Justine repeated that it had been her “best Christmas ever, cooking chickens in a pan!!” “I thought to myself, only us crackerjacks could do this!” “But we pulled it off! I’m so looking forward to next year…we’re going to go even bigger!!”

cook 4                  chicken

When asked what she would say to encourage volunteering Justine said “just get stuck in and you’ll have a laugh” and she offered “I know I’m quite good at helping nervous people learn, so why not come along and I’ll teach you?”

The emphasis at the Full Circle programme will always be on health, taste, managing on limited budgets and fun and they are continually looking for new volunteers. At present they have the following opportunities available, Kitchen Garden / Allotment volunteer – Cooking session volunteer – Social Media / Digital volunteer – They offer training and support, and a welcome inclusion into the team. For all these opportunities please get in touch with Sarah the Project Manager: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or telephone 01670 629388 or 01670 629390

Alternatively, If Justine’s story has inspired you to volunteer more generally but you’re unsure how, please visit Northumberland CVA’s Volunteer Connect database to start exploring all our many opportunities.



The basic definition of the word Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone Therefore, the role of a Trustee not only entails being able, reliable and truthful it also means having the power of ‘administration of property in trust’ and therefore comes with a legal obligation. So, given the responsibility of the role, how does it feel to be a volunteer as well as a trustee? What kind of people take on the challenge and what skills are required or gained from this unique experience?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sheila, a Trustee for the Charity running the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Maritime Centre, about her experiences. But to understand the background to the creation of this new Centre Sheila first expanded on some of the dramatic changes experienced by the people and the town.

It appears that during the late Victorian era, Newbiggin was one of Northumberland’s favourite seaside towns, with bathing facilities and hotels, it attracted hundreds of visitors every year. Over the years however, and with the introduction of coal mining into the area, the beach gradually suffered from erosion and in the 1970s and 1980s the situation became critical. “You see the mine workings used to go under the beach and the sea but although the mines were capped, when the beams collapsed deep within the system, it created subsidence that led to the disappearance of the sand, exposing just the mud and rocks.” At around the same time the town was subjected to the same economic and social challenges faced by other derelict pit villages. In fact, the dramatic run-down in the coal mining industry in the 1980s and 1990s led to social deprivation and an air of neglect dominated the area.

Building centre

However, a subsequent government regeneration initiative and coastal protection scheme rebuilt the beach using half a million tonnes of sand imported from Skegness in Lincolnshire (of all places!) and became the catalyst for economic recovery. Subsequently in 2006 local organisations came together, The Mary Joicey Association, Heritage Association and the local History Group to create The Heritage Partnership.

The Mary Joicey was the last offshore, all weather RNLI lifeboat to be stationed at Newbiggin and was retired, after 23 years in 1989. Unfortunately, after many years as an outdoor exhibit it was found derelict in a Berkshire park and was in grave need of some TLC. Therefore, to save this irreplaceable piece of history, the haulage company Fergusons Transport stepped in to generously transport and store the lifeboat, free of charge for approximately 3 years until it was fully restored. However, there was a problem because the original Heritage Centre, which was basically a hut, was far too small to house the boat and needed to be demolished so a much larger Maritime Centre could be built. To this end, funding was received from a number of organisations, top of which was a huge government grant called “Sea Change” that amounted to £1million.

Sheila is a local girl, born and brought up in Pegswood and has many fond memories of visits to Newbiggin as a child. She has also been a resident of the town for much of her adult life and has a real passion for the place, the people and their history. When Sheila retired from teaching eleven years ago, she began volunteering “selling second hand books at the old Heritage centre or ‘hut’ as it was then!” to raise money. Becoming a trustee in 2012, Sheila is not only involved in the day to day running of the Centre, she has also taken on the roles of Vice Chairperson and Director of the Company, and is responsible for some of the finances, administration and advertising. Sheila however is unjustifiably humble about her own role and reports being “just a small part of a larger team” and went on to explain the make-up of the Board. “As an artist himself, the ‘Chairperson’ Peter is the Exhibition person, so is in charge of acquisitions and artefacts. Eleanor another Trustee organises the shop and the volunteer rota, and Barry is an archaeologist and ex-heritage officer at Wansbeck Council and he is an expert on anything old!!”

cheque presentation

Sheila’s initial interest in becoming a Trustee first developed when she “got roped into doing the minutes for the Board meetings” and “when I worked with the Treasurer to prepare spread sheets, my interest just developed really”. She reveals that she read books about being a Trustee and attended some ‘day courses’. But mainly remembers having lots of support from a previous trustee, now deceased, who “was my rock and my teacher. He was a great friend who was a mine of information”, especially with regard to Governance. Sheila acknowledges that she has a huge duty to the Board and her priorities as a trustee are to “save public money, and to set goals and reach them”. Although she admits that her background in teaching Maths helped with some of her duties, it isn’t necessary to have a specific ability, because as a trustee “it’s about common sense, basic budgeting and people skills”. She does feel however that “new blood” is required as too many trustees are “getting on” in years and she feels that on a practical level it is probably people in their 40’s who are a better fit, experience wise.

As a widow with a grown up son, Sheila freely admits to investing a lot of time and energy into preserving the culture and history of Newbiggin and her strong feelings about the project are self-evident when she talks about her colleagues and the Centre. Her “other and varied” duties include “giving talks to encourage people to treasure their heritage and to donate goods, as well as donating cash to the Centre”, she visits schools and educates the children about their local history. She also has a role as a more general volunteer and will turn her hand to anything needed “including sewing bags for the gift shop!” Sheila jokingly admits that she tries to have Saturday and Sunday off!

children in school

The charity runs the Maritime Centre and the Rocket House (which actually functioned until the late 1960’s) and relies on a mixture of employed staff and volunteers to provide the numerous facilities for the people of the area. There is the Breakwater Café, the Seashore Shop, a three gallery Museum and a large function room. They also organise regular events such as the annual Kite Festival, Music Gigs, Film Shows, Children's Activities and regular Art shows. A Giant Cactus Zone Show and a textile exhibition were put on recently and Northumberland Theatre Company performed The Princess & the Goblin there. They also hold regular beach cleans which are enjoyed by everyone.

maritime buskers

In fact, Sheila is always looking to improve facilities and is currently looking at beach accessibility issues and the possibility of making it easier for disabled people to access the whole beach area. She has even ‘borrowed’ a beach clean bill board from a national firm, so as to encourage the public to pick up rubbish whilst visiting the beach. This is particularly popular with children and encourages them to understand about wider environmental concerns and the impact of litter. In fact, Newbiggin Beach was voted number 1 in the Proctor and Gamble leader board to win a ‘Big Beach Clean’. Sheila revealed that winning this means the beach can have a “deep clean” to get rid of all existing litter and thus make it much easier to maintain in future. Not one to sit on her laurels, Sheila continues to help in the regeneration process and through her attempts to make Newbiggen a better place to live and visit, she recently decided to run for Newbiggin Town Council, and was thrilled to be successfully elected as a local councillor!!

tent bugs

In relation to ongoing challenges of her role, Sheila feels that although “any profits go back to the charity and we are slowly becoming more self-sufficient, there is no excess and we are constantly seeking funding for the services we provide, particularly those for older and younger members of the community.”

Sheila said her most memorable moment was when an elderly lady asked when the next party was, but then followed with ‘I hope it’s before I die!’ This had a deep impact on Sheila. “Here at the centre she could reminisce, talk about the past and stimulate her memories. Unfortunately, we are one of very few avenues to access a social life for many people, it’s as simple as that really”

When asked about her proudest moment as trustee Sheila nodded and smiled “that’s easy, giving a young man with lots of energy but a profound disability the opportunity to volunteer, to mix with other people, be accepted and have a useful role in the community!” “What’s more” she added “volunteering has kept me young. Every morning I get up and I’ve got something to do, I’m never bored and it is an extremely satisfying role!”

Sheila finished our chat by saying the Centre is nothing without its volunteers, who fulfil a variety of roles and ensure it stays open daily. Some of the roles volunteers fulfil are: Trustees. Reception Desk Assistants. Conservation and Collection Assistants. Gallery Guides. DIY Support. Bar Stewards at functions. IT & clerical support. The charity is always keen to hear from anyone who has time to give and would like to help out. If you are interested in a voluntary position at the Centre please telephone (01670 811951) or email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

If Sheila’s story has inspired you to volunteer but you’re not sure how, please visit Northumberland CVA’s Volunteer Connect database to start exploring all other opportunities available. Alternatively, if you are a volunteer and want to share your own volunteering adventures then please leave a comment below or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll get in touch with you for a chat.


As mentioned in my previous blogs, volunteering can be quite challenging, it takes many forms and is done for a variety of reasons. So far however I haven’t touched upon Career Break volunteers. People who may be taking time out as a result of bereavement, caring responsibilities, personal or family difficulties or to study or bring up a family. I recently had the opportunity to meet Rachael, one such volunteer, who is up for a challenge and donates 1 to 2 days per week volunteering for the Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS). Rachael does this because she is currently taking a break from employment to look after her 3 small children.

At NFRS her role (based at West Hartford HQ) is mostly office based and involves coordinating what are called ‘Safe and Wellbeing Visits’ (SWV). Referrals for this programme come from a variety of sources including Police, Fire Service, Care managers or concerned family and neighbours. Alternatively, people can also self-refer and concerns are generally in relation to vulnerable adults, such as those with dementia or mental health issues, or “people who put themselves at risk through their own behaviour, such as hoarding for example”. Basically, Rachael identifies who the occupier is and either rings them, using tact, diplomacy and her own personal skills to assess their needs, or she contacts the care manager to arrange for a team to go out and complete a home visit. Very often these visits are to give advice to the occupants or fit devices such as smoke alarms. Rachael herself has been out in the community assisting with these home visits and feels that they gave her some context and a greater understanding of the issues.


Rachael chose this role not only because she had previous experience within a similar service, but because it fills a career gap, giving her the opportunity to gain experience whilst at the same time keeping her skills updated. She also feels it allows her to plan her volunteer days around her husband’s work schedule and her children’s activities. “I am able to drop the children off at school and return in time to pick them up.” Therefore, “If any unforeseen event happens, like the children get ill or my husband gets called out for work, then there is no urgent stress to arrange child care”

Rachael originally hails from New Zealand and after graduating from the University of Otago worked as a personnel administrator at the New Zealand Fire Service in the Wellington area (quite remarkably this region has a total of eight stations just in the one geographical area!) During this time Rachael gained an understanding of the roles involved and the organisational structure of an emergency service. Following this Rachael lived in Australia working for a recruitment agency in Melbourne and subsequently worked as a Nanny in Sydney, before settling down and starting her family.

In 2017 Rachael and her husband re-located to Northumberland, and after a while, with her children settled at school and some extra time on her hands, Rachael began to feel it was time to take on board another challenge. “I wanted to find a volunteering opportunity that would be flexible, rewarding and ideally give me the necessary skills and confidence for when the time comes to re-enter the workforce.” Not unlike many other parents who have had a career break to look after family, Rachael worried about the gap in her CV, the ever changing advances in technology and updating her skill set. Not surprisingly due to her previous experience within the New Zealand Fire Service, Rachael felt that our local Fire Service was the most obvious place to start. Therefore, she began looking for an opportunity in the most logical place she could think of, the NFRS website and Facebook page.

charlottes prefered pic - Blog

Rachael explained that volunteers are very much support staff within the organisation and all volunteer roles are non-operational. Even though it’s not a guaranteed or a direct entry to becoming a Firefighter it can be a good way of getting a feel for the organisation before applying. The Fire Service currently has 16 regular volunteers who support with Community Safety programmes, home fire safety checks, West Hartford’s community boxing academy and the Young Firefighters Association (YFA) programme. There are also opportunities within the organisation for business administration apprenticeships and customer service roles.

During her time with NFRS Rachael has had many other experiences too, including helping the Education Coordinator with School visits including a Water Safety Education (SWSE) programme, that aims to educate youngsters about the dangers of playing in or around bodies of water. Rachael has (rather dramatically!) also acted as a casualty for the Learning and Development team during their Road Traffic Collision (RTC) training. Apparently, this scenario was a wake-up call for Rachael, highlighting the reality of road traffic accidents as it involved being cut out of a wrecked vehicle!!

firemen cutting out

Rachael feels that she has been made very welcome by her colleagues “I definitely feel valued and work with a great bunch of people who have made me feel part of the team from the start.” Indeed, she feels she has made new friends and her social life has expanded too having recently enjoyed a Xmas night out with all her colleagues! “I have gained confidence, learnt new skills and found a new sense of purpose as well as a professional identity, a real sense of who I am outside the home.” Indeed, “the team were really helpful when I was learning my role, they’re very supportive and appreciative of the time and effort I give. In return I try to give them as much notice as possible as to my availability so they can accommodate my shifts with their schedule.”

When asked what the greatest positives have been Rachael said “enabling vulnerable people to stay safe in their own homes, whilst maintaining their independence” and “being part of this process has been a huge privilege and better than any paid job I’ve had!”

The Fire and Rescue Service is currently advertising a new challenging volunteer role involving some digital and IT knowledge and some understanding of social media and administration. A Google ‘portal’ that has been set up that holds presentations for use when out at community venues or school visits. The role would therefore involve knowledge of how to access presentations and keep them up-to-date, make relevant changes and investigate or add any relevant pictures/videos as they become available. Anybody wishing to apply would need to be savvy with PowerPoint and Google (in particular Google slides) and be interested in fire prevention. If you are please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

All applicants should be aware that there is a need for DBS clearance for all roles. Therefore, Rachael asks that applicants are not put off by this and please be patient as NFRS will get back to you as quickly as they can.

If Rachael’s story has inspired you to volunteer more generally but you’re unsure how, please visit Northumberland CVA’s Volunteer Connect database to start exploring all of our many other opportunities. Alternatively, if you are a volunteer and want to share your own volunteering adventures then please leave a comment below or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll get in touch with you for a chat.

Anne Lyall July 2018 compressed

By Anne Lyall, CEO of Northumberland CVA


They say that if you are around long enough, then things come full circle, so it was no real surprise to read earlier this month, the launch of the Government’s highly anticipated Civil Society Strategy: Building a Future that Works for Everyone.

As a CVS we contributed to the consultation as part of a regional focus group, as well as commenting separately on the strategy - as did our national organisation, NAVCA.

It was encouraging to see that the strategy made explicit reference to the importance of local infrastructure. It also referenced a renewed commitment to the Compact and the principles of partnership working - all of which is extremely positive, but also rings those déjà vu bells!!

The strategy makes explicit reference to the important role of local infrastructure in strengthening civil society by supporting and representing VCSE groups. We were pleased to see the acknowledgement from Government that operational and strategic support (such as networking, information and advice, knowledge and skills and collaboration) is as vital to the survival of the VCS as it is to commercial businesses. It also sets out a clear commitment by Government to strengthen and increase work in partnership with the VCSE sector, and it’s very encouraging that now Government proposes to renew the principles of the VCSE Compact, which suggests commitment to increased joint-working with our sector on policy and programme design, something we have been pressing for through the Northumberland VCS Assembly for the last three years.

It is of no surprise, that declining resources have had a long-term, detrimental effect on infrastructure support. Whilst the Strategy does not make too many references to the financial landscape that local infrastructure has worked through in the last few years, it does express a commitment to developing a sector-led approach to further strengthening infrastructure support.   However, the details on where practical and financial resources will come from are a big gap and there is no mention of any financial support from central government.

The strategy draws on the work we have been doing for many years in Northumberland around community-led initiatives, inclusive communities and place based social action, and it sets out an intention to give people more control over the future of the communities they live in.  

Some of the key community-led ideas for place-based social action outlined in the strategy include:

  • An intention to fund training for 3,500 Community Organisers by 2020 and a commitment to reducing financial exclusion, working with the Big Lottery Fund to use £55 million from dormant accounts to fund a new, independent organisation which will work with partners across the private and VCSE. Have we been here before?.  
  • Plans to explore the potential of technology to address complex social issues such as rough sleeping, digital inclusion and healthy ageing are also mentioned. Let’s hope that the broadband coverage of Northumberland can cope with all this

There are a number of key initiatives designed to support young people and strengthen their engagement in civil society, which include;-

  • A plan for government to work with the Big Lottery Fund to use a £90m funding pot for the creation of a new body to provide support to young people with multiple barriers to employment. Funding for the scheme will be sourced from dormant bank accounts. Alongside this, government pledges around 650,000 new opportunities for young people to get become active on local issues they care about (e.g. environmental action, education, health, loneliness, and sport). This initiative is being created though the #iwill Fund, supported by the government and Big Lottery Fund alongside 20 new match-funding partners.

There is a pledge from the government to make urgent improvements to public sector commissioning. There is no doubt there is a need for sustainable, accessible, and diversified funding sources for VCSE organisations but this needs to be in the form of grants as well as commissioned services

There is a lot of information setting out the Government’s intention to encourage collaborative commissioning: a framework for the future for joint working across sectors and with communities to improve the way that services are funded, created and delivered. Government announces it aims to do this by encouraging the national roll-out of Citizen Commissioners, where local people will be given support to make commissioning decisions on behalf of their communities. (How many people remember Participatory Budgeting from the good old LSP days?)

You can read and download the full Civil Society Strategy on the Government’s Gov.UK website.  You can also find links to a series of NCVO blogs on the strategy, all written from different perspectives, at   

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