It’s Volunteer’s Week – and Allia Future Business Centre’s marketing team celebrated by spending the day at Cambridge Cyrenians allotment project. The Allia team are all given a day a year to volunteer for a charity of their choice, and it was a great opportunity for us as a team to get stuck into some digging whilst supporting a brilliant charity.
Cambridge Cyrenians is the oldest homeless charity in Cambridge, and for over 45 years it has been working to transform the lives of homeless people in the city. It has a number of progressive projects to help enrich the lives of its residents – one of which is a therapeutic horticulture project, that is run across six full-sized allotment plots. It provides specific horticulture training, supported work experience and a safe social environment for some of the most disadvantaged people in the city.
The marketing crew from Allia went along on Thursday to join in with the team at Cyrenians’ allotment project, and met Ruth Wood, who has run the initiative for many years.
“The project is about more than just gardening – for some it’s respite from the tiring streets; it’s a safe place to come to and talk about your issues to people who understand; it’s the community network that can be lost for someone who is homeless; it’s a regular meaningful activity that can be a stepping stone into a permanent housed lifestyle and employment.”
The allotment project regularly gets interest from teams of volunteers who want to take part, and Ruth sees this as an important opportunity for the group at the project
“It’s great to see the group members and external volunteers working side by side and interacting with each other. Our group members are really proud of their work at the project and it’s a chance for them to demonstrate a really positive story when often the news about homelessness is so negative.”
We all had a brilliant day at the allotment project! We were lucky that the weather was sunny and perfect, but even on a rainy day it would be a brilliant opportunity to get muddy and stuck in to some digging and gardening, when your usual work environment is an office. The site is beautiful, with a number of beds dedicated to a whole range of vegetables, plus areas with wild flowers and herbs. Under the guidance of group member Mark, who has been going to the allotment for several years and is a skilled carpenter, we were busy sawing and hammering to build habitats for hedgehog visitors to the allotment site.
“Being part of the project gives me something to do, to get out of bed for. I meet people, and its sociable. It’s a place for peace and quiet. And also I get a real sense of achievement when I look at the things that we’ve created.”
Rachel Coquard, Director of HR at Allia, has championed the idea of giving the team at Allia an annual volunteering day, and over the past year we’ve been involved in some great causes – from sorting out clothing donations, preparing and serving meals at homeless charity Wintercomfort in Cambridge, sorting food donations at Peterborough Soup Kitchen and helping develop literacy, confidence and perseverance in young people at Hackney Pirates in East London. Rachel is keen that we continue to offer staff this opportunity.
“We introduced voluntary work days at Allia to help local causes that are close to the hearts of our employees. Being a not for profit, we are dedicated to supporting ventures that create change in the world and so we believe that our values are complemented by such initiatives that inspire our team. It gives people the chance to give something back and spend time away from daily tasks at the office. The causes we have helped have been very thankful for the work our staff have undertaken and our employees get satisfaction by feeling good about helping a cause who rely on volunteers to make a difference.”
Volunteers’ Week is a UK wide campaign now in its 35th year, which aims to recognise, celebrate and thank volunteers and encourage people to give volunteering a try. On the day that our team took part, the focus of the campaign was Wellbeing and Impact day, which fitted well with the therapeutic focus of the project we were involved in, but interestingly as 38% of the UK population volunteer at least once a year, three quarters of those say that their volunteering improves their mental health and wellbeing.