Laura Lowther (HR Officer)
Lou Chapman (Volunteer Coordinator)
Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne
Northumberland Wildlife Trust is the largest environmental charity in the region working to safeguard native wildlife. One of 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK, Northumberland Wildlife Trust has campaigned for nature conservation for over 40 years. It aims to inform, educate and involve people of all ages and backgrounds in protecting their environment in favour of wildlife and conservation.
We started our journey with Workplace Learning Advocates (WLAs) in March 2012 when we both took part in the 2 day WLA Information and Advice course. Both our roles (HR Officer and Volunteer Coordinator) seemed to fit with the aims of the scheme perfectly and we were keen on adding value to our roles in supporting staff and volunteers.
Although there are similarities in terms of HR and volunteer coordination, we do need to respect and respond the differences in terms of enthusiasm, availability and needs in terms of learning and development.
Some of our volunteers are retired, with a lot of time and skills to contribute who are interested in trying new things and ways of learning. We also have students and job seekers who volunteer for us who are keen to enhance their CV and employability.
We then have staff who may have the opportunity to develop skills to benefit their current role but feel they don’t have the time to spare on their development.
As a charitable organisation, budgets are of course very tight so learning and development may not always feel on top of the priority list! However, our involvement with WLA has opened up a whole new world of free and low cost training opportunities! It has helped to create a new culture of informal and internal learning and sharing of skills. We’re also now part of the WLA network which, along with on-going support from Liz, never fails to provide new ideas and inspiration.
One of our biggest successes has been our programme of ‘lunchtime lectures’ – informal lecture sessions with our colleagues and partners on subjects as diverse as stress management and fungi identification! We have utilised existing staff and volunteer knowledge and also worked in partnership with unionlearn in order to set up these lectures. They’re an excellent way for staff and volunteers to come together and learn something new. We’ll be carrying this on next year too.
We have also successfully developed a Volunteer Officer Training Scheme designed for recent graduates to help them to boost their skills and support them with future employment applications. The scheme gives volunteers a six month placement with a minimum requirement of 2 days per week.
Developing our WLA roles has given us more confidence and knowledge about the learning and development of others, and our own! The training has complimented our existing roles well and really has contributed to a new culture of learning at our organisation. It is brilliant to be able to use our skills to support both staff and volunteers. We look forward to seeing what 2013 will bring!