Please can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what VIY does.
I’m a Programme Director at Volunteer It Yourself (VIY). At VIY we teach young people trade skills by helping them fix up and improve community buildings, like sports clubs, music venues and community centres. Young people are mentored by professional tradespeople who help them complete the work safely and to a high standard, and young people work towards City & Guilds qualifications as part of the project. We’ve been going since 2011 and have worked with nearly 11,000 young people across the country on over 550 community projects.
I run our programmes with the Greater London Authority (GLA) where we work to improve music, arts and cultural facilities using our model, and Sport England, where we do the same in a sports context. I also am also involved in our work in housing. Before joining VIY I worked in housing and also as a teacher, and have volunteered as a youth worker for about 8 years. Outside VIY I practise martial arts, enjoy travelling and reading and also perform in several bands.
You have been working with South Thames College for nearly two years. Please can you tell us more about how you work together, and what benefits you have seen from the partnership for VIY.
We offer South Thames College students the opportunity to come and gain hands-on work experience by volunteering on our community projects in London.
This gives construction students the chance to get outside the classroom and try their hand at fixing up church halls, football clubs and other community buildings, under the guidance of our expert Lead Mentors.
Practically speaking, when we have an upcoming project in a suitable area for South Thames College, I reach out to the College directly with a brief overview of the project and we take it from there. It can be difficult for construction course students to find meaningful on-site work experience, so what we offer is pretty unique (at least we like to think so!).
We generally offer students a minimum and maximum amount of days they can spend on site, and try and tailor their experience on the project to their interests (e.g. a carpentry student would spend more time erecting stud walls and plasterboarding rather than installing toilets). Where appropriate we may also offer City & Guilds accreditations and career progression pathways for the students.
The projects we have worked on together so far have gone very well. South Thames College students have worked hard and proven themselves to be skilled and diligent on site. We’re confident that we are helping these students, particularly those who might be more at-risk of disengagement or less confident, progress in their construction career and develop themselves. It’s always good to have a reliable youth referral partner like South Thames College who appreciates the value of what we have to offer them and their young people, and I’d say this underpins the benefits we have seen from our partnership so far. We look forward to working with more South Thames College students in future. And hopefully one day we’ll see some students back amongst us as trade skill mentors!
The current pandemic has seen businesses and community organisations look to innovate in how they engage with the people they serve. Please can you give us an overview of how VIY is looking to adapt it’s activities moving forward.
Broadly we are looking at bringing at least some of our offer online to ensure we are still able to engage with young people. We work extensively with schools around the country, including running assemblies and introductory workshops, and these elements are already being brought online to enable them to continue when schools get back to normal.
For students like those at South Thames College we are looking at running VIY introductory sessions online to prime students for their engagement in future VIY projects. This will help introduce the idea of VIY, frame the project and the works, set expectations of the students regarding health and safety, behaviour and punctuality, introduce them to the mentors and team they will be working with, and where appropriate to start working towards City & Guilds accreditations. This will complement, rather than replace, their future experience on a VIY project.
We look forward to trialling this in the not-too-distant future!
If a young person is interested in volunteering with you, what should they do?
We are always happy to talk directly to young people who might be interested in participating in a project. If a young person shows particular aptitude and appetite for the work we do offer the chance to become a paid peer mentor too!
If a business is interested in supporting any of the VIY projects, what should they do?
We are also always happy to talk with new potential partners. In particular we like to hear from organisations who:
- Would like to nominate and support a local community project financially or by other means
- Are interested in donating materials or tools
- Work with tradespeople who could give their time to help on a project
- Would like to refer young people to a project
- See opportunities relating to events / PR with VIY
We look forward to hearing from you!