‘Excellent’ volunteer programme at the heart of Children’s Centres success

Published on: Wednesday, 03-February-2016

Making volunteers an essential part of the team at Huyton Children’s Centres has been recognised as a model for other organisations to follow.

The children’s centres are the first in the north of England to be awarded the Investors in Volunteers kitemark which recognises how well they support, train and develop volunteers.Group shot - Jess Aitchison, Senior Parental & Community Outreach Officer, with volunteers at Huyton’s Children’s Centres celebrating their Investors in Volunteers award.

“Volunteers are part of the lifeblood of our children’s centres,” explains Cllr Gary See. “Most of them are local parents which means they absolutely understand the needs of our centre users, and are able to work really well as part of the team to deliver a wide range of services to Knowsley families.”

Volunteers help in a number of ways at Children’s Centres across the borough – from running stay and play sessions for children and their parents/carers, delivering specialist sensory sessions or going out and about meeting and offering support to new parents.

Investors in Volunteers, similar to the Investors in People award, looks for examples of organisations or companies who are working positively with volunteers for the benefit of both parties.

No specific experience or qualifications are needed to become a volunteer at the children’s centres as full training is given. Many of the volunteers have gone on to get paid work or even gone on to study at university as a result of the programme.

“Sadly, like everywhere else in the country Knowsley is having to cope with an ever diminishing budget when it comes to providing services the community value, Children’s Centres being an important example,” says Cllr See. “As we try to continue to meet local needs with much less money to do so it makes absolute sense that we invest what we do have in local people through volunteering. Not only do they allow us to continue offering services we might not otherwise be able to, they also get so much out it and it gives them options for the future they might never have had.”

Marianne Penny, who has been running ‘stay and play’ sessions for children and their parents/carers as a volunteer since September last year, explains: “I used Children’s Centres when my son was born and found them very valuable, so I decided I’d like to get involved with volunteering to give something back. It’s important that these centres keep running and they need volunteers to do that.”

Marianne, who only moved into the borough recently, says volunteering has helped her make new friends and settle into the area. Having been a stay-at-home mum for a number of years, she now hopes volunteering will help get back into work once her little boy starts at school. 

“I wanted to build up my self-confidence so that I feel ‘work ready’, and through doing various training courses for the volunteering I’ve also found out about adult education courses that I can do. I’ve started studying towards an A Level that I hope will enable me to find work in adult education, a field that I’m interested in.”

She added: “The support you get has been fantastic, you get lots of training before you start and we’re looked after really well with regular meetings to see how we’re doing and whether we have any issues. Everyone is friendly, supportive and accommodating when you need to fit your volunteering around other commitments.”

Marianne added: “If you’re thinking about volunteering I’d just say: do it! If nothing else you’ll have a great time, build up your self-confidence and gain new skills that you can use as you go on in life.”

The accreditation from Investors in Volunteers is the latest praise for the volunteering programme in Knowsley’s Children’s Centres. Ofsted also noted the good practice taking place in centres, describing Huyton’s volunteer programme as “excellent” in their most recent inspection.

And Knowsley has hosted several delegations from other local authorities across the country interested in finding out more about how the volunteering programme has worked so successfully here.

Knowsley’s Children’s Centres deliver a range of services to young children and their families. This includes Stay & Play sessions, Baby Massage, parenting courses and specialist outreach support.
For more information about volunteering in Children’s Centres, contact Jess Aitchison on 443 5226.

You can also watch interviews with volunteers and find out more about the Investors in Volunteers accreditation on Knowsley Council’s YouTube channel.

Photo caption: Group shot - Jess Aitchison, Senior Parental & Community Outreach Officer, with volunteers at Huyton’s Children’s Centres celebrating their Investors in Volunteers award.