Big cash handout to support volunteers in Blackpool

Better Start volunteers in George Bancroft Park
Better Start volunteers in George Bancroft Park
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A £450,000 investment in volunteering is poised to change people's lives around.

The cash is being ploughed into the Blackpool Volunteer Academy by Blackpool Better Start which wants to encourage more parents to support its activities.

Better Start volunteers

Better Start volunteers

Better Start, a council-supported initiative working in Blackpool's most deprived areas to help pre-school children and their families, made the announcement during National Volunteer Week which runs until Friday. (June 7)

Sharon Mather, senior community development manager, said: "We are delighted to have recommissioned the volunteer academy, and we hope this significant investment will encourage more Blackpool parents to volunteer.

"There are many wonderful opportunities available to people who might have some spare time, including gaining new skills and making new friends. "

It is hoped the investment will enable the centre to dismantle barriers to volunteering, boost people's confidence, deliver access to training and ultimately lead to paid work for those who want it.

Volunteer Faye Morton

Volunteer Faye Morton

Volunteer Academy manager Emma Whitty-Haddock knows first hand the difference volunteering can make.

When her spina bifida condition worsened, she was forced to give up her dream job working at Blackpool Sea Life Centre, and now relies on a wheelchair to get around.

She said: "My GP advised me to become a volunteer and it saved me at a time when I was in a really bad way.

"I had had to give up a job I loved but I went to work as a volunteer at Blackpool Zoo and from there on things changed for me.

"A lot of the people Better Start works with are young parents who haven't got a lot of money and everything can seem very bleak.

"But if we can get them to volunteer and become involved and to see there are opportunities for them, then they will start to look at life differently."

Faye Morton is one person who did take up the challenge, and has seen her life transformed.

She said: "Before I started volunteering I lacked confidence and I would always question myself before I could even walk in a room.

"Sometimes I would just cancel going to things because I would panic about going somewhere new on my own.

"After joining the volunteer academy I attended the “Build a Better You” programme and slowly my confidence started to improve.

"I’ve learnt to step outside of my comfort zone and I’ve learnt that I can be amazing if I just trust myself.

“Over the past 12 months I have joined Better Start parent forums, volunteered with the park rangers and am the treasurer of parent group Community Voice. I even hosted a Better Start conference last year, and spoke in front of over 300 people.

“I also feel like I’m making a difference to my community by doing something positive, and I hope that I can lead by example and encourage other parents to become more involved in making their community a better place too.”

Emma says issues such as the cost of childcare or lack of literacy skills prevent many people from volunteering.

But the volunteer academy can meet costs and put people on training courses. In return the volunteers are making an impact on their communities.

Emma said: "For example volunteers go into communities talking to parents about infant feeding.

"Many parents weren't necessarily listening to advice from professionals, but they would listen when it was another parent.

"We're also identifying skills in the community. In Revoe we had a parent who was acting as a translator for Romanian families.

"She could speak a lot of languages so she was given training to become an official translator which means she can continue to volunteer, but also take it forward as a business.

"And everyone has some skills. Some people think they have nothing to offer. But we say, you're a parent and get your kids to school every day so you have time management skills and organisational skills."

A total of £150,000 will be invested each year over three years, and includes funding for two co-ordinators and a training officer at the volunteer academy based at the Volunteer Centre in one of Stanley Park gatehouses.

Sharon said: "We are investing a substantial amount as we have an ambitious journey for our parents and we want to ensure every opportunity possible is afforded to them.

"They are the ones living in these communities and they are socially connected to their neighbourhood, and we have some very talented people."

Among the volunteering schemes run by Better Start are a dad's club which has built furniture, a gardening group and junior park rangers.

Sharon added: "The early years park rangers are employed by the council and funded by Better Start.

"Some young people do behave disruptively in parks but our project is teaching them to look after the outdoors by taking part in litter patrols and helping organise events.

"If you embrace people and include them, they are less likely to be disruptive. Our experience shows as parks get busier with family-based activity, there is less anti-social behaviour and vandalism."

Volunteers Week runs until Friday June 7.

To find out more, contact the Volunteer Centre on 01253 301004.