When Covid-19 suddenly hit us last Spring we took the decision to temporarily close our contact centre – a decision made easier by unexpectedly finding ourselves without any families for the first time in a very long time. We kept to the schedule of management meetings every three months or so (on Zoom) and each time the decision on when to re-open was uppermost. We never expected to be closed for 15 months, but when Covid numbers rose in the autumn and then soared in January we realised we were in for the long haul.

We lost 5 long-standing volunteers straight away in March last year, on the grounds of age and/or ill-health, and our chair, treasurer and another management group member were due to step down, so we publicised all the vacancies together, and drew in a charity mentor to review our recruitment process and be part of the interview panel.

We circulated the advert locally and used Reach Volunteering for the management roles. We successfully appointed 5 new management group members with skills and experience in a range of useful areas – treasurer, HR, a former magistrate, a psychotherapist, and a church minister who in retirement from ministry worked in a mental health community team for 9 years. When I say ‘appointed’, strictly speaking they are all in attendance at our management meetings ahead of our AGM in August when they will be formally proposed, seconded and voted upon. We also found four new Saturday volunteers, again with broad experience and empathy for our cause. We had been all-British and all-female – but the new team includes South African, Hungarian, and Indian women and one South African man. We were less successful in gender terms than nationality where diversity is concerned!

Our meeting in April finally felt like the time to set a re-opening timetable. We held pre-opening sessions in the centre on 22 and 29 May and used this time for training and for revising our room layout to be more Covid-safe. We told our local paper of our plans, and they sent a photographer on the second occasion and published a full-page article letting everyone know we had reopened.

Numbers are low. Our plan is to start off with a maximum of three families per week, each family attending fortnightly, and to stagger arrival and departure times then review everything two months in. As I write (9th June), we have booked in one family and one set of pre-visits and are following up several recent enquiries. Alongside all this we are in the process of re-accreditation, which feels both a bit nerve-wracking but also affirming in that we know that we will be given support in any areas we haven’t got quite right.

I’ve felt the responsibility deeply, and have had to consciously do other things to take my mind off  fretting about details. But I’m also excited and motivated as I know things are coming together well and I have plenty of support both locally in my ‘new’ team as well as NACCC staff and colleagues in other centres. The Coffee Shop and training events (especially the safeguarding one) have really helped.

Lynne, Co-ordinator Portland Child Contact Centre, Bishop’s Stortford

Portland’s volunteer pack

Lynne has created a handbook for each of her volunteers (in a loose-leaf folder that can be easily updated). With the new covid procedures, team roles, policies and procedures this makes a fantastic resource as they start volunteering again.

She has kindly made this available to any member who might find it useful. See link

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