An interview with Skilled Volunteer Susannah Burns
Blog by Skilled Volunteer Diane Carrington | May 2022
Susannah is a Project/Change manager with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, she has worked mainly in Africa and the Middle East and has a background in languages. She became interested in volunteering after returning from abroad in 2020 when, due to Covid, her workload began to slow down and she found herself with spare time on her hands. Having been away from the UK for several years she particularly wanted to get involved with her local community and felt this was a perfect way to do so.
During an online search she came across Link UP London’s “Skilled Volunteering” opportunities and as she hadn’t heard of this type of volunteering before she was very interested. She made contact to find out more and realised that it could also give her the opportunity to explore her own skills further and see how transferable they were to the voluntary sector.
After the initial contact with Link UP had been made, Susannah found the process a smooth one; she liked that the hard work of finding a charity to work with was taken away by the matching process which ensures that the charity is one that actually needs your skills. She also liked that Link UP would let you know if a project was not working, taking the pressure away from the charity to do so.
She was matched with the “My Roehampton” project which was being run by Citizens Advice in Roehampton. The project manager was a one-man band tasked with managing community projects and he was inundated with requests, ideas and deadlines. He was running the community project which involved sourcing funding opportunities for events such as art festivals, clean up days, business coaching for local people etc. – he needed help in shaping and managing the projects. He and Susannah discussed and agreed what help was needed and got to work. The project lasted for three months from Oct 2020 – Jan 2021.
Susannah was able to help the “My Roehampton” project in a variety of areas which included; communications, how to describe outputs/outcomes/impact, boundaries setting, managing risk, decision making, dealing with the project board and sponsors, ensuring that funders were kept updated, working with a steering committee to keep them aware of the risks and getting them to own some of the actions and share responsibility. She also provided mentoring and advice and supported him to produce the end of year report.
The feedback from the project manager was positive and fulfilling for Susannah, amongst other things he reported back that he found it helpful having someone to listen to him, to help him structure his thinking and put his many ideas into action. She helped him “to see things differently” and he learnt a great deal about project management. During their time working together he would feedback to say that her input had been helpful and had “moved him past a very big obstacle”.
Susannah stayed in contact by email to check on progress after the project finished. Susannah felt that she too learnt from the project and discovered that although – perhaps too modestly – she felt that she “didn’t do very much” that “a little can make a big difference” and “had a bigger impact than she would have imagined”.
Susannah qualified as a coach after her Skilled Volunteering experience having learnt how powerful that way of working with someone can be. The qualification formalised what she does in her current job helping to develop and motivate her to keep improving her skills.
A big surprise for Susannah whilst working on the project was the level of deprivation that she found in the community, she learnt about the history of the area from affluent to deprivation, and how this had changed the nature of the community; she was impressed by what the small project was achieving for them.
Susannah admits that during the project she experienced “moments where she wished she could do more”, however the good feedback she received after it was completed confirmed to her that she was doing a good job and that her skills could help the charity sector. She felt that it was overall a positive experience.
She is now quite open minded and confident of where her skills can be used and is continuing to look at what she can do to establish relationships and support her own local community, she has met with a local group and they are exploring what they can do together. She has huge respect for people working in the voluntary sector and is looking forward to a future continuing to make her own contribution.