The situation

When Wythenshawe Community Housing Group (WCHG) launched its staff volunteering scheme in 2014, it expected it’d be a success. After all, WCHG recruits for behaviours that fit its values. And the idea for the scheme came from its staff group, Your Voice.

But four years and nearly 50,000 volunteering hours later, it’s safe to say the scheme has raised the roof.

WCHG came into being in 2013, when two housing trusts formed a Group. Today, the Group’s 14,000 properties provide social and affordable housing to more than 20,000 people across Wythenshawe, Manchester. And with half of its 560 people living in Wythenshawe, and an 80-strong community investment function, there’s a genuine commitment to improving life in the area.

We knew our people had a vested interest in the community. Our job was to provide opportunities for them to go out and help.

Victoria McDowell

Senior Community Investment Manager

The challenge

While WCHG’s main business is property services, its five-year Strategic Plan aims to “put tenants and the community at the heart of what it does”. And as Victoria says, ‘Achieving this is about the extra things we can do outside our core business, like volunteering.’

But taking people away of their day jobs is a big ask, especially in the current funding climate. ‘People here are working with those in crisis,’ explains Susan Richardson, Executive Director of Resources. ‘So delivering our core business is quite demanding.’

The solution

Despite this challenge, there was no resistance to the “Volunteering for Wythenshawe” (V4W) scheme from the senior leadership team. ‘It’s what we’re about, so it felt right,’ says Susan.

HR then put the idea to the wider Group at team meetings and carried out online surveys. And once they’d got the buy-in, they worked with ‘Your Voice’ to develop a clear policy to tackle managers’ reservations about taking people out of the business. ‘We gave them space to deliver their team’s volunteering hours how they wanted, so they could plan it in like holidays,’ says Victoria.

Group Chief Executive Nigel Wilson launched the scheme at the staff conference in 2014, by publicly committing that all staff could donate 14 hours a year. Employees could either suggest an idea to their manager or join an existing initiative or campaign. Either way, the opportunity would go through a social impact officer to make sure it’d benefit the local community. And Internal Communications would publicise the projects through its channels.

Employee engagement has gone up from 73% to 91% in two years

The results

When the scheme launched, the team thought it’d take a few years to build up the maximum 7,840 hours that were possible in 12 months. But just four years later, volunteers have donated a staggering 49,911 hours to initiatives across Wythenshawe. Around 30,000 of those hours have come from Real Neighbours, Wythenshawe, a spin-off scheme that sees community groups and businesses donate time directly or “exchange” it on TimeBank. The enthusiasm has even spread to Greater Manchester Police, which has engaged residents on how it should spend the money it’s allocated to the area.

Volunteering projects have ranged from planting in potting sheds to helping to run big events like the Wythenshawe Games. And according to WCHG’s calculations, in 2016, Real Neighbours, Wythenshawe produced a social return on investment (SROI) of £7 for every £1 invested. For V4W, it was £6.

96% of managers said their teams had gained skills from volunteering

Then there’s the benefits for volunteers and WCHG. ‘Any activity like this improves personal confidence and skills, which enables me to pass on my learning and experiences to team members,’ says Barry Warner, Environmental Services Manager in WCHG’s Environmental team. Taking people out of a work context has helped to bring the two legacy housing trusts together. And getting them away from their desks has given them a better understanding of the community they serve.

In WCHG’s people survey, the score for engagement has increased from 73% to 91% in two years. And 96% of managers said their teams had gained skills from volunteering.

Top tips

The WCHG team is keen to build on these strong foundations. Susan wants to shout more about V4W’s successes externally. And Victoria plans to work with GPs to create social volunteering opportunities that’ll help residents with their mental and physical health.

Both have concrete advice for other organisations to follow. ‘Make sure your senior management is on board,’ says Susan. ‘Then get the buy-in of the rest of your people, and communicate effectively. The rewards far outstrip any issue with capacity.’

Don’t expect to be perfect, either. ‘You’re not going to get it right first time and that’s okay,’ says Victoria. ‘But give colleagues the space and you’ll be surprised by how much they want to give back, and the benefits you’ll see. And if you administer your scheme carefully, you can avoid those big business impacts.’

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