It's all about connections Reflections on a year of Move Mates Helen's introduction to Move the Masses was volunteering as a Move Mate 18 months or so ago. From the very first walk she felt very privileged to be walking alongside someone who only lived a few streets away and recognised the importance of chatting together; taking in the local gardens, noticing the birds and stopping to talk to the neighbourhood cats. Working from home, Helen also recognised it was the first time she had ever taken a proper break in her working day. It was a totally new, and pretty alien concept to her, and it felt invaluable. Not only did it increase her activity, it also increased her own wellbeing. I was re-connected with my local area, connected with her [my beneficiary] and the world around me. When the role of Move Mate Project Manager arose, Helen was a natural fit, with her previous work on local voluntary sector projects fitting perfectly with our needs. Connections Helen has now been in the role for just over a year and as her contract comes to an end, and she reflects on what has been achieved, the aspect of the project she feels that makes it so important, is the connections. Helen explained how the initial process, getting two people together, who live close to one another to support each other to go out to walk together is such a simple but meaningful connection. There have also been many stories of volunteers feeling more connected with their city and neighbourhood through their walking. Some were new to the city, others just didn't really know their local area and the volunteering connected them to it. And then there is the wider connection of working in partnership with other organisations in the city. Partnering with the council, and other charities and organisations that support people in York has been a real success of the year and something that is growing and growing. Connections are what makes Move Mates magic. It is what it is all about. From the linking up of two people who live just a few streets away to the teamwork between partner organisations. Volunteers tell us they feel more connected to their city. Connections are so important. Can-do attitude Helen reflected on what they have achieved in the last 12 months and explained that initially there was just a handful of paired walking buddies. The difference now, even with Covid seeing the project out of action for the best part of 4 months, is incredible. For those of you into the stats, 367 walks have been taken, made up of 298 hours of volunteering. And the number of people paired over the year is 59. But in the early days, despite not having the numbers, Helen explained the ideas and enthusiasm for the potential for the project were immense. Helen has loved working alongside Egg and she has seen her inspire a whole army of volunteers, and even the whole voluntary sector of the city. There is an underlying driving force in Move the Masses in the shape of our founder, Egg. She has incredible ideas and an infectious can-do attitude. And she doesn’t just talk about things, she turns ideas into reality quickly and brilliantly. Valuing volunteers It is those volunteers and the connection with the volunteers that Helen is proud of. She transformed the then fledgling volunteer monthly meet-ups into a whole new experience; securing a quirky venue in Acomb Fire Station and then providing interesting training opportunities at each event. The meet-ups became highly informative - learning from experts in dementia, mental health, falls prevention, sight loss and more - alongside a super friendly, social occasion. With constant communication between staff and volunteers in the form of newsletters and emails, the ethos was one of responding to volunteers ideas and requests and shaping the offer accordingly. For me, the deeply held ethos of shaping the service alongside volunteers, the people who benefit and partners is key. Helen also listened to requests from beneficiaries and volunteers which saw the charity produce comprehensive, well designed Welcome Packs and Training Manuals. The popular ID card service is another resource initiated from volunteer feedback. Some volunteers requested them so the beneficiary immediately felt comfortable with who the volunteer was and where they were from. Producing ID cards is now offered back to the voluntary sector and they are flying out to organisations all over the city. Saving hours A major task that Helen completed during her time with Move the Masses might seem a little ‘boring’ to some people. But for those who like spreadsheets and understand how time consuming a basic system can be, they will be nodding their heads excitedly. Helen transformed our spreadsheet systems from manual-inputted google sheets to the slick, user-friendly Airtable, which has automated every process we go through to take on volunteers and match them to beneficiaries, and saved us hours and hours every week. Building relationships Helen has been truly instrumental in making Move the Masses the amazing collaborative charity is it today, providing services that make a huge difference to BOTH the beneficiary AND the volunteer. It’s not surprising then that Helen's highlights are all about relationships and connection. She loved the Christmas Volunteer Awards we did last year. I loved seeing the relationships that have built up between the volunteers and recognising the difference those volunteers make in people’s lives. It was so fun sharing food and stories together and celebrating the amazing work of our volunteers in a relaxed atmosphere. And the style of the Seasonal meet-up was also, of course, created very much in response to what the volunteers wanted. They wanted informal, they wanted early December so as not to clash with so many other December events, they wanted to share food and it was even a ‘drop-in’ rather than a set time making it as easy as possible for people to come along when it suited them. It’s almost the recipe for the success of the Move Mates - listening, responding and respecting people’s wishes. We know the impact Helen's work has made on the organisation is massive, because Move Mates now needs a full-time Project Manager. But we are really happy to report she will be sticking around as a volunteer, both as a Move Mate and behind the scenes supporting the continued growth of the service. Her final word is all about how proud, grateful and in awe she is of what the volunteers have helped Move the Masses achieve. Move Mates has such a meaningful impact on so many people's lives, and the stories we hear and tell are testament to this. To witness this first hand has been a real privilege. We couldn't do it without our merry band of Move Mates!