A short time ago we had a request from a 14 year old wanting to volunteer with our branches. The Branch volunteering programme is traditionally adult and until relatively recent years was heavily skewed in the direction of the retired. These days we are getting more balanced with a big influx of graduates volunteering with us but it's a first to get someone from school-age to request to join in.
Initially this posed a problem. Would we need to CRB check all our other volunteers in that Branch? Should we have this young person only volunteering with a parent? What about their own experience of independence and personal growth? I didn't feel I wanted this experience to be oppressive either to existing volunteers or the new one but we had no policies in place for this scenario.
So I did what every volunteer manager should do when unsure how best to proceed- I asked around. And I received a wealth of good ideas and challenges. From this I am developing a new protocol to sit in our files and be dusted off as occasion needs.
Firstly we will not be requesting existing volunteers to put their own privacy on the line for the benefit of a single new volunteer by requesting they have CRB checks. Instead we will talk with the host Branch about safeguarding and refresh their memories with our existing volunteer policy. We will put in place a parental permission system to ensure that the volunteer and their parent or guardian understand the organization and what volunteering with us entails. For integrating the new volunteer we're going to take a Branch-led approach. Instead of drawing up a policy or document of rules I am going to draw up an open-ended document designed to promote discussion and idea-sharing - what can you do, in your Branch, to involve a young person? What can a young person particularly offer to your Branch? There will be suggestions about how to make Branch meetings and activity more accessible, e.g. offering travel expenses; choosing a meeting venue accessible by public transport. Ideas that the Branch can take or leave or adapt depending on their own activity, for our branches are rather autonomous.
I have found in other situations that opening the door of accessibility to someone from one new background generally opens the door to many others at the same time. Encouraging our volunteers to think themselves about what in their own systems acts as a barrier is the first step to breaking down the barriers and increasing diversity in the individual groups. And a more diverse volunteer base means a greater array of exciting event ideas aimed at a new range of audiences.
One 14 year old's butterfly wings flap and a hurricane of new and exciting activity follows...