Stepping-up

I’ve just come to the end of 18 months volunteering with Citizens Advice Hart.  When I was first retired off from work with my neurological condition, I at least wanted to ensure I was still contributing my recent PR experience (and dare I say it, professional skills) to a community cause.

This Citizens Advice Bureau dates back further than the Yateley portacabin - but demonstrates its vital role over the years.

This Citizens Advice Bureau dates back further than the Yateley portacabin of the 1980s – but demonstrates its vital role over the years – more here.

Citizens Advice has always been important to me since they helped my own family in the mid 1980s, when they were based in a ‘portacabin‘ behind the Royal Oak pub in Yateley.  Since then, their recipe of free, confidential, impartial and independent advice, combined with campaigning on those issues which have presented themselves to those organisation with regularity has become more important.  With a widening gap between rich and poor, and Government relying more on austerity as a strategy, Citizens Advice has as good as become the last stop-gap for those at the sharp end looking for help and support.

I know most people have ever increasing workloads and time-pressures in their working lives, but the contribution I have been able to make in the last 18 months has underlined just how much we can all make if we were able to volunteer just a small amount of time to local charities, community organisations or campaigns.

Dealing with life's transitions - like having a baby. Photo taken at Ewshot Recreation Ground.

Dealing with life’s transitions – like having a baby. Photo taken on steps of the slide at Ewshot Recreation Ground.

I was excited to be able to bring my 18 months to a close by producing a postcard-led volunteer recruitment campaign, “Change a Life – One Step at a Time”.  It featured scenes which utilised Slinkachu-style street art, which I photographed in locations throughout our largely rural area, to help bring a district to life which many of our residents were unaware of.

Dealing with life's transitions - like bereavement. Photo taken on the steps of Odiham War Memorial.

Dealing with life’s transitions – like bereavement. Photo taken on the steps of Odiham War Memorial.

The scenes each illustrated a different ‘life transition’ which the charity is likely to help local people, so that potential volunteers can get an insight into the kind of work they could help with.  Previously the charity had found it difficult to get permission to share examples of case studies, and this overcame that problem.

The local newspaper – the ‘Fleet and Yateley News & Mail‘ were so impressed, they gave us a full page feature on the initiative.

Citizens Advice Hart's "Change a Life - One Step at a Time" campaign in the "Fleet and Yateley News & Mail"

Citizens Advice Hart’s “Change a Life – One Step at a Time” campaign in the “Fleet and Yateley News & Mail”

The full campaign was explained in this blog post.

It had social media extensions on Instagram and Pinterest, and the postcards are designed to be used regularly as banners on Twitter and Facebook.

It has been a real thrill to work with staff and fellow volunteers to help spread the word on the local Citizens Advice.  When I first began, I helped show how media relations works, and how the potential of a story can be properly unlocked.  They ended up on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, in the pages of the Spectator magazine and in the local media too.  As well as helping them embrace social media, I then worked with the trustees on pulling together a full communications strategy.

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The biggest thrill was embracing some of the best practice from of the best agencies I have had the privilege of engaging with over time to run a session with the team of 30 or so volunteers to help unlock the true nature of the charity’s communication problem – and how to overcome it.  We were able to see how some solutions directly led to changes in service delivery – and changes in how we thought about how the service might work in the future.  It also helped volunteers and staff see how PR is about much more than press releases, but can actually help the organisation keep a focus on improving relationships with people.  And it helped put them in the driving seat of the analysis stage of compiling a communications strategy.

After 18 months, I had to remember that I was retired off for a reason, and will be concentrating on that for a bit.  But in the meantime, I just wanted to pen a post recommending that as many people as possible – whether they are PRs, marketers, lawyers, accountants – whatever, volunteer their time with a local charity, community organisation or campaign for change that is dear to them.  Some ‘CPD‘ schemes include volunteering as part of their structures – but it’s just a great thing in it’s own right!

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