Manchester Volunteer Advice Partnership: A collaborative anti-poverty approach

No comments

By Dawn Kaveney, Volunteer Development Worker at Manchester Mind

As a collective Manchester Mind, Cheetham Hill Advice Centre (CHAC), Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit and Manchester Refugee Support Network believe in the power of information and advice to support change, and that there is strength in our communities.

This has certainly played out in our Manchester Volunteer Advice Partnership (MVAP), which has been running for the past 12 years with the support of The National Lottery Community Fund.

The partnership came together to meet an identified gap in all our services and that was about how to meet the growing tide of demand for advice and effectively support people who wanted to volunteer in advice work.

We developed a project to do this by centrally delivering a structured high-quality training and development programme for volunteers that also enables them to enhance skills, knowledge and confidence. The result has been increased capacity to deliver advice, contributing to workforce sustainability both within the partnership and external organisations.

“Working with the MVAP partnership to recruit and train new volunteers has been immeasurable. The countless hours provided by the dedicated volunteers has helped Manchester residents with completing applications, re-housing applications, debts, consumer grievances, education applications, travel passes and more. The tireless work of volunteers has helped us raise over £2.5 million in additional income, prevented homelessness and helped deal with debts of over £783,000 all in the last year alone” – Advice and Volunteer Manager at Cheetham Hill Advice Centre.

We then recognised that other organisations and services were experiencing the same challenges as we were – trying to help people negotiate the complexity of the system, there was no other training about, so we responded by opening up places on our core training and delivering bespoke sessions. We are finding that in doing so we are supporting volunteers and in some cases paid workers, leading to increased confidence and the ability to recognise issues, provide information and advice and signpost effectively.

“I notice I have more visits from my community over the last weeks. I guess that the better advice I deliver and the confidence I gain while doing my job attract more clients and help them trust me more” – Ethnic Health Forum employee.

Another one of our original aims was to create a volunteer group that was representative of the diverse communities in Manchester and to reach people who may otherwise not have the confidence to apply. This has all been about recognising the potential of individuals, the invaluable benefits of personal experiences and the resourcefulness that already exists. By providing this opportunity we are enabling people to build skills, knowledge and confidence to help others, which is having a trickle-down effect of empowering communities.

To recruit we go out into the community and advertise MVAP as a learning and development opportunity, rather than stipulate that certain skills and knowledge are required. This approach has proved successful with 53% of our volunteers this year being from racialised communities, giving a rich resource of languages mirroring the diversity in Manchester.

“The additional languages spoken has ensured we could provide help and advice in the client’s first language; no words could express the importance and the impact of this, to ensure our residents are understood and that they are provided with help and advice that they can comprehend, providing empowerment and knowledge” – Advice and Volunteer Manager at Cheetham Hill Advice Centre.

This approach has led to us being regularly oversubscribed. Rather than turn people away we have developed a good relationship with a smaller organisation who’ve joined our recruitment events. Their volunteers then have access to all MVAP training and events.

Delivering advice is an important aspect of any anti-poverty strategy. Advice enables people to tackle the complexity of systems that are stacked against them, and helps them access their rights and entitlements. But this is only one part of it. Volunteering allows us to develop a workforce, and building capacity within our community is a strength of this programme that ticks many boxes.

As MVAP is in the last year of lottery funding and there will be no more (as we have been supported by the lottery over three funding periods), we need to assess where our strengths are and how the sector benefits. We are ready to continue and our partnership believes in what we are doing and what we have achieved.

We are particularly interested in expanding advice training and the delivery of bespoke sessions, as well as offering consultancy on volunteer recruitment and management—but, we would like to hear from you. What would help you to increase capacity to support people? What would enrich your service? How can we be involved?

Please get in touch with if you want to continue the conversation and/or complete this short survey.

We would love to hear from you.

For more articles like this straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter.

i3oz9sManchester Volunteer Advice Partnership: A collaborative anti-poverty approach