Wednesday, 26 February 2014


CRAIG Womble, originally from Derbyshire, came to Dorset via the Navy where he served in a variety of roles over his service, including an aircraft handler and firefighter. His first draft ‘down south’ in 1982 was to Yeovilton, and his last sea draft was on the aircraft carrier, HMS Invincible. He joined up, he says, because it looked like an ‘interesting job’. It was in much the same frame of mind that he came to the Volunteer Centre, Dorset, initially to run the organisation’s volunteer garden help scheme on a part-time basis. After just a few months part-time Craig became full time and is now deputy manager at the organisation’s base in Dorchester, where he has now worked for over a decade.

WHAT attracted you to the job in the first place?
People, I like being around people, and like the Navy some of the skills are transferrable – organising my time and other people’s time to best advantage with a team. But of course it’s a little bit different and not so much results-driven, and everyone we work with is a volunteer, apart from a handful of paid staff in the office.

DOES it make any difference that people are volunteers and don’t have to do what they are asked to?
Not really. All the volunteers I have ever worked with are here because they want to be here and have a sense of purpose. They’re not here for the money and they want to get something else out of if. There are more and more people wanting to volunteer and most of them are looking to do something meaningful where their contribution can make a difference.

HAS the type of volunteer changed over the years?
To some extent – we are now getting more people from professional backgrounds, largely because of redundancy or taking early retirement, although the number of older volunteers has dropped off a bit lately. However, this has been made up for by an influx of younger people, often looking to get work experience.

AND what sort of work do people give their time to?
It can be anything – there is always a need for volunteer drivers, we can never get enough. Some offer general office support for organisations, some are keen to mentor older or younger people, many work with people with disabilities, some are active in marketing organisations and we still have a lot of hands-on roles such as the garden scheme, where volunteers help others who are not able to look after their garden any longer and can’t afford paid help.

AND I guess rules and regulations have tightened up over the years?
Yes, and quite rightly. Those working with vulnerable people need to have their backgrounds checked and we, ourselves, offer training in areas such as health and safety, first aid, mentoring and supporting people as well as customer service skills. For some of our volunteers, younger people in particular, these skills and the experience they have with us are useful in finding a job or setting out on a career. People do tend to move on and we want them to move on.

SO how many volunteers and  opportunities do you have across Dorset?
We used to have hundreds of volunteers and opportunities, now it’s literally thousands. We have about 12,000 volunteers on our books but people do move in and out of volunteering so the figure is quite fluid. We also have about 2,000 vacancies at any one time, but that’s never enough. Our biggest challenge is ensuring there is enough choice of opportunities for volunteers, spread across the county.

SO you’re a bit like a dating agency?
In a way… and of course the better we know the volunteer and the organisations we work with the better the match. We do expect the organisations we work with to have proper volunteer policies and to treat volunteers as they would their staff, that they offer training and induction and can offer expenses and have policies such as inclusivity and non-discrimination.

DO you have your own favourite projects?
I do like projects where we can see an end result. Personally, I still quite like to get hands-on and if I get a chance I’m quite likely to get out of the office and go and help. The volunteers seem to like it as well if you are working alongside them and it gives them a chance to talk about anything which they may be concerned about.

IF there was anything which would make your life easier at work, what would it be?
I would like to see more funding support. It’s very much hand to mouth here and without help from local councils and other organisations our life would be much more difficult. But of course, times are harder for them now as well, which is worrying, although the trend to use volunteers in organisations is growing and there is more and more people who want to volunteer.

AND outside of work, do you have hobbies?
I dabble in antiques, it’s been an interest for a number of years. I will often go to the events they hold at Shepton Mallett. I’m also keen on fishing -  coarse, sea and game and for eight years I was a football coach at the time my lad was playing from about the ages of eight to 16. I do go and see films, usually with my wife or daughter, although I wouldn’t describe myself as a film fan I like productions which have a powerful message - Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom was just superb.

WHAT sort of people would you like to have to dinner?
I like sporty people, especially those with a bit of character; Ian Botham I could sit and chat to for hours. I like people who have got strong opinions, someone who says it as it is, and who doesn’t take offence if you are critical of their views.

AND what would you eat?
Italian or Indian. My dad was born in India so we always had a lot of traditional curries, I like fish curries and meat. I’d hope my wife would cook, she’s a great cook, I usually do the easier stuff, curries or a stew.

AND when the day comes for you to take retirement – do you think you will find some time to volunteer?
Yes, I would probably come back as a volunteer if it was a practical role, assuming I could still do a practical role in a few years’ time! I like working with people and supporting people, and working with a team, so I can’t see me sitting around and doing nothing.

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