Big interview: Volunteer leader celebrates anniversary
Aug 3 2010 By Greg Burns
IT HAS been a tough time for volunteer services in Hammersmith & Fulham after council funding cuts were announced last month.
As the central hub for the voluntary sector in the borough, GREG BURNS caught up with Marion Schumann, director of H&F Volunteer Centre, to find how the area is coping.
THIS year marks Marion Schumann's tenth anniversary at the helm of H&F Volunteer Centre.
An enthusiastic and charming woman, she has transformed the centre and overseen its move from tiny offices in King Street, Hammersmith, to their current larger home just down the road.
But it has been a challenging task.
Getting people to give their time and volunteer for good causes in the borough is hard enough. But having to fundraise hundreds of thousands of pounds to keep afloat means the pressure is always on.
Ms Schumann said: "The salary at the centre was £13,000 lower than where I was but I was told there were opportunities to boost the area and that really appealed to me.
"When I came here we operated from 130 King Street and we had a full-time director and acting manager and then 3 part-time people.
"We were only receiving a grant of £10,000 from the council because they weren't too sure about how the business was going and one of the thing stated was that they wanted someone who was good at fundraising and pushing a business forward.
"We have gone from being a very small organisation to being one of the largest Volunteer Centres in the UK. We have gone from a turnover of £25,000 a year to just over a million.
"It is a challenging job but one that I love. The problem is that it is 24/7 in my brain. I can rarely switch off. Even when I am on holiday I am checking emails and on my phone."
But not everyone shares this dedicated and philanthropic mindset.
In a bustling borough like Hammersmith & Fulham, people are often preoccupied with their own lives and slip into a dangerous mentality of selfishness when it comes to volunteering.
But Ms Schumann is adamant that it is the perfect way for people to build up self-esteem and keep youngster out of trouble and on the right path.
She said: ""We are the brokers of volunteering and our role is to find volunteers for services who are registered with us. Secondly, we have used volunteering as a way to reach out to people. People who are out of education, employment and society and this is the way to come back.
"Get your skills back up again and your confidence and many find their way into full-time employment.
"It isn't hard to get volunteers especially in the recession. What has happened is that we have professionals have come through the door with their expertise that we can really utilise.
"We have got a large youth department here and a youth action team.
Young people are not all demons because there are some good kids out there and I love keeping an eye on what they are doing.
"It keeps them out of crime and some of the neighbourhoods that they are in which are really bad. We have turned people's lives and we get thank you cards. We have people who say 'my volunteering has got me into a job'. And we need to get that message across because it stays in peoples minds and they become champions of volunteering."
Last month, H&F Council left dozens of volunteering organisations in a state of shock after announcing widespread funding cuts.
Many have been left fearing for their futures as they solely rely on council cash to keep their services alive.
But Mrs Schumann believes this is wrong. She is empathetic about the plight of these groups but she is constantly urges them to help themselves more.
She said: ""Some organisations have had their funding cut altogether. But I run fundraising workshops and I always say to the groups that they can not put their eggs in one basket.
"You have to go looking for money. If you think, just because you are a volunteering organisation, that money will just come to you then you are wrong. You have to make a case and try to sell your services.
"They have to get off their backsides and start knocking on doors. But some of them have become entrenched and have not moved on. The world in the volunteer sector has moved on and they have to wake up and smell the coffee.
"If they don't want to push themselves then you either sink or swim. Last year I fundraised £6m so it can be done."
Many of us will not know the essential work carried out by volunteer services in our community until we are desperate enough to need their help.
Then, and probably only then, will we be able to truly appreciate the way people dedicate their lives to helping others.
Maybe we should all give a little time to volunteering to help keep these vital services up and running.