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Veronica Gordon

Hello, and welcome to a special bonus episode of “Then One Day”. In these bonus episodes, we’ll be hearing specific advice from different community businesses that will hopefully be really helpful if you run a similar business, or if you’re looking to start one. Now, you may remember that a few episodes ago, we visited Brixton Windmill, and learned all about the wonderful volunteers who were providing flour for their local community throughout lockdown. While we were recording for that episode, I asked their lead miller, Abigail Holsborough, what surprising challenges they’d faced during the pandemic.

 

Abigail Holsborough, Brixton Windmill 

So, a challenge that we faced, weirdly enough, has been too many people wanting to volunteer during lockdown. We obviously really want people to come in and welcome anyone who wants to volunteer, but especially with lockdown measures, especially because we produce food, and we have to think about health and safety, and we can only have a certain number of people in the mill at any one time. And a lot of people have been disappointed when we say, you know, we can’t have everyone. We have a rota going so people can sign up for future shifts. But what has been important for us is just trying to find other ways to keep people engaged when they’re not here volunteering with us. So, sometimes that has looked like asking people to volunteer to deliver flour for us instead; some people been working on at home activities for kids that we can put on our website, which has been really nice. And just trying to, yeah, keep that interest going long enough so that we can have them down eventually when things ease up.

 

Veronica Gordon

I thought this was such an interesting problem to have. Generally, you assume most charities and community businesses are desperate for more helping hands. But instead, Abigail was dealing with how to say no. As she’s the person who manages the volunteer programme at the windmill, I asked her to give us her top five tips on how to get the best out of your volunteers.

 

Abigail Holsborough, Brixton Windmill 

Here are my top five tips for looking after volunteers. Tip number one – always have tea. Not only do we want to keep people hydrated and fine throughout the day, but it’s always nice to kind of unwind and have a chat while we’re having a cup of tea. And it’s been a really nice way to get to know volunteers and find out more about them as well. So that’s always good.

 

Tip number two is to try and figure out, I suppose, like what brings people to want to volunteer with you. So, for us at a mill, we have a form on the website where people can say how they found out about us. But for a lot of people, the thing that’s really drawn them maybe is, you know, they’re an aspiring baker, and they’ve been working on sourdough starters for the last year or however long it is. But finding that out from them is obviously good. We get to know them. It’s really valuable for us because you never know if there are other things they could help out on. So yeah, just figuring out what draws people to volunteer is really good.

 

Tip number three – find ways to make people feel valued, and to make sure that they know that their ideas and suggestions are important. People have suggestions all the time, you know, the way we organise stuff, or at least for us here during lockdown, it’s been thinking of ways to keep people engaged at home when they can’t come and visit. And even if we aren’t going to follow up or we’re not going to deliver on someone’s idea, I suppose just giving them some feedback and thanking them for their time and for bothering to give us a suggestion. It is always helpful.

 

Tip number four – in terms of retaining volunteers, in whatever way that someone’s volunteering, for us, it’s really important that people feel like they know what the bigger picture is – our plans, our future plans here at the windmill. So, for the last couple of years, the main focus has been on our new building being built. But when people can kind of see a roadmap of what’s going to happen in the future, it allows them to figure out how they could fit in and also gets them excited about things that are going to come up. So, you know, that’s a reason definitely for them to stay around.

 

Tip number five – in terms of volunteer socialising; every year, we have events for the public anyway – so our beer and bread festival; we have Santa at the windmill for Christmas. But we always have volunteer socials as well. And that literally just looks like us coming together, bit of wine, some food and just being in a place where it’s not an AGM; it’s not a meeting; we’re not talking about anything to do with like business. It’s just a chat, which is really nice. I suppose as well, what’s been really sweet is we keep updating each other on what’s happening in our lives. So, one of our millers had to leave because she was pregnant, which is really cute. And yes, it’s things like that that just make you feel connected to each other.

 

Veronica Gordon

Thanks to Abigail Holsborough on those great tips on how to look after your volunteers. Before I let her go, though, I had one last question. For the past four years, Abigail has not only been managing the volunteers, but she’s been a volunteer herself. I wanted to know how she has stayed so dedicated to the windmill for such a long time.

 

Abigail Holsborough, Brixton Windmill 

I don’t even feel like I can take all the credit. I think a lot of the motivation for me wanting to come here, comes from the other volunteers. People are very caring, and we’ll check in on each other; we all do in terms of making sure that no one’s taking on too much responsibility. Because yes, we are all volunteers and we’re aware of that. So, for example, we track our time here – when you mill, we sign in and out and keep track of the hours, as do the other volunteers. So, it’s just being aware of that and trying to, if you see someone’s overburdened, trying to help out or bring the rest of the team into it. And yeah, I suppose, as cheesy as it is, I’m motivated to just keep coming in and seeing everyone and just, you feel like you’re part of a team. So, you don’t want to let your team down and you kind of push each other which is nice.

 

Veronica Gordon

If you’ve been inspired by anything you’ve heard in today’s episode, head to www.powertochange.org.uk for more information. And make sure to join us in two weeks’ time when we’ll be diving into the story of how a seawater lido was nearly destroyed by a catastrophic storm but was saved by its local Cornish community. This is a Pixiu production brought to you by Power to Change. I’m Veronica Gordon. See you in two weeks.