Service manager Belinda Heaney, who runs the Derby Lodge Café and Shipley Garden Project – a United Response social enterprise staffed by people we support and volunteers in Ilkestone, Derbyshire – reflects on the impact of volunteers on the project.

There is no better way of engaging with people than by using their skills to enhance a community project.

Derby Lodge is a café and gardening project, opened in February 2015, which is in its infancy. The café’s main aim is to provide paid employment for people with learning disabilities and mental health needs. In these days of increasing austerity, such projects have to propagate with little or no funding. The café also has to pay its own way as a viable business; to help us achieve this, enthusiastic local volunteers have been essential.

Who are they?

Our volunteers are people from all walks of life, of all ages and with many different skills.

We have a young astrophysicist waiting to start his PhD. We have a young man who lost his job and wants to keep occupied while searching for work. We have a retired accountant who has offered to do the books. We also have friends and supporters who see the café as a great project and want to help us out in their spare time.

It doesn’t matter that our volunteers aren’t social workers or support workers, or that they have little or no experience with vulnerable people; they come to us as a blank canvas and forge lasting relationships with the people we support – people who they might never have got to meet in their own lives.

What do they get out of volunteering?

I asked a number of our volunteers what they see as the benefits of helping out at Derby Lodge Café. They said:

  • “It’s helped me understand people more and feel part of something.”
  • “I just want to give something back.”
  • “It gives me something to get up for at a difficult time.”
  • “It’s given me confidence.”

What are your highlights so far?

One of the best things is seeing people from different backgrounds and with different abilities getting along together and doing a great job to make the café a success.

The other day, we got a new till with a touch screen, which was quite complicated to install. Seeing an astrophysicist working together with his colleagues with a learning disability to set it up was amazing.

Volunteers give from the heart. They are truly committed and want to do their best. We are proud of our volunteers and, to be honest, without them the café would have struggled. They have used their skills to help us get off the ground financially, and made the café feel whole and a great place to be. I cannot thank them enough.

Belinda Heaney, service manager, Ilkestone.

If you’re based in the Ilkestone area and would be interested in volunteering your time at the café or in the garden, Belinda would love to hear from you. Click here to drop her an email. Based elsewhere? Check out our volunteering page.

To find out more about the Derby Lodge Café and Shipley Garden Project, head over to their brand new Facebook page – and get ‘liking’!