Spotlight on volunteering jobs: Volunteer Centre Edinburgh

The Volunteer Centre Edinburgh recently held their annual recruitment fair and s1jobs were there to find out more about the Centre, the work it does and the benefits that work brings. To give some background into the Centre, it began life in 1970 as a “Volunteer Job Shop”, making it easy for potential volunteers to find the right opportunity for them. These days it operates in various ways, as Service Director Marion Findlay explains.

“We run a range of services that are about helping people improve their employability through volunteering jobs and also services that help people improve their health and wellbeing through volunteering. The two are quite linked because often when people have been unemployed for a long time, it’s been through health problems. So if we can help them to volunteer, albeit for a small amount of time per week, and improve their health, we may get them back to a state where they feel able to consider work which they had felt excluded from.”

Mentors and mentees

Barbara Matheson heads up the employability mentoring service that the Centre runs, which has a two-fold application. “I recruit and train the volunteer mentors who are then matched with people who are unemployed and have got a range of barriers to getting back into work.”

An important message to remember about volunteering

This particular service has been running for six years and it has had positive effects for the people benefitting from the employment mentoring given to them by these trained volunteers.

“There was someone we worked with at the beginning of the programme who at the time was working in an unskilled job in hospitality and had had various periods of unemployment. As a result of working with one of the mentors they’ve gone on to do an HNC at college, have now done an HND and are in a really well paid job. That’s one that sticks out. We’ve worked with people who perhaps haven’t worked for 5 or 6 years because of illness, for example, who’ve then got enough confidence and now know how to sell themselves well enough at interview. They can then maybe go into a different type of work than the job they came out of – because sometimes the work they last did was instrumental in their illness, contributing to stress levels and that kind of thing. So we’ve helped people make positive transitions.”

Where the project really comes into its own, though, is in the way that it not only benefits the mentees but also the mentors themselves. Barbara tells us more.

We recently commissioned a piece of research into mentoring – in fact, one of our volunteers who did it is a specialist in that area. The mentors said that they got a lot more out of it than they anticipated: they learned a lot about themselves and they got a great buzz out of helping somebody else move on. I think a lot of them are quite surprised about what they do get out from this.

We’ve got some that have been working with us for the whole six years of this project and I think that says a lot. When I’m interviewing them, one of the things I ask is what they want to get out of volunteering. Some of them are doing it because they’re trying to make a career transition of their own. For example, we’ve had several people work with us that have done a post-grad in careers guidance at university and they’re using this as an experience to put on their applications.

One individual has got a job at one of the big universities in Edinburgh as a career guidance person now and cited us – I was a referee for them. [On the mentoring project] It’s fabulous, it’s win-win… but we need more money to run it because the funding’s in doubt. It’s really successful but our 5-year funding from one source has run out; we’ve managed to find enough to run it for another year now and we’re safe until March of next year, but after that it runs out again.”

volunteer fair edinburgh
Many different organisations were represented at the Centre’s Volunteer Recruitment Fair.

Volunteering benefits all

Lara Celini also works at the Centre and is another who has experienced the kind of mutual benefit from volunteering that Barbara described.

“I’ve seen how it can really turn people’s lives around. I’ve seen how volunteering can really improve people’s confidence and self-esteem, really improve their health and wellbeing. It gives people who might otherwise be quite isolated an opportunity to get out there and make friends and social contacts…and of course it’s a really good stepping stone into paid work. We also engage a lot of volunteers within the volunteer centre itself as well as obviously helping many organisations across Edinburgh to recruit volunteers. Quite a lot of those volunteers are increasingly coming to us and looking to use their volunteering as a stepping stone into paid work.”

Types of volunteering opportunities

The move into paid work is one which some people are closer to being equipped to do than others but the Centre tries to make sure that its range of services can cater for all. Marion gave us some examples.

“We have a service within the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for folk who maybe have experienced mental illness for years and years, and then a service that’s providing support for people who have health issues and then a range of employability services. So, in terms of employability, we can provide a general guidance service and that’s either face-to-face in our office or online via our website. So lots of people either looking to enter work for the first time – in this city – or looking to return to work go onto our website.

We have what we call our voluntary work coach, which is a one-to-one service, helping people to identify the right type of volunteering [for them] and to work towards it. It tends to be for people whose confidence has taken a real battering, basically. We also have a one-to-one advice service, again, for folk who are having to change career because the job that they did in the past no longer exists or it’s something that they no longer want or are able to do.”

volunteer centre edinburgh
There were plenty of opportunities for people to learn more about the options for volunteering in Edinburgh

The Centre is clearly doing very important work and has hit upon models that deliver real results to both its own staff, volunteers and to the people they support. They’re also working perfectly with the philosophies of the modern job market.

As Marion sums things up –

“It’s having these kind of portfolio careers where you’re using the skills and talents and experiences you have that are relevant to whatever jobs are around. That’s what we are helping people with.”


Thank you to all at Volunteer Centre Edinburgh and particularly to Lara, Barbara and Marion who all took the time to give us an insight into the valuable work that they do.

As our Brand Manager, Kayleigh Lockhart, says –

“Marion has summed things up brilliantly with the term ‘portfolio careers’. No longer are people labelled by specific roles or sectors; employment opportunities these days are all about transferable skills. Anything that helps people to get out there and build their range of skills and experiences can only be of benefit, both in a general wellbeing sense and also for their CV. At s1jobs we applaud the fantastic work being undertaken by the Volunteer Centre Edinburgh.”  

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