2020: reflections on a challenging year!

Well, what a year it’s been! In an ordinary work year, when I get to December, I feel quite tired as many of the usual big work tasks have been completed by this time. This year has been especially tiring, as it’s been a year of many unknowns, alongside a steep learning curve with new technology.

My year started out ok; our Events Team had planned for the education conference to be held at the new third sector hub in Stirling and we were in the early stages to considering speakers and workshops. We’d just had our successful DyslexiFest in Stirling and one of our two planned youth days. We were aware that there was a virus coming, but no-one realised at the time, just how much it was about to change our lives.

When we were suddenly thrust into lockdown, our planned events and meetings were postponed (oh, we were so naïve to think that they could be so easily rearranged!). I spent much of Spring worrying about how we could run our education conference.  I also broke my ankle in two places at the end of May (I missed one of the steps at the front of our house as I headed out for my mandatory daily walk), so that was an extra complication! Luckily, I was already set up to work from home, so only missed one day of work. I must mention my star husband, Paul, here – he helped me so much over June and July while I was hobbling about in my moonboot.

Our Events Team agreed that we would organise a virtual education conference and then the real work began! I’m very lucky, as I am blessed with great colleagues, volunteers and work partners. Huge thanks go to Trevor and his team at BlueStar Streaming and the excellent teams at CALL Scotland, Expert IT and Corporate Culture. With the patience and support from all of these people, and our keynote speakers and workshop leaders, we managed to put together a successful virtual education conference for 200 teachers on 3 October.

While all the above was happening, we worked with our amazing volunteers to continue much of our work remotely. With the support of Sharon, Senior Helpline Advisor, our Helpline volunteers continued in their roles, albeit from home. Huge thanks go to Anne, Celia, Claire, Janette and Susan for their patience and support.  Especially so for Janette and Susan, who were just starting in their Helpline roles as lockdown happened.

Our Adult Network meetings were all postponed from early Spring. Thankfully, Liz and Jean, our fab Volunteer Network Facilitators, were supportive of trying things out online. We tentatively set up our first online Adult Network meeting on Zoom in April.  We’ve learned a lot about Zoom meetings – only being one step ahead of the network members – as the meetings developed over the following months. Liz and Jean also turned our recently developed adult masterclass into an online adult masterclass.  You can see all three sections of the adult masterclass on our YouTube channel here.

Thanks also must go to our superstar Career Mentor volunteers, Young Ambassadors, Admin volunteers, Media Volunteers and Blogger Volunteers who all played really active roles in helping us to keep our work going online across this challenging year.  Some of our volunteers have been unable to undertake their usual roles since lockdown – including our Events volunteers – but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for their patience and understanding while we postponed, rearranged or cancelled events as circumstances changed.

It’s fair to say that this year has been a year of challenges, but also many positives. One of the challenges of being a Volunteers Manager during a pandemic has been hoping that all of our amazing volunteers feel supported in their roles. I think (and hope) that Zoom has had a really positive influence on this. It has allowed volunteers from all over Scotland to meet up without having to worry about travel and/or childcare. We’ve had several Helpline catch ups, Young Ambassador catch ups, Career Mentor catch ups and one National Volunteers catch up, to date.

There is now a lot of ‘food for thought’ about how we will work remotely or otherwise, as we move forward into 2021. But first, I’m looking forward to a restful Christmas break ;-).

Helen Fleming, Volunteers Manager