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'Step Up' at The Connection

'Step Up' at The Connection

'Step Up' at The Connection

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Wyn Newman - User Involvement Manager, The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields

Step Up at The Connection at St Martin’s

StepUp is a service user volunteer programme developed by The Connection at St Martin’s. By creating volunteering opportunities for service users, StepUp helps clients build the confidence and skills needed to move away from homelessness and into accommodation and employment, within the safe environment of the day centre.

We initially developed the StepUp programme in January 2011 to improve client participation at the centre. It was a response to feedback and suggestions made by service users who wanted to give something back. If we believe people have the skills to go on to live independent lives we decided we needed to find ways to involve clients in the running of the day centre.

StepUp’s key approaches:

  1. Mirroring formal application process

All vacancies are advertised and interested service users are asked to complete an application form and to let our employment guidance team know of their interest. At this stage they can find out more about the role. For each role there is a description of duties and skills required. Applicants are then invited to attend an interview.

  1. Developing specific volunteer roles

Firstly, a role description is agreed. This allows potential candidates to know what is expected of them before they apply. Each role is designed to put any necessary safeguards in place and to take account of the difficult situations many service users are dealing with. Current roles include:

  • Kitchen
  • Day Centre
  • Night Centre
  • Administration
  • IT drop-in
  • Groups
  • Fundraising
  • Interviews
  1. Non-judgemental approach

StepUp recognises that this process may be challenging for many service users. As a result it is important to adopt a non-judgemental approach to people who change their minds or feel that they are not ready to pursue the application.

It is an important part of StepUp that clients feel in control and feel able to change their minds without feeling judged or criticised.

  1. Removing barriers

Homeless service users can face barriers when seeking employment. StepUp looks to remove barriers. For instance appropriate clothing and footwear is available to kitchen volunteers and they are given early access to the day centre to shower before they start.

The roles are designed to reduce the need for background checks.

Staff have an important role helping to recognise and overcome any barriers.

  1. Supporting volunteers

Once recruited, volunteers receive training appropriate to the role. All StepUp volunteers receive an induction into becoming a volunteer which covers responsibilities, communication and boundaries, and skills training that is appropriate to the role. In the case of the kitchen, this involves obtaining a basic food hygiene qualification.

Volunteers need to feel comfortable talking to staff about any concerns. Staff are encouraged to develop coaching skills.

  1. Monitoring Progress

It is important to record attendance and progress. This has allowed us to monitor the performance of StepUp. It ensures StepUp continues to have a positive impact and is supporting a client’s progress.

       7. StepUp and staff recruitment.

StepUp volunteers are now part of the recruitment process for all new staff. 3 StepUp volunteers form a panel, they receive training and prepare 3 or 4 questions around the candidates frontline experience. They evaluate all candidates against pre-agreed criteria and this is taken into account by the main interview panel before appointing a new member of staff.


When we first started to develop StepUp in 2011, we could not possibly have predicted the positive impact this programme would have on volunteers, staff and the entire organisation. Over time, Step Up volunteers have become a real asset, supporting frontline delivery, staff recruitment, promoting our services and providing a unique peer perspective to our engagement with some of the most vulnerable and disengaged individuals of society.

Since 2011 25 individuals have volunteered 1700 hours each year ( average figures). In the 3 month ending September 2016 we received 8 applications, interviewed 5 people and conducted 5 training sessions. 19 people volunteered a total of 179 hours.

The original plan for StepUp we placed a very strong focus on increasing employability and although this remains true and is verified through volunteer feedback, it is also clear, volunteers place equal if not more emphasis on Step Up improving their overall wellbeing by being occupied, feeling valued and being able to give something back to CSTM and society at large ( this is also partly due to the fact some volunteers are near, if not already at retirement age).  In fact, when clients initially express interest in Step Up and are asked why they want to volunteer – the most immediate and common answer is that they want to give something back to the organisation that is supporting them.

Since we started StepUp we have achieved 80% of the achievable measurable outcomes we set as our targets: People going on to do further formal or informal training, volunteering, employment, external job trails or other volunteering placements.

Volunteers have reported the considerable impact StepUp has had on their lives. In this years Making a Difference for The Radio 4 Christmas Appeal Gary talks about his experience as a StepUp volunteer. This is other feedback from people who have become StepUp volunteers:

Volunteers talking about Step Up:

Using my skills and knowledge to help others is extremely rewarding”

“I’m much happier and calmer - I can now deal with difficult situations and just walk away”

“Step Up opened up my eyes to doing other things”

“I now think about how I can help, instead of how I can get help”

“I’m waiting to get my passport so that I can work, but I still want to volunteer when I get a job”

“I feel that I’m a Step Up volunteer on my days off too – I’m always on the lookout to see if I can help”


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