This blog is part of a series which will look at the steps Voluntary Action Leeds are taking to re-opening and bringing back services in the light of the COVID-19 crisis. We hope sharing our learning through this series will be useful to other organisations across Leeds and we encourage others to share their experiences too through submitting a blog on the Doing Good Leeds website.
As events began to unfold back in March, here at Voluntary Action Leeds, just like countless other organisations up and down the country, staff began to prepare for working from home and we closed our doors to public visitors.
For Stringer House, this meant we immediately cancelled all our meeting room bookings for the foreseeable future; a major stream of income for the charity ceasing instantly, with no indication when those rooms would be occupied again.
All face to face training courses were also put on hold, cancellation emails sent and telephone conversations held, advising we were now turning our immediate attention to the task of responding to Covid-19 within the city.
Three months later, as lockdown restrictions slightly ease, and we have all established our ‘new norm’ for working, what is still apparent in our online, Zoom-centred, socially distanced community, is our desire to remain connected and continue to develop and share our skills and knowledge. For VAL, this sentiment resonated most in the need to adapt our training packages and look at how we could begin to support the sector further.
It became apparent, through conversations and requests via Doing Good Leeds, that there was still a need for training within the sector. Now, perhaps more than ever, individuals and organisations are keen to grow, learn and connect; responding to the challenges that we are all now facing. It was, therefore, obvious that we had to explore the option of online training packages for VAL.
Launching Online Training
Our Funding Advice Worker, Kaye Wilson, is used to speaking to groups and running training courses, however, she admitted to being daunted at the idea of holding her first Zoom online session, so she contacted Amy Hearn, Digital Inclusion Co-ordinator from 100% Digital for help. Amy was able to offer advice and support on the best way to navigate the technology, and armed with this new confidence Kaye’s session was a great success, receiving positive feedback from the attendees!
Kaye gave me her top tips:
- Practice- If you’re not confident, speak to someone who is. Get advice from someone who knows what they’re doing and ask them to practice with you.
- Limit numbers for discussion- If you want to encourage debate and questions don’t have too many participants on the session.
Following the success of the course we were able to offer a Suicide Prevention Training Course for volunteers working within certain areas of Leeds. Working in partnership with Humans Being, and funded by Leeds Community Foundation, the free course aims to equip volunteers with skills, knowledge and confidence to help support men with isolation and distress they may be feeling during the current pandemic. The training filled up all 15 places in only ten minutes after being advertised!
I asked one disappointed volunteer, who didn’t secure a place on the course, what attracted her to the course, was it the desire to learn new skills and build on her volunteering experience, or was it the subject matter and the significance of the effects of lockdown on our mental health and wellbeing; her response simply, “both”.
So after further planning and working with trusted VAL partners, we have developed more training courses to support the sector and offer a response to this desire to keep sharing skills and keep connecting.
There are other training suppliers out there, a quick search on Google will bring up 1000s of results to trawl through; however we were keen to ensure our training was good quality, targeted to the sector and importantly, good value to our customers. To appeal to different learning styles, we decided to offer a range of both ‘live’ Zoom training courses with experienced, knowledgeable Trainer Stephen Dowson; and individual training portal courses which can be undertaken at any time. In addition, as Kaye has already proven, our staff are building on their own skills, becoming more confident with online technology (aren’t we all having to?!), and beginning to develop their own sessions to offer to the third sector in the future.
Even though our face to face training courses may have been suspended, we are excited about the future of our online courses and where this may take VAL in the future. Whilst no one knows how long the meeting rooms at Stringer House will remain empty, we are still connecting and sharing skills and knowledge, in an aim to support the third sector in Leeds as they respond to the current challenges we all face.
Top Tips and Support
If you’re thinking about developing online training for you organisation, Stephen Dowson has shared his top tips:
- This is not a regular meeting so don't treat like one, understand you will need frequent breaks and will have to have a firm structure
- Invest in tech: This may be how we work for a long time, buy a good microphone and camera (I have suggestions btw). These are good long term investments and will make sure you are heard and seen correctly.
- Pay for Zoom, the breakout room feature is worth the price alone for this as you can have participants have conversations in private and reflect in smaller groups.
- Play online games: There are lots of games you can play online with large groups remotely (Such as the Jackbox series of games) that work as great icebreakers and as learning tools.
- Do a little often. Learning through a screen is a tiring process that is unnatural, settle for smaller learning courses more often rather than doing huge day-long courses.
- Don't fall back onto PowerPoint: This can feel easy to do as screen sharing makes it possible but PowerPoint is even duller online than it is in person.
Stephen Dowson is a regular VAL associate who has a wealth of training experience. Check out his website for more information and testimonials of his work https://www.standandbecounted.co.uk/
Amy Hearn from 100% Digital Leeds, is available for practical advice on using online platforms. You can contact her at Amy.Hearn@leeds.gov.uk
You can search and add any training courses relevant to the third sector via Doing Good Leeds here: https://doinggoodleeds.org.uk/training-courses/
More information on VAL courses can be found here: