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Remote employee volunteering could offer lifeline to charities across the UK

28 May 2020
working from home remote volunteering

Since the onset of strict social distancing measures in March, many charities and community groups have seen an unprecedented increase in demand for their services - along with a reduction in face-to-face volunteering as individuals and families are forced to self-isolate or care for others.

With the employee volunteering schemes that usually peak during the spring and summer also facing massive disruption, we knew we needed to help employees switch their approach.

“54% of charities said that they needed the help of remote volunteers to continue to support vulnerable people”

We sent out a survey to the good causes and charities registered on Neighbourly which, with almost 1,000 responses, has highlighted a real need for remote employee volunteering.

80% of the front-line charities and community groups in our survey, which included food banks, homeless charities and disability groups, said the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing has forced them to adapt their services.

With that, 54% said that they felt they could use the help of remote volunteers to continue to support both vulnerable people and with the running of services in the coming weeks and months.

“Remote volunteering presents a major opportunity for our hospice to recruit younger members in the community who have vital digital knowledge”

Jon Devlin, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Greenwich and Bexley Hospice says: “We have 700 patients, and many of our volunteers are aged over 60, so are currently unable to provide their usual support. Remote volunteering presents a major opportunity for our hospice to recruit younger members in the community who have vital digital knowledge, time on their hands, and are looking for ways to make a difference.”

Volunteering from home

volunteering from home virtual

Large corporate organisations, with highly-skilled and experienced employees based across the UK, are in a unique position to assist charities whose senior teams have had to divert away from tasks like charity finances, fundraising and marketing, to focus on essential support work for vulnerable groups.

“By matching relevant skills with charities’ need, businesses can support essential services at a time when they are needed more than ever”

Steve Butterworth, CEO of Neighbourly, explains: “We all have a crucial role to play as we start to rebuild from the crisis while continuing to help people in need. By channelling volunteer skills into local organisations who are already doing vital work, we can help to ensure that the right support reaches the most at-risk people.

“Volunteering from home offers a safe and flexible way for people to make a big difference. Employees can support good causes wherever they might be based – all while at home, fitting around other time commitments. By matching relevant skills with charities’ need, businesses can support essential services at a time when they are needed more than ever.

“It’s not just charities who will benefit. Volunteering has important wellbeing benefits for the volunteers themselves, and helps people feel engaged and rewarded – all of which is particularly important in helping to stay connected and motivated while working from home, or furloughed.”

Corporate heroes

So with next week’s Volunteer’s Week marking one of the peak weeks of employee volunteering in the yearly calendar - we’ve been working with our partners Danone, Heineken and The Football Association to help them adapt their volunteering schemes, enabling their employees to offer skill sharing and practical remote support to good causes local to them.

“We have a passionate and motivated group of ‘Danoners’ who are eager to volunteer and offer support and advice”

This means employees will be helping charities with everything from website and financial management, fundraising and social media, to befriending and letter writing to isolated people - all from home.

letter writing virtual volunteering

Chris Hillman, Head of Sustainability & Social Innovation at Danone, adds: “At Danone we’re committed to supporting our community, and throughout this crisis it has never been more important to help charities. Not just with donations of money or food, but also by donating time and skills to help others. 

“We have a passionate and motivated group of ‘Danoners’ who are eager to volunteer and offer support and advice. We’re proud to team up with Neighbourly to support charities through virtual volunteering.”

Click here to find out how Neighbourly matches businesses’ volunteer skills with its network of vetted good causes. Neighbourly is committed to creating measurable outcomes through remote volunteering, with those who give their time and skills able to see a real-time positive impact.

How Middlesbrough’s alleys brought a community together

27 May 2020
alley pals team volunteers

For many, the advent of the Covid-19 outbreak has been overwhelming and disastrous. Yet, for the thousands of communities coming together, society has simultaneously begun to pave the way for a kinder, more neighbourly future. The young are looking out for the elderly and those with family and friends are reaching out to those in the community who are isolated or lonely.

For Middlesbrough-based community group, Ally Pals, this sense of community togetherness is something they’ve been creating in their neighbourhood for the last 15 years. 

Not immune to the devastating effects of the pandemic, this year Ally Pals’ very sadly lost their founding member Jim to Covid-19. Jim started Alley Pals with his neighbour Mavis and will be sorely missed by his loved-ones and friends.

Despite this, Catherine Howell, who is the co-founder of Barefoot Kitchen - the community interest company that now manages the Alley Pals project - knows his memory will continue to inspire others to carry on his heartfelt community work.

With so much history behind them, we caught up with Catherine, to share the story of this unique project along with the work neighbours have been putting in to support the local community during lockdown.

The secret gardens

With somewhat unusual beginnings, Ally Pals was set up when the local authority began gating the alleys that sit between Middlesbrough’s back-to-back terraced housing. 

Catherine tells us: “The local authority’s main goal was to prevent crime but at the same time they inadvertently created safe and enclosed spaces that communities could use. 

“People realised that with a lick of paint, and a few planters, the alleys could become incredible shared gardens.”

alley pals middlesbrough before and after

Since then, a team of green-fingered neighbours has cleared, cleaned, painted and planted in more alleys than you could count. Over the years, these spaces have become essential to the neighbourhood - for residents to sit and relax and children to play and learn - they’ve even been used for community parties, film nights and concerts - all with the ultimate aim of bringing people together.

Positive partnerships

More recently, with local community interest company Barefoot Kitchen helping to increase the impact of Ally Pals - the project has blossomed.

Catherine explains: “Barefoot Kitchen has been working to support the Alley Pals groups by finding funding - such as the Neighbourly Community Fund - to help realise their ideas and linking them with other networks that can help out.  

“For example, Alley Pals had struggled to access compost locally, so we helped them set up a small garden centre in a shipping container at the local community hub car park. And when we heard that free fruit trees were on offer from a nearby environmental charity, we not only managed to get hold of the trees - but also got some free training for the residents.”

alley pals middlesbrough tree planting

Covid community heroes

Since the Covid-19 lockdown began, Alley Pals have been unable to have their usual neighbourhood alley gatherings, but that hasn’t stopped them from being a force for good in their community.

Catherine says: “Neighbours have become close friends, helping each other with shopping errands and checking in to make sure that people are okay. Several of our Alley Pals are in isolation, but our Facebook and WhatsApp groups have been invaluable for keeping spirits up and sharing what we’re doing.

alley pals finished alley with seating

“We’ve been dropping off seeds, compost and donated seedlings, so that people can work in their own alleys and we’ve made a fantastic new connection with an organisation that is distributing our surplus allotment produce to newly-arrived and struggling families.

“We’ve also just started a ‘Community Cupboards’ project, where local people can swap and share spare gardening materials and surplus home grown veg using a box on the alley gates.”

A blooming great idea

All their hard work is paying dividends now, as Catherine explains: "In 2019, we tackled an alley that was completely overgrown and prone to flytipping, clearing 27 bags of rubbish.  

“Residents loved the new space, and they began to build planters in the alleys. We helped by providing compost and plants and, later that year, two beautiful apple trees.  

alley pals middlesbrough planters

“One of the residents sadly contracted Coronavirus. Although he has made a recovery, he has been isolated at home. Having a green space outside that he could visit safely has been a godsend, and he was discharged at exactly the right point to see the apple trees in their first full bloom.”

Big thanks to Catherine for taking the time to tell us all about Alley Pals. This blog is dedicated to Jim and all others in the volunteer and charity community who’ve lost their lives to Covid-19.

If you know of any amazing community group stories or volunteers who deserve a cheer, tag us in your posts on Twitter @nbrly or via the Neighbourly Facebook page.

Meet the Covid Community Heroes: A Mental Health Awareness Week Special

18 May 2020
mental health awareness week 2020

After 8 weeks of lockdown in the UK, it’s more important now than ever before to look out for our friends, family and neighbours who may be struggling with their mental health.

With that, the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is running this week from the 18th to 24th May, has come at just the right time.

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Kindness’. The Mental Health Foundation explains: “We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity”.

Thankfully we’ve seen kindness in abundance through the Neighbourly platform since the Covid-19 pandemic began wreaking chaos in our local communities back in March.

Since then we’ve launched our Community Fund which we’ve been distributing as grants to a huge array of grassroots charities and community groups across the whole of the UK and Ireland, including those who are going to all lengths to support those struggling with their mental health. 

So as a special edition of our ‘Meet the Covid Community Heroes’ blog series, here’s the story of just five of them:

Tonic Music

Plenty of us identify with the joy that music can bring - whether that’s listening to soothing classical, bashing a drum kit or singing in the shower.

But for Portsmouth non-profit Tonic Music, music and the arts is key to how they help people in their community recover from mental health problems.

tonic music mental health awareness

They run workshops, choirs, host gigs, raise awareness of mental health at events and festivals and so much more - simply using the power of music as medicine.

Since the lockdown, they’ve been writing helpful blogs and hosting tonnes of musical fundraising events to keep their work going. You can even buy Tonic Music fundraising t-shirts on their ebay page.

Lindengate Mental Health Charity

Another brilliant charity that’s doing something a bit different to support their local community, the sunflowers of the mental health world, Lindengate Mental Health Charity.

Specialising in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture, Lindengate uses the healing power of nature and the outdoors to improve mental wellbeing, boost self-esteem and social inclusion and encourage long-term recovery. 

lindengate mental health awareness

Since lockdown, the charity has been providing a tonne of helpful information that anyone can use to take advantage of nature for a wellbeing boost - whether you’re lucky enough to have your own garden or not. They even have instructions on how to grow your own tomato plant at home with just soil, a tomato and old yogurt pots!

Dorset Mind 

We all know that sometimes, the best way to feel better, reduce feelings of isolation and improve our mental health is by talking to someone.

For Dorset Mind, this means providing vital talking therapy to hundreds of people across Dorset, to give them the strength to recover from mental health problems.

mind dorset mental health awareness

Since the start of lockdown, the Neighbourly Community Fund grant they received enabled them to purchase video conferencing licenses so they could seamlessly transfer their face-to-face support online.

They told us: “This has ensured that our existing clients have received continuity of support services such as individual counselling, befriending and mental health support groups during this challenging time. Furthermore, providing our support via online video conferencing has enabled us to reach out to members of the community who previously not experienced mental health problems but have found themselves struggling with anxiety, stress, loneliness and isolation as a direct result of Covid-19.

“Our support services are helping prevent problems such as stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness from developing into devastating long-term mental health disorders, and a potential crisis.”

Just Good Friends

It's common to see triumph over adversity in films and the media where it doesn't quite seem real - so when it happens in our local communities it's all the more inspiring.

For Bev Sykes (pictured below left), feeling the intensity of loneliness and isolation after the loss of her mother, she set up Just Good Friends to try and help others in the same boat.

bev sykes just good friends mental health awareness

Just 5 years later and Just Good Friends has around 200 members and 40 volunteers who help combat loneliness and isolation together by doing everything from quizzes and bingo, to trips, outings and even ballroom and sequence dance lessons.

Since lockdown the need to help members of Just Good Friends who are struggling with their mental health has become even more important.

Bev said: “We’ve been regularly staying in touch with members who are struggling with their mental health and some of the £400 community grant has gone towards updating their gardens, which in some cases were like forests. Now they can sit and enjoy nature which is a positive step for improving their mental health. 

“For other members who have no money the grant has enabled them to get connected to social media so they can reach other people, reducing feelings of depression and isolation.” 

Recovery Across Mental Health

Supporting a whopping 7,000 people each year, Recovery Across Mental Health (RAMH) is a Paisley-based charity that provides a crisis service 7 days a week for people experiencing emotional distress, along with a whole range of practical and wellbeing support from one-to-one counselling service to stress and anxiety management sessions and activity groups.

Recovery Across Mental Health RAMH community heroes

To help those unable to access their usual support during lockdown, they have been providing helpful resources via their Facebook page and setting weekly creativity challenges. Plus they’ve been organising regular information webinars along with transferring one-to-one support to private online video conferencing services. Crucially, this has enabled them to continue taking new referrals and continuing to support as many people as they can.

Mental Health Resources

For anyone out there looking for support for their own mental health during lockdown, there are lots of resources out there that can help. 

If you’re looking for a local support group or charity, have a search on the Neighbourly database.

For more general advice and support, check out the links below: 

Mind - For information and support on everything from teen mental health to dealing with bereavement and grief.

Samaritans - For information, resources and a free 24 hour phone line if you need a friendly voice to talk to.

If you know of any amazing stories of volunteers, community groups or charities that are supporting those with mental health problems through the lockdown, tag us in your posts on Twitter @nbrly or via the Neighbourly Facebook page.

*Please note, all photos of volunteers and charity staff in this blog were taken before social distancing measures were introduced.

Meet the Covid Community Heroes

7 May 2020
Covid Community Heroes Neighbourly

For the last six weeks, since the introduction of the lockdown, the lives of millions have been turned upside down and inside out. 

Thousands of charities, food banks and local causes in our Neighbourly community have had to adapt incredibly fast in order safely and effectively support families in need, vulnerable adults and everyone in between - many teetering on the edge of closure themselves.

We were so incredibly proud to have come together with our partners M&S, Lidl, Aldi, HEINEKEN UK, Danone, CocaCola EP, giff gaff and the Southern Coop to raise over one million for our Community Fund to help keep these projects running through the pandemic. 

Grants from the fund have gone to the likes of the Pioneers Project in Plymouth which has been putting together food parcels as well as creating cookery videos and organising virtual craft events to keep local family’s spirits up during lockdown and Newton Community Fridge whose volunteers have been cooking meals for NHS staff.

But behind the funds raised and projects supported, there are stories of individuals working tirelessly, often volunteering their time for free, to keep essential community services running and spirits up during this trying time.

Community Heroes

We spoke to volunteers and staff at three small projects which have benefited from the Community Fund, to find out how they’ve been supporting those in need in their local community and to give them a great big cheer from all of us in the Neighbourly community. 

Lorraine Lewis, CEO of The Lewis Foundation 

The Lewis Foundation is a small charity based in Northampton that supports cancer patients and their families whilst they’re in hospital - providing gift bags with self-care essentials, books and games to give patients much needed distractions from their treatment.

For Lorraine, keeping the charity running during the pandemic was essential.

lewis foundation covid

“It can be a sad, frightening and lonely experience for individuals undergoing cancer treatment”, she tells us. “Especially during this pandemic when their loved ones can’t be with them.”

Thankfully, with so much support coming in, continuing to carry on her hard work has been made possible. "Local businesses and supermarkets have been even more supportive than ever during this time,” Lorraine explains. “They’ve contributed items for our gift bags as well as making monetary donations. 

"But like all charities, we have had to adapt our processes. We can’t use our warehouse at the moment, so our own home has become a temporary stockroom piled high with donations.”

lewis foundation covid 19 community hero blog

Lorraine adds: “We have also been making up emergency packs for cancer patients who are self-isolating in the community, which we have never done before."

One lady whose dad received support from the Lewis Foundation said: "My dad had to undergo his chemo treatment alone today but luckily the gift bag he received from The Lewis Foundation included puzzle books. Thank you so much for giving him a much-needed distraction."

Paula Shapland, Manager at Park Life Community Cafe

Passionate about reducing food waste and supporting her local community, Paula manages the Park Life Community Cafe in Southampton which uses food donations for a number of initiatives including supporting vulnerable groups and helping those in need through a free ‘take what you need’ food box.

Since being ordered to close at the start of lockdown, Paula has helped the cafe transform into a hub of support for individuals and organisations needing extra support during the crisis.

park life community cafe covid hero blog

Paula (pictured above right) explains: “When the COVID-19 outbreak began and we knew the café would be closed for the foreseeable future, myself and other staff and volunteers wanted to do something to support people in our community. I began collecting food from several supermarkets on a daily basis and set up the M&S collections with Neighbourly. This expanded our services and we are now able to provide donations to hundreds of people every week.”

Incredibly, Park Life now provides food not only to individuals and families in need or self-isolating but to women’s refuges, schools, elderly care homes and a local food bank.

park life covid community hero

“Any food that is not fit for consumption goes into our park compost”, she adds. “Or it is given to a local resident who rents an allotment and feeds her chickens.”  

The team of volunteers have already received a flood of heart-warming thanks for their help, including from the local women's refuge which said: "I explained to Paula that one of our children here had an up and coming birthday and she organised a birthday cake, cupcakes and some lovely presents for her with just 3 days’ notice - this was so appreciated by us, Mum and especially the little girl.

“It’s such a good show of how our neighbourhoods are pulling together during this unprecedented time.”

park life community cafe thank you letter covid heroes

Rosie Rodgers, Senior Care Support Worker at Reading Mencap

Rosie works at Reading Mencap, a charity that supports children and adults with learning disabilities and autism, and their carers.

Sharing what inspired Rosie to start working in care, she tells us: "I previously worked in childcare as a nanny. One of the families I worked for was a social worker and trained me to work with a young child who is autistic.

"That is where my flare for working in care started. I have been a support worker now the past five years and wouldn't change my job."

Before the lockdown came into force, Rosie worked in the day service. "This is where we do arts and crafts, learn how to cook and other fun activities", she explains.

rosie reading mencap

"Now that the day service has been closed, I have been helping out the family service by delivering meals twice a week. I also make calls to the families of those who used to attend the day service to have a chat with them and see how they are doing.

"Whilst delivering food to one particular family, they said: ‘I recently turned 80 and I now feel 21, as the weight and stress of not having to go shopping has been lifted’.

"Another family had said they would be lost without the service delivering food twice a week."

Lockdown volunteers

As well as seeing existing projects on Neighbourly work even harder to help during the lockdown, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of new projects being set up by local communities wanting to help neighbours in need - showing community spirit at its strongest.

So whilst this is an incredibly sad and stressful time for many, we wanted to take stock of the thousands of individuals out there who are making it that bit better for their neighbours and say a great big thank you to all of them.

If you know of any amazing stories of volunteers who deserve a cheer, tag us in your posts on Twitter @nbrly or via the Neighbourly Facebook page.

Pt 2. Ways to be Neighbourly during the Coronavirus outbreak

27 March 2020
four ways to be neighbourly during the coronavirus outbreak

Here at Neighbourly, we’ve been inspired and amazed to see the incredible efforts from local communities across the country in the last week.

Since the first edition of our blog ‘Pt 1. How to support your local community during the Coronavirus outbreak’, M&S, Coca-Cola European Partners, Danone UK & Ireland, ALDI and Lidl have put a total of almost £500k into our new Community Fund which is providing micro-grants to over 1,000 local good causes registered on Neighbourly, during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Lidl has also set up customer food donation points in stores and begun work on putting together food and supply boxes to be distributed to those who are vulnerable during the outbreak through its Feed It Back Campaign – and that’s just the news at Neighbourly.

Out there in the community, nearly half a million people have signed up to volunteer for the NHS during the crisis and we’re hearing and seeing hundreds of heart warming stories of people supporting others in a myriad of different ways – from virtual dance parties to stop loneliness to neighbourhood groups dropping supplies to those in need.

We know so many people want to get involved and help in as many ways as possible, so we’ve put together our “part two” of tips for how to best help your community.


For anyone wanting to lend a hand to help the NHS, the way to sign up is via Good Sam. Once you’ve signed up to volunteer, they will alert you on opportunities to help in your local area with everything from transferring patients home once they’re well enough to be discharged from hospital, to assisting pharmacies with medication delivery.

If seeing all this volunteering happen has inspired you, you can also sign up to become a Red Cross Reserve Volunteer to help both now and in any future emergencies.

(Please note: Volunteer Red Cross and NHS Responders are no longer being accepted at the moment but check back again in the future.)

Neighbourhood groups

With so many amazing people keen to help, some streets can have multiple volunteers willing to go out of their way to help neighbours in need.

To help create a more collaborative and joined up approach, many of these volunteers are coming together to agree on one person being the main point of contact for their neighbourhood or street. This makes it much easier for those who are vulnerable to know exactly who to contact if the need help.

Using social media and chat apps, the main point of contact can coordinate within their volunteer group for each task that comes in.

With one point of contact willing to link with multiple people offering help, problems can be solved much more efficiently.

If you don’t know of any other volunteers in your area and still want to help, we’ve created a Neighbourly card you can print out and pop through your neighbour’s doors to let them know you’re there for them.

self isolating coronavirus help card neighbourly

Virtual fundraising

If you’re one of the many people left saddened by a cancelled fundraising event you’ve been working hard on, don’t despair. Try taking to your webcam and coming up with a whacky idea to raise funds for local charities from your sofa. There are plenty of free tools out there to help such as Zoom video conferencing and Facebook Live.

We asked the Neighbourly team for some of their ideas for virtual fundraisers to get you started:

  • Virtual quiz or ‘pub’ night
  • Virtual talent competition
  • Virtual fancy dress contest
  • Back garden marathon
  • Street sing-off (from your windows!)

To find local charities and community groups that need your best fundraising efforts, head to the Neighbourly website.

Community Kindness

Finally, you may have noticed rainbows appearing in the windows of your neighbour’s flats and houses. This was started to bring cheer for children on walks round their neighbourhood.

Popping a rainbow in your window is an easy way to make a friendly gesture to your neighbours.

Just remember, you don’t have to be an artist to draw a rainbow – and you don’t need to be a child to go rainbow spotting either!


(Image Credit: Rowan Clark)

If you liked this blog and want more advice, check out part one of how to help your local community during the Coronavirus outbreak. If you share it on Twitter, don’t forget to follow and tag us @nbrly.

M&S Volunteer Week 2019

3 June 2019
M&S mems 2018

This June, M&S teams from more than 600 store and office locations will be giving their time and skills to causes fighting for the well-being of children, young people and families. Their week of action, from 3rd to 7th June will see employees work with more than 400 schools, food banks, scout and guides groups, youth clubs, health and education charities on Neighbourly to create positive outcomes for thousands of young people across the UK.

With child poverty set to reach a record high in 2019 and with increasingly stretched schools, healthcare services, food banks and youth services, there’s never been a greater need to invest in young people. The events that have been created will all create a lasting benefit to a local organisation and a huge range of events have been planned – from revamping youth centres, to garden makeovers to skills workshops. Overall, the programme is delivering opportunities for over 4,500 M&S colleagues, committing over 38,000 volunteer hours to 442 community projects – from Scotland all the way down to Cornwall and across to Ireland. Each charity is also being given a donation to help make the event a success.

Building on the success of Making Every Moment Special in 2018, 298 stores will join together to collaborate on volunteer efforts with other nearby M&S stores. This will maximise the manpower impact for community projects as teams collaborate towards the shared goal to invest in young people.

Offering much needed people power and resources to schools

Schools will be the largest group of beneficiaries comprising 25% of causes supported and totalling more than 100 nurseries, primary and secondary schools. This comes at an important time with many schools significantly lacking the core resources they need to operate effectively. M&S employees will be volunteering in classrooms, offering employability training, promoting healthy eating, rejuvenating school halls and developing outdoor classrooms. In Bristol, the Avonmouth and Imperial stores will come together to revitalise the grounds of Hartcliffe Nursery School and Children's Centre through painting, clearing, repairing and planting – a project that will have a big impact for the local children in a deprived Bristol community, and one that the school would not otherwise be able to complete.

Transforming youth community spaces

Over 200 projects will see M&S staff getting stuck in to transform much loved community spaces through hands on activities – increasing the accessibility of outdoor space for well-being, repairing and painting playgrounds, brightening up youth centres. Children’s services are under increasing pressure and the work done by M&S to boost the vitality of physical environments will have a lasting impact for areas not otherwise resourced. In Sutton Coldfield three M&S teams will work with The Streetly Academy to turn a ‘dead space’ into a sensory garden for open mic sessions used by 150 SEND students to explore and express themselves musically.


Promoting health and well-being for children and youth

90 projects will see the good work of young people’s physical and mental health services supported by M&S teams including many that have been put forward as a result of the personal experiences of M&S employees. The volunteers will be working with young people to run creative well-being workshops, rejuvenating family areas in hospitals and children’s hospices and helping to set up and run family fun days, fetes and events. At The Tanyard Youth project in South Wales, a team from Haverford West will be creating a courtyard and BBQ area to promote young people’s mental health and to create a long-lasting safe place for them to go within the community.

Tackling hunger for children and their families

Building on the M&S food redistribution programme through Neighbourly, more than 50 M&S food charity partners will receive 80 store and office teams across the week. Staff will be able to contribute beyond their weekly food donations to help those families in food poverty and the important work of the charities who support them. Food bank usage is at an all-time high with more than half a million emergency food parcels going to children last year from one food network alone.. Employees will be serving hot food to those in need, stocking shelves with essential supplies and rolling up their sleeves to carry out important maintenance work in order for the charities to continue to operate. In North West London the Harrow team will be working on the community allotment at My Yard Watford – one of our longest running food surplus partners who joined the scheme in 2015. They’ll be harvesting crops in the community garden, hosting a community meal and seeing first hand why M&S food surplus is so valued within the local community.

Sharing skills and helping young people into employment

With partners including CLIC Sargent and the YMCA, 30 store and office teams will be sharing their experiences of the working world with young adults and children, supporting CV writing and job skills workshops and investing their retail skills within their communities. Across 4 learning centres 8 teams will work with Young Enterprise to teach students about the skills and qualities required to be successful in the workplace, building a broader understanding of routes to employment amongst students.

For the charities, schools and groups taking part, we hope M&S Volunteer Week will be a wonderful experience and we can’t wait to see the photos!

Follow all the action on #MarksInAction

Marks and Spencer, food surplus & community

18 September 2018

Marks and Spencer has for a long time been dedicated to making a difference with its ‘Plan A’ vision for a sustainable future. Through this programme, first launched over 10 years ago in 2007, they strive to be a business that has a positive impact on wellbeing, communities and the planet. The program focuses on social and environmental issues and ensuring that by 2025 they are a circular business, generating zero waste – a bold goal that involves all their operations, supply chains and customers.

Since 2012, M&S have been zero-waste-to-landfill across their owned operations in the UK and Republic of Ireland and have made the prevention of food waste a priority. They were the first major retailer to provide live updates via the Neighbourly website on the number of tonnes of surplus food redistributed, and the first to manage a nationwide redistribution scheme through a single platform.

This type of thinking isn’t new to M&S. They’ve always been an innovator and leader in their food operations – pioneering boil-in-the-bag and sachet meals in 1972, then creating Britain’s first chilled instant meal, the much-loved chicken Kiev in 1979. The ease of not having to cook up a meal from scratch suited the working woman and the popularity of the ready-meal soared – an innovation that most certainly changed how we ate as we entered the ‘80s.

Arguably their greatest invention remains the adored packaged sandwich, created by M&S in the spring of 1980. Packaged sandwiches are now a staple in our lives and the industry is booming, its annual worth estimated at £8 billion – so it may seem surprising that the idea had never been tried before, but it hadn’t. Packaged sandwiches were a huge novelty when they started being sold on the Marks and Spencer shop floor for as little as 43p just 37 years ago. Some thought them outlandish – who would pay for something they could just as easily make at home? But they sold, and sold fast. The way that we lived and worked was changing and soon every supermarket was following the trend. In the early 90s, the head of their sandwich department developed M&S’s first dedicated “food to go” section, with its own tills and checkouts, in Manchester. The innovation was a huge success and prefigured the layout of most contemporary supermarkets.

But as we know, the advent of the modern-day supermarket, combined with the changing lifestyles and expectations of consumers has bought about one of today’s biggest environmental challenges – food waste. The total estimate for UK food waste stands at a staggering 10.2 million tonnes. Of that, 7.1 million tonnes are thrown away in our homes – with 70% classed as ‘avoidable’ (meaning every year we put 5.0 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten into our bins, worth an estimated £15 billion). Marks and Spencer are working to address this problem through advancements in the products and packaging that they sell. They engage their customers and encourage them to store and use food more efficiently – for example shoppers have been given tips on how to avoid food waste and the clarity of food date labelling has been improved.

Of the remaining 3.1 million tonnes of UK food waste, 260,000 tonnes come from retail, 1.85 million from manufacturers and around 1 million from hospitality and food service. This waste has been the focus of intense scrutiny in recent years, which has successfully resulted in a 50% increase in the amount redistributed to good causes in just two years, according to WRAP. This brings the 2017 total to the equivalent of 102 million meals redistributed – to the value of £130 million.

Marks & Spencer’s approach to food waste is comprehensive and they have committed to reducing food waste by 20% by 2020 and becoming a zero-waste business by 2025. Their primary aim is to reduce the amount of waste created in the first place and they’ve invested in new stock forecasting and planning systems as well as comprehensive supplier engagement schemes. They’ve also increased the volume of short life food sold at a discount to customers and this process now consistently clears most of the products that would otherwise have been disposed of. After redistributing whatever possible to good causes through the Neighbourly platform, any remaining surplus goes to anaerobic digestion (a process that turns food waste into electricity – some of which is bought back to power M&S stores) – absolutely nothing goes to landfill. 

To date, M&S stores have donated around 5.6 million meals to local communities through the Neighborly platform. This includes surplus baked goods, cupboard items, fruit, vegetables and chilled food (meat, dairy, fish, frozen food, ready meals, juices, sandwiches). They also donate flowers and non-food surplus like cleaning products, laundry items and toiletries. Their stores are connected to more than 850 local charities across the UK where meals, food parcels and a helping hand are provided to those who need it.

Through Neighbourly, every store is partnered with a nearby group such as a community café, foodbank or homeless shelter that receives daily alerts to let them know when surplus is available. Thanks to these donations, charity partners can benefit from their resources going a little further, enabling them to provide fresh items, fruit and vegetables to people in the community who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them. The stores also provide wider support to their local charities through their year-long Local Charity Fundraising and annual volunteering programmes.

Here are just a few of the local causes that M&S support through Neighbourly:

Whitechapel Centre is the leading homelessness and housing charity in Liverpool supporting people to get back on their feet and providing them with a hot meal and a kind smile. Local M&S stores (and other retailers) give their unsold food to the centre so that this service can be provided. The charity also gives advice on housing, employment and basic facilities for the homeless. They are committed to helping people who are sleeping rough, living in hostels or struggling to manage their accommodation find a home and learn essential independent living skills. They work closely with each individual to get them the right help.

Norwich Food Hub collect surplus food from many stores in the area to redistribute it to community groups and local charities across the city. The hub was born from Director Rowan van Tromp’s passion surrounding environmental sustainability within the food supply chain and realisation that there was a lack of this type of service in the area. They receive and sort the food surplus before redistributing it to the vulnerable people across the city who are living at or below the breadline. Sadly, food poverty is a large issue in Norwich but the food hub’s work to redistribute surplus food is helping to lessen the problem.

In Yeovil, the community meals service delivers hot meals for the elderly or those who struggle to cook for themselves. Their meals are homemade and delivered by volunteers to people who might be suffering with dementia or physical issues that prevent them from cooking. Through this service carers are given a break from the task of preparing dinner by having a hot meal delivered instead, taking the strain away and brightening people’s days.

Nowadays we find that most businesses are actually doing more to change on the inside than many people appreciate, and M&S continues to lead from the front as customer expectations about what kind of companies they want to support change. As M&S colleagues continue to challenge why more can't be done, we at Neighbourly are continually working on solutions that connect their contribution so that customers notice and want to know how they can join in. We're extremely proud of our 4+ year partnership with M&S and how we've proved that a national business can indeed make a local difference in every community it serves.

For more information on Plan A, have a look at corporate.marksandspencer.com/plan-a

How to get involved in the M&S surplus scheme

Marks and Spencer are continuing to expand their food surplus scheme, making sure they can donate as much food surplus as possible and make a positive impact in the community. If you have a charity or community cause that could regularly collect surplus, you should join the Neighbourly platform and create a free page for your group. Your organisation will need a Level 2 (or equivalent) food hygiene certified no longer than 2.5 years ago. For chilled collections, you’ll need cool bags or boxes, freezers for storage and volunteers to collect after store closing in the evening.

How to get fit and do good

1 August 2018

We know how it is: you are busy. Not only are you trying to make a living, you also have to fit in your social life, keep in contact with your loved ones and stay fit and healthy. Doing good? Well, sometimes there’s just no time.

This is where GoodGym comes in.

GoodGymers get fit by doing good. Instead of expending energy in gyms and on treadmills, they put their energy into our local community. Combine this with getting to do it with a bunch of like-minded individuals and you have a three-in-one combo - socialising, keeping fit and volunteering - tick, tick, tick.


And once you get a taste of GoodGym, you will see that it’s so much more than just a way of increasing your step-count. As well as weekly Group Runs to help a local community project, GoodGym focuses on helping vulnerable older people through tackling loneliness and isolation.

Runners can get involved in Coach Runs, where they get paired with an isolated older person that they run to visit once a week. You can also go on Missions, running in a pair to help an older person with a one-off task, such as moving their bed downstairs or clearing their garden.

GoodGym leaves regular running clubs behind it in a puff of good-willed smoke. It becomes a way to connect with your community while achieving your own fitness goals and making a real difference to local people and your area.

And for the community groups that need that help? GoodGym knows how stretched they can be - funds have been cut, volunteers don’t have much time, there is often so much to do you don’t know where to begin.

GoodGym can help: they are always looking for new projects to support, and really know how true the saying ‘many hands make light work’ can be. They help everything from established charities to one-person community projects. Get in touch to get support from the group and you could have a bunch of runners volunteering for you in no time. 

Shona is Trainer of GoodGym Bristol. GoodGym has locations all across England and in Cardiff. To get involved with your local GoodGym as a runner or to get help from your local group, take a look at the website: www.goodgym.org

How To: Help Your Local Park

13 July 2018

Summer is upon us so now’s the perfect time to get your shorts on and venture outdoors into the sunshine.

You’re probably already headed off to your local park to enjoy the scenery and the sun’s rays, but did you know our beloved green spaces are under threat from budget cuts? Hundred’s of children’s playgrounds have already been closed across England by local authorities, with many more to go before the year is out. In Bristol, it’s planned that by 2019 parks in the city will have all their funding stopped completely.

So what does this mean for us? Without funding, our parks lose their protection, become less maintained, dirty and even dangerous. Disused and unloved spaces become hot spots for nefarious activity and can eventually be sold off for development, lost forever to another concrete tower block or car park.

What do our parks give us? How valuable are they to us? We know they have an effect on our mental well being as well obviously a great place to exercise and socialise. They’re a place for children and families to enjoy picnics, play or maybe sitting in quiet solitude. They help reduce heat in urban built up areas. They’re a central, cultural hub for entire cities and a safe place for our wildlife.

There are plenty of community groups on Neighbourly actively helping their communities by putting their own time and resources into their local parks. Friends of Sandringham Park plants flowerbeds, seeds and plants to help attract wildlife and bees. They also hold regular litter picks to keep the park clean and even work with local youth to help deter anti-social behaviour in these areas. Sutton Coldfield & Erdington Park Rangers work hard to preserve the conservation nature value of public open spaces and Sutton Park National Nature Reserve.

Here are a few of own suggestions on how you can get out there and help your local park.

1 Gardening – you can make a start by getting your fingers green and helping with general maintenance of your local park grounds. By planting more flowers, shrubbery and trees you’ll encourage wildlife back into the area and provide a beautiful space for locals to spend time in. Just make sure to check what you’re planting in case that species is harmful to other plants, animals and people.

2 Litter picks – a seemingly inevitable part of everyday life these days… a litter pick keeps your local park clean and tidy and is not only aesthetically pleasing but encourages a safer home for wildlife and children. We all know what a problem plastic pollution has become, but people will also be less likely to discard their litter in a cleaner environment than one already strewn with wrappers and plastic bottles.

3 Hold park fundraisers – fun and games, exercise classes, cake sales etc. These are all activities are parks are brilliant venues for. They get people outside into a healthier environment and give people the opportunity to socialise and connect. These are also great ways to reach out to your local community and speak to them about the importance of raising funds to keep the area maintained.

4 Start a Friends Of group – many parks may already have their own group so it’s worth looking into joining yours or if not, start up a new one!

Now’s the time to get started! If you have any tips on how to help your local green spaces then share them with us by Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We can’t wait to hear your suggestions.

About Neighbourly

Neighbourly matches charity and community projects with people and companies that can lend a hand. Get support by creating and sharing a project or give support by following, donating or giving a day to volunteer.

A look back at #MarksinAction – Marks and Spencer’s epic volunteering programme

10 July 2018

June 2018 saw Marks and Spencer take on their #MarksinAction volunteering campaign in partnership with Neighbourly, which involved thousands of staff across the country lending a helping hand to over 685 community projects. The programme, which ran from the 18th to 22nd June, brought local stores and charities together to benefit the local community. During the week, over 5,000 staff spent over 40,000 hours participating in transformation projects nationwide, including refurbishing spaces and gardens, helping with food redistribution projects and giving skills-based support.

The feedback has been amazing, with so many tweets and messages of thanks from the charities about the transformations that happened. Here are just a few of the wonderful projects that took part.

Cliff Top Kennels Re-forming Centre, Scarborough

This small, dedicated charity work to re-home unwanted, abandoned and stray dogs with a loving family. On 20th June, eight M&S volunteers revamped a static caravan used for charity committee meetings for training some of their rescue dogs and also created a beautiful garden in front. M&S provided a £500 donation for the materials to complete the project and volunteers got to work stripping wallpaper and re-covering walls, as well as weeding and planting flowers to transform the caravan and the land around it. The staff at Cliff Top Kennels Re-homing Centre said: “All of us would like to say a massive thank you to the team from M&S Scarborough who spent the day with us on Wednesday as part of M&S Making Every Moment Special campaign. You worked so hard, were a pleasure to work alongside and have made a huge difference. We really appreciate it."

cliff top

Remember When Group and Carers Café, Leeds

In Leeds, this group supports people with dementia and their carers, though activities that stimulate the brain. They meet once a fortnight and promote wellbeing and fun through their range of activities such as walking, quizzes, chatting, movement to music and singing. As part of #MarksinAction, a group of M&S volunteers helped to renovate a room in an old pub to be used as a community centre. Staff cleaned, tidied and painted the room to provide the charity with the ability to expand their popular table tennis group. Remember When Group and Carers café were thrilled with the volunteers efforts: “It’s great to see business supporting the voluntary sector. Thank you to the Guiseley M&S team for making such a huge difference to our room. It has been tidied, cleaned, painted and bunting added. It looks completely different and amazing. We'll be having the table tennis there from now on."

remember when

Embankment Garden, Broadstairs

This project, run by the charity Broadstairs Town Team, saw staff transform an unused piece of land to be used and loved by community members. By improving this open space in the heart of the town, it will improve wellbeing and access to open spaces by under-represented groups. M&S staff helped on the 18th June to create a quiet space for plants and wildlife by tidying, painting, wedding and planting garden borders. Broadstairs Town Team said: “We are lucky enough to be part of the Neighbourly scheme, and a fabulous group of volunteers from the local Thanet Marks and Spencer came to help. It was a fantastic effort from everyone - working in very warm conditions, so much weeding, clearing and support for our project. Thank you to everyone that came and have made such a difference. It looks so much better!"

Broadstairs 1Broadstairs 2Broadstairs 3

See more photos from the Embankment Garden transformation.

Nationwide, over 685 charities and community groups were helped by their local Marks and Spencer stores as they embarked on one of their most ambitious volunteering programmes yet.

Carmel McQuaid, M&S Head of Sustainable Business, Plan A at M&S, explains how there's huge benefits for the business too: "Volunteering isn't just for retirement. There’s a popular misconception that people with full time jobs haven’t got the time to volunteer. Not only do they have to work full time, but the time it takes to research and organise an opportunity can put people off. However, it's certainly not how we see it here at M&S. Yes, our priority is to ensure the shop floor is always fully staffed, and we need to make sure the customer service centre is always manned and the website can never go down. But with good planning and thinking differently about how we deliver volunteering opportunities, it can be used to motivate colleagues and bring out the best in them. Volunteering adds value in many ways - teaching new skills, helping people learn how to problem solve, fostering social connections and ultimately improving job satisfaction and wellbeing."

See more inspiring stories of what 40,000 hours can achieve in one week on the #MarksinAction hashtag.

See all the projects involved on the Neighbourly campaign page.

Article contributed by Emma Dunn