Saturday, December 9, 2023

National Volunteers Week & the Toy Library

National Volunteers Week came to an end yesterday (1st-7th June 2019).  It was the 35th year of the national event, which recognises and promotes the work of volunteers and encourages more community volunteering.  The week saw 2 locals, Siobhan Fennell from Accessible Belper, and Jacci Woodcock from Dying to Work, get named in the Queen’s birthday honours list (we will be telling you their story on Monday) for their work in creating their voluntary organisations.

The week also saw a huge number of Belper volunteers get out doing and promoting at Belper Goes Green, where not only the Belper Goes Green and Transition Belper volunteers were donating their time for the good of Belper, but a huge number of local voluntary organisations were present, including Accessible Belper, Pride in Belper, local councillors, ecological groups, human rights groups, and the Derbyshire Toy Libraries.

Belper volunteers are becoming nationally praised on a fairly regular basis.  The founder of the Derbyshire Toy Libraries, Ann-Marie McMillian, was herself honoured by meeting the Queen at Windsor Castle in April at the Queen’s reception for 100 years of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Lavinia Smith and Ann-Marie McMillan talked to us about volunteering at a toy library.

Lavinia Smith
Lavinia (R) & Ann-Marie (L)

“I moved to Belper seven years ago. At the time I was out of work and felt that volunteering would help me get me to know the area, get to know more people and support my skills development so that I could get back into work.

At the time I was not the most confident nor outgoing person, but when I turned up at my first session to volunteer it felt like being part of a family and I found everyone to be very friendly and helpful

After that session I regularly offered to volunteer at other sessions and even cover for volunteers from time to time. This meant I got to meet and build friendships with lots of local people. I was also keen to help with the craft sessions as my background is in art and  design.

Though this volunteering opportunity I have created some truly brilliant friendships. Volunteering allows me to give back to my local community. What I love most about volunteering for Derbyshire Toy Library is knowing that I have helped provide a welcoming and supportive environment for children and families of all backgrounds so that they can engage in positive play opportunities, enjoy themselves and build lasting friendships.

I have improved many skills thanks to volunteering. For example, I can effectively communicate with people from many different backgrounds; I am more patient, understanding and empathetic and now know what it takes to run a charitable organisation.

I now work, which means I can’t volunteer at stay and play sessions. However, I have taken a more strategic volunteering role by joining the board of Trustees and being made Chair! I also continue to help support local community and fundraising events. An event close to my heart is Belper Woollen Woods where local charities and support groups pull together as a team to decorate a chosen tree with knitted objects. This year our tree will be taken from the theme of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. This year is the 50th Anniversary of the story.

It is wonderful to see children have access to such a wide variety of toys in a way that is both affordable and good for the planet!!

Ann-Marie McMillan

“Lavinia came to us as a volunteer enquiry through the Do-it website eight years ago. She supported our Toy Library Coordinator to deliver Toy Library Stay & Play Sessions aimed at local families, carers, childminders and grandparents in the local community.

Coming from a design background at university, she enjoyed developing themed crafts and activities to engage users. Lavinia was new to the area, she did not know anyone and was very nervous.

Since she has been with us these have improved greatly and this led her to take on a Welcome Host role and be able to stand in and cover Play sessions in the absence of a Coordinator. She also became employed by a clothing design company in that time.

Lavinia has become an integral part of our team and is part of our committee. She helps plan and facilitate our Toy Library Kidz Zone which is part of our Belper Goes Green Eco Festival run by Transition Belper. It’s one of our main fundraisers for the year and enables us engage local families.

It is enormously important that our service is available and accessible to all and the lifeblood of this is the unsung work of all our hardworking and dedicated volunteers.”


If you have some time to give, there are so very many organisations to choose from in Belper, whether you want to keep Belper informed and represented (Nailed), help disabled people have access to the full range of community opportunities (Accessible Belper), help fight injustices against the terminally ill (Dying to Work), push Belper towards an ecologically sound future (Transition Belper), further the arts (Belper Arts Trail and Belper Arts Festival), help the poor and hungry (Hope For Belper), or help families waste fewer resources and enjoy the time of growing and learning (Derbyshire Toy Libraries), volunteer and you can help fix some of the defecits of our modern world, as well feeling the joy of creating and sustaining professional lauded organisations and events, and being part of something bigger than oneself.

Clare Washbrook

Current Editor-in-Chief News and magazine editor since 1995 Post-grads: Literature; Theatre; Journalism, Ethics & Law Community Affiliations: Belper Goes Green, Belper's WW1 Poppies, Amber Valley Solidarity No political party memberships/affiliations.

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