Ciara Plunkett: Volunteering was one of the most interesting, rewarding, inspiring and emotionally exhausting experiences I’ve ever had

In our latest blog, Chief Financial Officer Ciara Plunkett shares her experience volunteering and sharing her professional skills with our grantee Working Chance. 

Ciara Plunkett, Chief Financial Officer, Lloyds Bank Foundation

My experience of a corporate volunteering day is probably one familiar to many. A team of colleagues spending time at a day centre working to make an outside space more pleasant and accessible for service users – reclaiming overgrown areas and building raised flowerbeds for access by the less mobile. A valuable and satisfying day with a fair helping of team-building thrown into the mix.

My most recent volunteering day was a whole different kettle of fish.

Through my role at the Foundation, I met up with Jocelyn Hillman the Chief Executive of one of our grantees, Working Chance. This charity supports women ex-offenders and care leavers to become job ready and move into suitable work. I agreed to help out with an employability workshop with little knowledge of what that might entail, and a few weeks later found myself at a local venue – feeling slightly trepidatious if I’m honest.

That day turned out to be one of the most interesting, rewarding, inspiring and emotionally exhausting I have ever had.

There were around 20 of us taking part in the workshop and initially we sat around the room nursing cups of tea, quietly chatting and looking nervous. After introductions (during which we discovered half of us were candidates and half corporate volunteers) the room rapidly filled with laughter as we played a frankly raucous ice-breaker – two truths and a lie.

In our first session we learnt about a technique developed for disclosing convictions in preparation for real life interviews – breaking it down into factors leading to it, details of the conviction and finally, and most importantly, learnings, opportunities and where candidates are now.

Next, we were paired up to support the candidates to rehearse their disclosure.  This is obviously pretty emotional and difficult for some and I was struck by the remarkable determination of these women not to shy away from their past but to confront the issue head-on.

We volunteers then helped individual candidates hone their CVs. Most of us ended up sufficiently engrossed in the job that we had an impromptu working lunch as we worked through them! The entrepreneurial self-starter that I was working with had turned around a conviction that ended a long, successful career and flipped it on its head to embrace the opportunity of a change of direction.

The final session we did was speed interviews – again designed to give the women practice in disclosure and that extra boost in confidence when they came to the real thing.

I was so impressed by Telixia the facilitator and other lovely people from Working Chance. It was clear that the candidates had found the experience positive and I hope I was able to make a difference in helping them feel more confident in their abilities. But mostly I was touched by the resilience shown by a cohort of women who are on the road to the world of work.

Working Chance are an award winning charity. They are the UK’s only recruitment consultancy supporting women leaving the criminal justice and care systems into great jobs with mainstream employers. Creating a revolution in restorative recruitment, they help women to cross the social divide from lives of exclusion to lives of contribution.


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