How SPICE ice-skating club engages young volunteers
Founded in 2002, Special People on Ice (‘SPICE’) has been committed to creating calm and supportive environments for children and young people (CYP) with additional needs to learn to ice skate for over 20 years. They focus on supporting CYP with learning and communication difficulties, Autism spectrum conditions and other additional needs.
SPICE has created a family-oriented, friendly environment where siblings can join in with activities and parents feel at ease and able to relax knowing that their children are in safe hands. SPICE has built and maintained a strong workforce of volunteers, including a core group of dedicated young people. This means they always have enough people on hand to offer a safe and supportive environment during each session.
The SPICE volunteer workforce
Whilst SPICE employs qualified ice-skating coaches, their activities are supported by volunteers, who they consider to be the lifeblood of their organisation. Volunteers are responsible for supporting CYP with additional needs whilst they’re on the ice. They provide support with physical stability and give the advice and encouragement that learners need in order to feel comfortable and confident.
The main requirement for anyone that wants to get involved as a volunteers is that they have a specific level of ice-skating proficiency and a willingness to help out! Since the start of the club, the hard work and support of its volunteer workforce has helped make it possible for SPICE to compete both locally and internationally in ice skating and ice hockey competitions.
Engaging young people as volunteers
Of SPICE’s 36 volunteers, 23 are young people under the age of 25. In fact, 19 of this young group of volunteers are under 18 and the youngest is just 11!
SPICE have a well-established partnership with local Slough Synchronised Skating Club, which a few of SPICE’s committee members are also part of. The synchronised skating club has become an established, yet informal, recruitment pathway for new volunteers. Suitable and interested participants from the club come down and help out at SPICE sessions.
SPICE is also able to generate young volunteers from within their own participant base. The coaches keep an eye on participants and, when they are confident enough, they are asked if they want to start volunteering as a buddy to support newer learners. Some young people also put themselves forward when they’re comfortable, or their parents will do this on their behalf. This shows the value of creating an open and welcoming volunteering culture within the club as people are often keen to give back and help others. Using family links can also help, with SPICE making sure participants’ siblings are welcome to get involved and this can often lead to them helping out as a volunteer too.
Retaining young volunteers
The club does have a ready source of volunteers, which isn’t always the case for other organisations, but they believe the secret of their success in keeping volunteers coming back is grounded in having an inviting, welcoming and supportive culture which recognises and rewards volunteers.
Some of the benefits that young volunteers get from helping out are personal, such as the enjoyment of supporting others, making new friends and extra time doing an activity they enjoy. They also get the chance to develop and hone the skills and attributes that will help them going forward, such as:
- Managing their own time and being punctual.
- Coaching and supporting others.
- Being responsible and reliable.
- Understanding and working with a range of people who have different needs.
- Being part of a team.
The young volunteers at SPICE take their responsibilities seriously and often keep in touch with the families of their ‘buddies’, including making alternative arrangements for them if they are unable to attend sessions for any reason.
SPICE makes a point of recognising and rewarding the young volunteers’ dedication and their essential contribution to the club. They do this by:
- Providing letters of recommendation for young people applying for further education or jobs.
- Ensuring volunteers are listened to and have the opportunity to feed in their ideas for the club.
- Making a point of recognising volunteers, such as by providing ‘volunteer’ hoodies, plus making a point to celebrate events like birthdays.
Ricci Hodgson, SPICE’s Chair, says: “Our volunteers are the lifeblood of SPICE. They engage with our members at their level and develop great relationships that often blossom outside of SPICE. Without overstating it, we are so grateful to them, so we make every effort to show our appreciation.”
Freya Higgott, a fifteen-year-old volunteer at SPICE, says: “Being a volunteer at SPICE is a really rewarding experience for me and I get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to help people with additional needs experience the fun of Ice Skating. Over the years, I’ve had the benefit of a lot of people giving their time to teach me and help me with skating, so it’s a fantastic feeling to be able to give something back and see the joy on all of their faces whilst getting to know them week after week. SPICE is a great and variable community which I am pleased to be a part of.”
SPICE’s values and culture
The club’s values, culture and environment play a big part in encouraging and retaining the commitment of their young volunteers. As a family-oriented club that works to be accessible for its local community, SPICE offers reduced subscriptions and subsidies for members that would have difficulty paying, or for siblings, which means that a wider group of people can get involved and, potentially, become volunteers themselves in the future.
Their sessions focus on safe, inclusive activity that can help participants develop their skating skills, but also interact with each other and the club’s workforce. The club keeps its people – participants, their families and volunteers – at the heart of everything they do, and the club’s popularity is testament to them being able to achieve this.
Use the links below to explore more from Club Matters on recruiting and keeping volunteers.