Gillian Pirie - Volunteer Development Officer
Provide a brief description of your business.
Moray Food Plus is a service which provides emergency food provision alongside other projects in Moray. In 2018 Moray Foodbank, rebranded as Moray Food Plus in order to move away from the stigma attached to food banks and to afford the people experiencing food insecurity, the opportunity to volunteer with us to help shape the services we offer. We pride ourselves on early intervention work through the projects we run, which include cooking sessions, growing sessions, community larders, family support, community meals and a lunch club. We also have a successful food recovery project which reduces unnecessary waste from local supermarkets. We believe everyone has the right to food.
Describe your career pathway after leaving school.
I left school with minimal qualifications, if I am honest I really struggled with school so I decided that going into a trade (hairdressing) was the best option for me.
Although, at the time, hairdressing wasn’t my dream, I never actually knew what my dream was, however I found myself in the trade for nearly 20 years and looking back I can see I underestimated the valuable skills that I gained which are ideal for volunteer development.
After a wee accident with a hand blender (no pun intended), I decided to end my career in hairdressing as it was never quite the same and moved onto various hospitality positions and even worked for a short time as a taxi driver.
It was the birth of my son that saw me unemployed for 3 years until 2017 when I was then employed by Moray Food Plus after 10 months of volunteering with them.
What school subjects would be helpful for your job role?
I had enrolled to study Social Sciences before being offered the position of Volunteer Development Officer. The requirements for this course were Three National 4s, one of which should be English.
Volunteering such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award or with local groups would be beneficial as to be a good Volunteer Development Officer it helps to understand what it is like to be a volunteer.
Life experience and a non-judgemental attitude is also considered helpful for this role.
What is your favourite thing about the work that you do?
I think it would be how inclusive we are. Having our Volunteer Friendly Award means we are committed to supporting volunteers with varying backgrounds such as those with Autism, those with difficulties with social skills, additional support needs and those who have come through the criminal justice system.
It is rewarding to see our volunteers grow in confidence from learning new skills, seeing their social skills develop and then progressing onto new volunteering opportunities or employment.
I am also lucky enough to speak about breaking down the stigmas of foodbank use and the benefits of volunteering to local primary schools. I deliver around 4 sessions per year where the children get to plan and carry out a fundraising idea of their choice. The enthusiasm they have is amazing, the children come up with really great ideas and it’s a joy to see them carry these out.
Why did you want to work in this industry?
After an unexpected change in my personal circumstances, I experienced a period of hardship whilst unemployed. I felt after being out of work and bringing up my young son I needed to gain news skills and confidence. I sought advice through Skill Development Scotland and they recommended volunteering while I decided on a suitable course.
I began volunteering at the foodbank as I wanted to help others who were experiencing hardship and give something back to the community. It gave me invaluable experience in social issues and a greater understanding of working in the third sector.
Quite simply I just wanted to help people get back on their feet and make a difference in the community.
Did you ever want to pursue another career?
I was so fortunate to have had so many great years in the hairdressing trade. Did I want to do something else? Yes, but I spent all these years not really knowing what it was exactly. It took my change of circumstances to see where my strengths were and seeing what a difference an organisation can make to a community. I knew in the first few months of volunteering that this was what I wanted to do and felt extremely passionate about and still do three years later.
What does a typical day in your role involve?
As a volunteer development officer, I am there to support the volunteers to deliver the core requirements of the food provision side of the service, meaning that the service is running as it should, making sure the referrals (food parcels) are packed and delivered on time to the correct agencies.
I am also responsible for training and educating volunteers with positive outcomes like starting college or gaining awards such as Saltire and Adult achievement awards.
Some days I will be delivering promotional talks at groups and schools about our service and encouraging volunteer culture, organising food collections or supporting new projects by providing volunteers. This means I also have to answer volunteer enquiries and find suitable roles to suit them within the service.
I love the challenge such a diverse role brings; no two days are ever the same.
What skills are required to do your job?
- Knowledge/experience of equal opportunities
- Strong communication/listening skills with an ability to engage with a variety of people.
- Computer literate
- Empathetic towards life circumstances and people’s vulnerabilities
- Manual handling and health and safety
- Excellent time management skills and the ability to work on your own without supervision.
- An ability to educate and encourage adult learners to develop new skills and confidence
What is your advice to young people who are considering working in this sector?
If you have an interest in an organisation, find out if there are volunteering opportunities. If there aren't any there may be other voluntary jobs locally that may help you gain the skills and experience needed.
Many organisations like ours can provide training or courses and offer volunteering hours to suit an individual in further education or employment. We can also provide volunteering to bridge the gap of waiting for a course to start.
There is also the possibility you may be employed and given full training whilst in post which gives you first-hand experience which is invaluable.
Any other comments?
I strongly recommend volunteering; it doesn’t need a huge commitment to make a difference.
The benefits are endless, whether you are looking to gain skills, give something back to your community or even to support your mental wellbeing there is a volunteering role for everyone.
Volunteering can give you the breathing space to think about what kind of career you may wish to follow or support an application to further education or employment.
There are also nationally recognised awards for youth volunteering which can show future employers social responsibility, strong work ethic and commitment.