working with volunteers

Supporting Volunteers

Many therapeutic gardening projects host volunteer gardeners, tea makers, weeders, publicity agents, fundraisers and even those who don't mind doing paperwork!
Volunteers bring ideas, skills, enthusiasm and experience.

Supporting Volunteers 
Roles for volunteers are as varied as gardening projects and volunteers are just as varied too. There is an argument for creating everyone equal and labelling all as 'volunteers' or 'gardeners' etc . to remove stigma. Volunteers are then differentiated by their roles. The co-ordinators job would be to 'balance' the volunteer population depending on volunteer abilities, skills and support needs, to best fulfil the aims of the project and make sure all get the experience and support they need.

It's important that support needs are not glossed over in the 'volunteer' model, so a system of assessing and re-assessing people's needs over their involvement with the project is key. This also enables projects to make a case for funding support needs through volunteers SDS payments and other funding income streams. 

There is also an argument for differentiating between 'service users' and 'support workers'  in order to acknowledge peoples support needs or if your funding or organisation dictates this type of structure. Throughout the care sector managers /support workers/volunteer co-ordinators are working towards reducing power imbalances between service providers and service users through introducing service user choice etc, so the skills, ethos and attitudes of managers /support workers/volunteer co-ordinators are key to establishing an equitable project for service users - it's not just down to the label.

Volunteer tips from the Trellis network
Based on the experiences of those in the Trellis network - some top tips for hosting volunteers at your gardening project. 
Before you accept a volunteer: 

  • Clarify the volunteers interests, skills and support needs and why they want to  volunteer at the project
  • Check that support needs will be met through the volunteer/project providing additional support staff or adapting activities etc. as appropriate.
  • Suggest a 'suss it out' visit or series of visits  before any commitment on either side has to be made
  • Be realistic about  the volunteering roles or support available and the practicalities of taking part . It may be that through this discussion that  both or either party decides its not suitable for them and this is an important part of the volunteering process.

Engaging and retaining volunteers:

  • Word of mouth recruitment is often more effective than online or central office advertsising as the personal touch is there. 
  • Remember to promote  the need for non-gardeners as well to do admin tasks,  fundraising etc.
  • Be welcoming, friendly and appreciative.
  • Be prepared, flexible and organised with jobs for them to do. 
  • Clear explanantions and ongoing support is key
  • Don’t assume people know what they’re doing, always explain- Return after a short while to ensure they are managing - Possibly buddy them up with an experienced volunteer.
  • Communicate well and often, listen and respond to any concerns.
  • Don't assume everyone has or wishes to use email or social media. Sometimes a phone call ( create a phone tree) or a note through the door is effective communication.
  • Try to give people interesting work, where possible - Take in to account their interests and skills - Everyone needs to be mindful that the boring jobs are necessary too, but try and spread them around (see the Motivation page for tips to get round some of these issues)
  • Provide opportunities to learn new skills
  • Let your volunteers know where they are making a difference and ensure they get to see their progress. 
  •  Most people enjoy the social benefits of volunteering, ensure there are plenty of opportunities to share and get together.

See our Case Study: Engaging with Potential Volunteers to see how one project encouraged volunteers to sign-up by offering them a gardening training session.

Volunteering FAQ's and Resources

Volunteer Scotland provide a range of advice, training and useful good practice guides for organisations working with volunteers, e.g.

Volunteering and the Law see

Creating a volunteer role description
Creating a volunteer agreement
Creating a positive volunteer introduction
Developing a volunteer policy
Insurance for volunteers
Managing challenging volunteer situations
Download these free from their webpages at

Examples of useful volunteering documents and templates to use such as:
Expenses Form
Induction Checklist
Support Meeting Form
Support Record
Volunteer Agreemnet
Volunteer Application Form
Volunteer Policy Form
Volunteer Record
Volunteer Reference
These can all be dowloaded free from

Do we need to consider getting criminal record disclosure checks ?
Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) legislation means that in roles where staff or a volunteer will be in contact with children or supporting ‘vulnerable’ adults requires that staff member or volunteer to undergo a criminal record disclosure check.
Volunteer Scotland provide PVG guidance for specifically for organisations who host volunteers at

For an outline of the PVG Scheme see  Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme : Guidance for individuals, organisations and personal employers,  published June 2010,  available from the Disclosure Scotland web pages at

What are the psychological benefits of volunteering?
For an outline of the benefits of volunteering from a psychological perspective

Additional volunteer documents and templates available from Southwark volunteer centre, London: