At the end of April, Volonteurope and Volunteering Matters were in Stuttgart for the Training of Trainers course, one of the products of the ongoing Volunteering for the Future project, funded by Erasmus Plus.


The course brought together twenty three people working in volunteer management from Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland and the UK, and took place over five days in Untertürkheim, just outside of Stuttgart. The aim of the course was to provide a unique space for exchange and reflection on working with international volunteers and to explore the facilitator’s role in supporting them in their journey towards active citizenship.


Through a number of workshops, trainers were asked to reflect on their practices, and common issues they face when working with returned volunteers from across Europe. There were workshops looking at power and privilege, language when working with volunteers, volunteering practices, values, voluntourism and the attendant issues relating to it. There were spaces for discussing group dynamics when working with returned volunteers, how to ensure that volunteering experiences abroad are learning experiences, and how to re-engage volunteers upon their return from the Global South.


Gathering together so many trainers from across four countries – all bringing huge amounts of expertise and experience – presented a valuable opportunity for knowledge exchange between participants. It was an opportunity to learn more about how volunteering is recognised in other countries – whether it has a legal status, for instance – and the levels to which people engage in volunteering at home and abroad.


There was a lot of talk around returned volunteers and working with them to help them become active citizens and how each organisation does this. This also included the importance of debriefing with volunteers upon their return.


Cara Battrick, who works as a volunteer manager in the Welsh office, travelled to Stuttgart to represent Volunteering Matters, and provide facilitation along with Gareth Conlon from Comhlámh and Kai Diederich of finep during the week’s course.  Cara started the week off delivering their ice breakers and energisers, which gave an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better as well as the organisations they were representing. These initial icebreakers opened up space for the trainers attending the course to deliver their own energisers as the week progressed, instigating a collaborative atmosphere amongst the facilitators and participants.


Cara also delivered a World Café workshop, focusing on facilitation. The purpose of the World Café was top give participants the opportunity to talk about their work, and what mattered most to them as facilitators. It was also a time to begin sharing good practices, to discuss difficulties participants had experienced as facilitators and the skills they used to overcome these.


Later in the week there was a practical session in which the participants could contribute their facilitation skills and knowledge around working with volunteers. This was a great opportunity to put the theory discussed throughout the week into practice. Through an open space session trainers were invited to pick topics they felt important to the work in which they do and share it with the group. This was a great exercise that allowed us to see all the great work being done already across projects and, importantly, how it can be adapted for different countries and organisations.


In addition to providing a space for volunteer managers from all over Europe to come together and share their knowledge and experiences, the project team were also able to share some of the resources already produced through the project. These include the pan-European and country specific volunteering manuals which have been developed as part of the project. They can be downloaded for free here, and are a very useful tool when working with volunteers.


By Rosalind Duignan-Pearson, Volonteurope, and Cara Battrick, Volunteering Matters