Gethin holding a bag of shopping for Lillian while she waits by the door

Adding value through using your Welsh language skills in volunteering

Published: 04/06/20 | Categories:
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Author: Gethin Edwards

Gethin Edwards leads the Welsh Language Commissioner’s Hybu Team. Here he talks about the importance of the Welsh language as a skill in volunteering and how you can take advantage of the Commissioner’s support.

I lead a team of five who support charities and medium to large businesses across Wales, our aim is to demonstrate the benefits of using Welsh and to help you to improve your services a little by little each day.

A special message of thanks

Before saying anything else we would like to express a special ‘diolch yn fawr’ to all the volunteers that use their Welsh language skills when they’re volunteering. Whether their role is to help promote the Welsh language, or used as part of their wider volunteering role. Whether you are volunteering in your local food bank, answering phones or distributing food during a crisis, speaking with someone in their first language is always appreciated.

In ordinary times, through volunteering, organisations can offer an environment where people can socialise through the medium of Welsh or can practice their language skills to improve their confidence and proficiency in an informal setting. They can provide a means for young people leaving the Welsh language education system to continue to use their Welsh and, for those still in education, a way of using the language beyond the classroom.

During these times of isolation, being able to receive a service from a volunteer in your first language can make a big difference. Of course, the volunteer also benefits from being able to use and practice their Welsh. So it’s a win win.

On a personal level

Like numerous people across Wales, during the lockdown I’ve been doing additional volunteering to help with shopping and distributing essentials for those in isolation. When the organisers understood that I speak Welsh, I was paired up with 77-year-old Lillian Thomas, who also lives in Llantwit Major.

It is good to feel that you can do your part to help those in need during this national crisis. I’ve been having little chats with Lillian when I distribute the food but also have given her a ring at other times to check that she is OK and just talk. I feel that being able to do so in Welsh has really helped to build a bond of trust with someone who is clearly more herself when she speaks her first language.

This is the feedback that I’ve had from Lillian: ‘I’m originally from Pontyberem in West Wales. I grew up speaking Welsh so it’s my mother tongue. But living in Llantwit Major I don’t get to use it as much as I’d like, so the opportunity to chat with Gethin in Welsh and receive his help has been great.  It’s made a massive difference in such a difficult time when I’m missing my friends and family.’

Working with the CVCs

As a team we work closely with many of the CVCs across Wales; this was some recent feedback that I received recently from Carwyn Humphreys, the Volunteering Coordinator at Mantell Gwynedd.

‘The natural language of choice in Gwynedd is Welsh which is an extremely important skill when we recruit volunteers for organisations. We also see examples of individuals looking to volunteer as a means of learning Welsh as well. We strive to ensure that organisations are able to demonstrate their language skill needs to meet the needs of their clients. The ability to speak Welsh isn’t a tokenistic practice here, it’s a natural part of community life.’

Advising WCVA

We have also been providing advice to the WCVA, I recently caught up with Felicitie Walls, WCVA Volunteering Manager. We talked about the latest statistics on Welsh speakers amongst the huge influx of new registrations on the Volunteering Wales website. This is what Flik had to say:

‘Of the 18,619 people that have registered on the Volunteering Wales platform, almost 33% report being Welsh speakers or able to use welsh a little (1 in 3)’

‘Of the almost 11,000 people that have registered since March 1st, 31% report being Welsh speakers or able to use welsh a little (again, almost 1 in 3)’

‘So the statistics offer a sound basis to build as we try to match the needs of the charities that are looking for Welsh speaking volunteers with the skills of the volunteers.’

‘Third Sector Support Wales can also help and will shortly be releasing two refreshed information sheets on ‘promoting the welsh language through volunteering’ and ‘attracting welsh speaking volunteers’. Follow @VolWales on Twitter or join the WCVA mailing list for notifications of when new information sheets become available.’

‘The Volunteering Wales platform is also a tool for volunteer recruitment, organisations can upload their opportunities in Welsh and tag opportunities with #Cymraeg.’

We look forward to continuing to work with the WCVA to improve and develop these services.

What can we as a team do to help charities across Wales?

Would your organisation like to involve more Welsh speaking volunteers?

Here are some Top Tips – Recruiting Welsh speaking volunteers

  1. Collect data about all your volunteers’ Welsh language skills when they register– you might already have Welsh speaking volunteers!
  2. Think about which Welsh language skills are needed for the role – you might want someone who can chat informally in Welsh – make sure that you explain this in the advert.
  3. Our research into volunteering and the Welsh language showed that Welsh speakers are more likely to volunteer informally, you could word your advert in a more informal way to make it more appealing to Welsh speakers.
  4. Ask for help – your local Menter Iaith or the Urdd locally might be able to help you to advertise. Tag suitable Welsh language organisations in any posts on social media and remember Yr Awr Gymraeg #yagym.
  5. Welsh speakers are more likely to support something that’s local – even if you’re a national organisation try and explain who the volunteers will be supporting by volunteering with you

Get wider support from the Hybu Team in developing your services:

  • One to one support in planning and delivering your Welsh language provision
  • Welsh Language Development Plans
  • Guidance and top tips created from research and real experiences
  • Training and networking groups – register with us to learn more
  • Access to proofreading service

To find out more get in touch with us at hybu@welshlanguagecommissioner.wales