Breaking Down Barriers

Breaking Down Barriers – ‘As starting point to devise our volunteering mentors policy…this was extremely helpful’.

Breaking Down Barriers (BDB) is a registered Community Interest Company. Its vision and mission is to build community and help unlock a hidden wealth of resources, namely the skills and talents of individuals who may be marginalised in society.

As BDB’s initiative for 2015-2016, the Sussex Adolescent Mentoring Service project (SAMS) will work in partnership with schools in East Sussex to provide a holistic mentoring service to students. Mentoring provides a powerful personal development tool that encourages students to manage their own learning and acquire essential life skills.  It also provides a form of support, assisting the student overcome a variety of barriers, both personal and social, allowing them to widen their life chances and achieve their full potential.

Without support, some young people may fail to complete their education either because their background and behaviour predisposes them to being formally excluded or because they feel (perhaps through peer pressure or bullying) they have no choice but to opt out. These are the young people who are more likely to encounter antisocial behaviour, facing the increased risk of becoming either offenders or victims of crime. By providing a mentoring service which incorporates confidence building strategies, effective communication skills and encouraging creativity through arts related activities, this risk can be reduced

It has been said that “if you change a child you change a community” and this is what this project aims to do. SAMS has been designed to help our young people feel valued and, in turn, create a stronger, resilient and more caring society.

Monika Richards is the Project Coordinator for SAMS and initially approached Volunteer Centre East Sussex (VCES) to; ‘obtain support to develop a volunteering policy for mentors volunteering on the project’.

Monika felt it was easy to access the support she was seeking; ‘Lee Shepherd is approachable and was very generous in meeting with BDB’s Managing Director, Barbara Rowe and myself  to share best practice and contacts to inform SAMS volunteering policy for our mentors. We discussed with Lee the key issues of running the first pilot of SAMS in terms selection process, setting criteria, vetting, training and a framework in which the mentors are supported. Lee advised us on best practice setting up a volunteering policy, gave us contact for vetting mentors, evaluation methods and particularly advising us on the right documentation with a set templates as starting point to devise our volunteering mentors policy. This was extremely helpful’.

The work is ongoing as the SAMS pilot project prepares to launch; ‘We have started the process of devising the documents for SAMS volunteering policy for mentors which are: application form, leaflet, safeguarding and protection policy, mentoring agreement, parental consent form and we are developing a brief for the mentors as to the vision of SAMS’.

VCES’ approach is always to recognise that volunteer involving organisations come in different shapes and sizes and no two groups necessarily have the same needs. VCES works to provide initial support to help groups identify their priorities and the involvement is intended to be what Lee describes as; ‘Ongoing but less hands on over-time, with the ultimate aim of assisting groups to be self sufficient in their involvement and engagement of volunteers’.   Monika reflected that; ‘Lee was always very helpful in meeting with us, by telephone and email to answer questions, giving advice bespoke to SAMS’.

In terms of developing the future of the SAMS project, Monika feels that; ‘Lee has advised us on the selection and vetting process of volunteering mentors. Furthermore we discussed the range and diversity of mentors. Lee has discussed some case studies, given us tips and solid advice in selecting appropriate mentor and evaluating the pilot throughout to inform the next stage in widening our programme. This has helped us to write our criteria, selection questions and look at the overall policy framework’.



More information about Breaking Down the Barriers is available via their website;

Lee Shepherd is VCES’ Volunteering Development Officer. You can contact Lee to discuss any issues relating to involving and engaging volunteers in  your group on 07535 992 638 or by emailing