Cathedral volunteer programme excels at getting people back to work

Liverpool Cathedral’s scheme to support unemployed people from the city region with volunteering opportunities, accredited training and employment support has got more than 50 people back to work.

Liverpool Cathedral was the second in the country to support the Volition programme, which identifies volunteer roles for unemployed people and supports them to find employment.

Following the success of the scheme at Manchester Cathedral, which got 100 people into employment in three years, the Liverpool scheme hit the half way mark after only 15 months.

Paul O’Brien, Volunteer and Employment Co-ordinator at Liverpool Cathedral, said: “We set ourselves a target of working with 72 people a year, and we have already exceeded that – in a year and a quarter we have worked with 144 people and helped 50 of them to find employment.”

He added: “At the same time we bring a sharp focus to their employability and skills needs, and create a structured pathway to support them back to work. We also give our volunteers access to five qualifications, in Food Hygiene, Manual Handling, Emergency First Aid, Health & Safety, and Employability. Our volunteers have now completed 158 qualifications.”

Paul said the reason for the early success of the scheme was that they have been oversubscribed with referrals from Job Centre Plus and other partners: “By making the most of the iconic position of the Cathedral as a civic leader in the city we are uniquely placed to create opportunities for jobs and skills development. Business leaders are only too happy to volunteer their time if we make it easy to do so, and volunteers are contributing to their community and improving their own chances of employment longer term. Volunteering can play a bigger role in tackling poverty, social exclusion and ultimately reduce unemployment in our city.”

Paul explained what makes Volition different from other volunteer programmes: “While most aim to retain their volunteer base, our aim is to upskill, retrain and equip our volunteers to be able to do bigger and better things.”

He added that Volition has an important difference from other employability programmes: “Our volunteers are not ‘clients’ or ‘customers’, it is their own decision to choose and commit to being a volunteer. Volunteers can stay with us as long as they want to, and return to us whenever they need us. In fact some volunteers who have found a job as a result of our support, still volunteer with us or mentor other volunteers. There are no goodbyes!”

Liverpool Cathedral has led the way by offering volunteer roles in admin, welcoming, retail, catering, caretaking, cleaning, education and grounds maintenance. We have recruited two successful Volition volunteers, Sarah Bowers as an Attractions Assistant and Carlos Clark as a Verger.

Sarah, aged 31 from Halewood, was a lone parent who struggled to fit working around her seven year old daughter’s care. She was also struggling with her confidence after applying for jobs as a motorcycle mechanic and being turned away on every occasion.

Volition worked to encourage and support Sarah in order to build her up into the confident, capable person she could be. As a volunteer at Liverpool Cathedral, she got involved with the vergers which allowed her to put her skills and knowledge to good use – she was even able to repair some lawnmower engines!

Kevin Stott, Retail Manager at Liverpool Cathedral, said “We noticed her dedication, hard work and enthusiasm, and when hours became available, I asked specifically for Sarah. She interviewed excellently and was offered a contract that fitted around her childcare needs.”
Sarah has since thrown herself head first into her role and has taught herself local history, geography and information about the Cathedral itself so she can provide visitors with the best possible experience.

Sarah said: “I didn’t see myself having a future until I started the Volition course. It’s turned my life around completely. I’m more outgoing and chatty, I really enjoy meeting people from all over and learning new things every day.”

Carlos, 52, from Toxteth, was a self-employed painter and decorator who struggled to return to work after the death of his daughter. After being offered a series of casual jobs which were unsuitable, he asked Job Centre Plus about training opportunities, and had an interview for the Volition programme. He said: “I was surprised I got on, because of my age. I thought they would go for someone younger, more employable.”

Carlos began volunteering by helping to maintain the Cathedral grounds, and enjoyed it so much he asked for more hours after only four weeks. He began volunteering with the team of vergers in the cathedral, and when a temporary vacancy arose, Dave Corns, Head Verger, encouraged Carlos to apply.

Carlos is delighted to be on the payroll, and hopes to apply for a permanent position if one becomes available. He said: “Even if I didn’t get paid, I would carry on as a volunteer. I love it! The Volition programme has taught me that age shouldn’t stop you from progressing. I’ve been given a second chance. I’m involved with the biggest family I’ve ever had!”

Volition has also made partnerships with other employers who guarantee interviews to volunteers, provide mentoring, training and mock interviews. Employer partners currently include:

• City Of Liverpool College
• First Ark Group
• Fusion21
• The University of Liverpool
• LFC Tours
• Cavern Walks
• The Liverpool BID Company
• The Crowne Plaza Hotel
• Smileworks
• Kelly Services
• Greengrape Solutions
• UrgentCare24.

Bob Taylor, CEO of First Ark Group, a key investment partner for the Volition programme, said: “First Ark aim to create viable social and economic solutions to the challenges our communities face. The Volition programme provides the ideal platform to support Liverpool Cathedral in delivering life changing opportunities for our communities.”

Steven Plant, Organisational Development Manager at the University of Liverpool, said: “Collaboration with the Cathedral helps to promote the University as an employer for all, through our diversity policy and our widening participation within the Liverpool city region.”

Paul O’Brien shared the advantages of Volition for local employers: “Businesses trust our approach because it is personal: they know we have everyone’s best interests at heart and this includes making sure they hire the best people in to their jobs. To become an Employer Partner, businesses choose how they can support Volition in their city. This is bespoke to each Employer Partner and we are open to creative ideas!”

If you think your business could benefit from a Volition volunteer, email Paul O’Brien, Volunteer and Employment Co-ordinator at Liverpool Cathedral at or call 0151 702 7206.

Liverpool Waterfront