Softwire Blog


What I did on my second volunteering day – Zoe


25 November 2016, by

Inspired by my first day volunteering with Barnardo’s in Marylebone, I decided to use my second volunteering day to pursue something else that I have been keen to do for a while – spending more time with older people. Now that I’m in my thirties I’m starting to realise what a different perspective can be gained with age and so I’m very keen to hear from people who have maybe four times as much experience as I do!

Once again I used the fabulous employee volunteering platform Benefacto. It was easy to find something that matched my desired area, and one click and I was booked to help run The Lunch Club with Finsbury & Clerkenwell Volunteers. FCV have been organising volunteers to help others in need since 1971 and one of their current responsibilities is to run a lunch club for local elderly residents every Monday and Thursday.

Like at Barnardo’s, a lot of the jobs that need doing are quite simple and just need manpower. So my first job was to lay the tables ready for people to arrive.

FCV-table

Second, myself and a fellow volunteer from Accenture were given the task of peeling a mountain of potatoes for the Shepherd’s Pie, followed by a large basket of cooking apples brought in by a volunteer. Luckily two regular volunteers were able to chef these into the main course and an apple strudel for dessert.

 

FCV-potatoes

At about 12pm guests started to arrive for lunch. Some are able to make their own way in, but most are brought in a minibus driven by another volunteer. We helped them in and to their seats, gave them a cup of tea or coffee and then served lunch.

 

FCV-guests1

FCV-guests2

The number of volunteers helping out through FCV is absolutely incredible. There is Andy, who seems to be the main person behind the day to day running of the lunch club. There are two chefs (there used to be three) and a driver. There is Jan, who helps with everything and Irenie, who runs the raffle. Then there is the board. This includes Felicity who started lunch club tens of years ago, Andrew the chair and Leslie the treasurer; all three dropped in to see how lunch was going on the day I was there. Judy, an ex-employee of the charity, dropped in (she brought the apples we peeled). While we were peeling, she explained how well the charity worked, not just for the clients, but also for the volunteers.

 

After lunch, Andy ran several games of bingo and I learnt some new bingo calls. Then the guests were driven home and we cleared up and washed up. There was a lot of washing up! Overall it was a great day and a fantastic experience to be part of this community of people doing good, even just for a day.

Launching the Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge


3 November 2016, by

Diversity in tech is a major problem, and tech isn’t alone in this. One of the places where this is most visible is in speaker lineups and panels at events. Across industry after industry, speakers at events are extremely rarely from marginalized groups, including women, people of colour, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. Not only are they underrepresented, in many cases events don’t feature any diversity at all.

This is bad. Encouraging diversity not only makes the world a happier, fairer place, it also has concrete benefits for productivity and problem solving. When you never see a lineup of role models who are anything like you, you don’t feel included, it’s hard to be inspired, and you end up being slowly pushed out of the industry.

Diversity matters at Softwire, and we want to do everything we can to improve this. Today with the help of the Women in Engineering Society and the 30% Club we’re launching a new initiative to take a concrete step forwards on event diversity: the Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge.

Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge logo

The goal of the Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge is to totally stop the worst offenders for speaker diversity. By pledging, you’re committing to never actively supporting a paid event or panel that includes zero diversity whatsoever. This is a minimum bar, and we’d encourage people to go further, but the low bar is key.

We can all agree that such events have clear problems, and that finding at least one underrepresented speaker for any given topic is achievable. A low bar focused on this makes it easy for as many speakers, attendees, events and companies to sign up. Once that reaches a critical mass, running a paid event and totally ignoring diversity becomes impossible.

The world we’re aiming for here is one where every event organiser gets at least 2 or 3 of their speakers accept their invite on the condition that there’s at least some diversity in their lineup, along with attendees checking there’ll be at least some diversity included before they buy tickets. Once that happens, you can’t run an event without thinking about diversity, and you can’t host a lineup filled with a range of identical voices without a few of them publically dropping out. This won’t solve diversity overnight, but does make life far more difficult for those who totally ignore it, and provides steady pressure on every event to actively put in at least a little effort towards this issue.

There are four pledges, for speakers, attendees, events themselves, and companies, so everybody can get involved:

  • Speaker: I will never speak at any paid conferences or panels as part of a homogeneous group of speakers.
  • Attendee: I will never attend any paid conferences or panels with a homogeneous group of speakers.
  • Event: We will never organise an event lineup or panel with a homogeneous group of speakers.
  • Company: We will never sponsor or organise paid conferences or panels with a homogeneous group of speakers, we will strongly encourage our employees not to attend or speak at such events, and we’ll support them in raising diversity concerns with events directly.

This is where we need your help. This only works if enough people sign up and get involved. Take a concrete step on diversity, help shut down the worst offenders, and make it impossible to run a paid event that ignores its responsibilities. Sign the pledge.

Sponsoring Diversity in Tech


5 October 2016, by

As a company, we have the opportunity to sponsor a number of worthy events. We have decided to formulate a policy to help us to decide which events to sponsor.

Overarching Cause: Diversity In Tech

We feel a good first step to filter out opportunities is to pick one cause that we as a company feel strongly about. We have chosen Diversity in Tech as our sponsored cause.

We know that many people care about this topic, and we feel that one of the ways for us to help is by championing events and initiatives that promote diversity in the tech industry as a whole. We’ve decided to ring-fence a budget of £6000 per year towards this cause, and our intention is to sponsor two or three events each year.

Prioritisation Criteria: Engagement and Promotion

When deciding which events in the field of Diversity in Tech we should sponsor, we use the following criteria:

  • Are Softwire employees likely to want to get involved in the event, or to otherwise get something valuable from it?
  • How much do we like the event’s stated aims and rate their chances of success?

Sponsored events in 2016

To inaugurate our new sponsorship policy, we have sponsored Rails Girls Summer of Code this summer! This program aims to foster diversity in Open Source. Selected teams of women from around the world receive a three-month scholarship to work on Open Source projects of their choice. They receive a stipend as well as access to close mentoring and coaching from professional developers. We’re hoping to extend our involvement to coaching and mentoring next summer.

We are currently also looking for other suitable programs to sponsor. If you know of any, please get in touch via the comments section, or drop us an email at [email protected].

Payroll giving


14 September 2016, by

Payroll Giving Gold AwardOne of the many perks we get at Softwire is access to a Payroll Giving scheme, which makes it easier than ever to support your favourite charities. Signing up to a payroll giving scheme has the following benefits:

  • The money comes out of your pay before you see it, which makes it tax-efficient and also psychologically easier to donate more and continue to donate for many years.
  • It’s charities’ preferred method of receiving donations, as it reduces the admin overhead of e.g. reclaiming Gift Aid.
  • It’s really easy to set up.

We recently took the time to publicise our payroll giving scheme more internally, and found a simple but effective way to reduce the barriers to entry still further: a number of my colleagues volunteered to go round to the desks of people interested in the scheme and take them through the sign-up process. And if it was after working hours, they would even bring a couple of beers along. This led to a doubling in uptake of the scheme, and we now have over 20% of our employees signed up, which we think is fantastic!
We are therefore proud to display our newly-earned “PGA Gold Award” and will be gunning for the Platinum Award next year.
If you were thinking of setting up payroll giving at your workplace, or joining your existing scheme, please do read the testimonials below for more inspiration, or feel free to contact us for practical help.

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What I did on my volunteering day – Harry


5 September 2016, by

On Monday 13th June, I worked with an organisation called The Conservation Volunteers at one of their sites near Harringay Green Lanes. They do all sorts of work all over London (and in fact have groups over the rest of the country too), so it’s really easy to find something to join in with on their website.

We were working at Railway Fields, a small conservation area tucked away behind Finsbury Park. I’d never come across it before, but it was obviously well used by locals, with lots of families with small children passing through during the day. It was nice to discover another little green space like this in London.

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What I did on my volunteering day – Zoe


29 August 2016, by

For my volunteering day I worked at Barnardo’s in Marylebone, organised through Benefacto. Barnardo’s is a major UK children’s charity and does a great job with lots of different aspects of supporting children: fostering and adoption, work skills, domestic child abuse, nurseries and supporting families.

Working in the shop was awesome on many levels. They have great donations because it’s such a wealthy area, so it’s quite fun seeing what stock they have. It was also really awesome for reminding me what a great job I have at Softwire… When I arrived I was told that my first job was hoovering and dusting (I HATE hoovering) and – even worse – I was told that mobile phones were not allowed on the shop floor and Eduardo the manager made me check my phone in a locker!

Another awesome thing about the job was the clientele. The first customer I served came in in a shell suit top and paint spattered jeans. He tried on a few shirts and bought one “oh and wait” he said, and returned with 8 pairs of socks.

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What I did on my volunteering day – Mike


22 August 2016, by

I volunteered at the “Share Garden” in Springfield Hospital, Tooting (organised via Benefacto).
It’s a community garden in the grounds of a psychiatric Hospital that primarily exists to provide horticultural therapy and training to patients of the hospital, who have a variety of mental and/or physical disabilities.

The day was relatively simple: it was a garden in the summer, there was lots to be done, and most of it was weeding.

Over the course of the day, I:

  • Weeded a square bed of lavender & roses bushes (general small weeds, thistles, and fair amounts of bindweed which absolutely loves wrapping itself around lavender)
  • Was commandeered by one of the students/patients to help him clear out a large patch of nettles that ran beside the path to the loo block (they’d started getting big enough that they were occasionally stinging people who wanted the loo). First shearing the nettles down to 3-4 inches, then pulling the remaining stems out and finally digging out whatever amount of the roots we could get at.
  • Re-arranged one of the (6!) compost heaps so that new waste didn’t need to be lifted over the barricade of clippings that had be put on the front of it.
  • Weeded another square bed of lavender & roses bushes.
  • Watered the covered “green house” section of the garden where they grew plants and seedlings to sell. (Maybe 10 m x 20 m of pots).
  • Started Weeding a 3rd square bed of lavender & roses bushes.

I had a great time (I managed to hit a continuously sunny day. Score!), and it was really clear that the students got a LOT out of being in the garden, but that some tasks were more viable for them than others. Fine detail weeding being one of the harder tasks for them to achieve.

What we did on our volunteering day – Andrew and Ying


15 August 2016, by

Ying and Andrew Bike FixingAndrew and I volunteered at The Bike Project for an afternoon.

They give bikes to refugees and asylum seekers who can’t afford public transport. Did you know asylum seekers only get £36 / week in benefits? They also teach female refugees to cycle.

We kind of expected to be fixing bikes and giving them to refugees, but what they needed was someone to clean and fix second hand bikes to sell, to earn some money to keep the rest of their operations going. A step further removed from the beneficiary, but equally crucial!

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What I did on my volunteering day – Chris Harris


8 August 2016, by

On my volunteering day I went to Deptford Reach.

I was irrationally scared about doing this, simply because I had no idea what it would actually be like. Of course, it turned out to be fine. So I’m going to present an account of what happened, in the hope that it might make similar opportunities a bit less scary for anyone else with a similar fear of the unknown. I’ll then put some “lessons learned” at the end.

What happened

The timings were 8:30am – 2:30pm. The location was a day centre for homeless and vulnerable people, it serves hot breakfast and lunch, and gives out day-old Pret sandwiches for dinner; there’s also an IT room, an art room, and they have yoga and fun stuff like that throughout the week.

I got a very quick induction and was told I’d be in the kitchen. It’s a proper commercial kitchen and I got to wear whites and an apron and feel very professional. My fellow volunteer had been there for a month, and our boss was a trained chef from Zimbabwe called Renee. During breakfast time I chopped a load of mushrooms and was on toast duty for a brief while, during which I had my only interactions with the actual clients. They are charged a small fee for most breakfast items (e.g. 30p for a slice of bacon), but tea and toast is free, so lots of people were asking me for 4 slices of toast.

At about 11:30 it became clear there wouldn’t be any more kitchen work for me, so I made it known that I worked in IT and they asked if I wouldn’t mind working on their website. Apparently even though they get a lot of IT people volunteering, none of them want to do the website as they’d rather be in the kitchen or gardening or something. I actually found the mix of a morning in the kitchen and an afternoon on the computer quite nice. I spent 3 hours making some changes to a WordPress instance, including a bit of design (“add more colour”), a bit of bug fixing and a lot of adding new pages. See here for my handiwork!

I ended up leaving at about 3:15, later than my allotted hours but still a nice early finish. I’d been given some nice food, met some lovely people, had some new experiences and got to use my skills. Success.

Things I learned

I’m sure there are some more but here are the main things I learned:

  • Places like this exist. I’d never really been aware of them before, so I know a bit more about the world than I did yesterday.
  • I was reminded what it’s like to be completely new to something. I was glad to have an understanding boss, who delegated in a great way (started something off for me, watched me do it for a bit, and then let me get on with it). My goal was to not make a major blunder, so I spent a lot of time checking and confirming before doing anything irreversible.
  • My IT skills, although horribly out of date, are good enough to make a difference to a small charity like this.
  • My default tidiness standards are not good enough for a commercial kitchen…

Employee Volunteering


1 August 2016, by

This summer Softwire launched an exciting new Employee Volunteering programme with the help of a great social enterprise called Benefacto.

At the heart of the programme is our offer to every employee of two free days this year that they can spend volunteering instead of working. I’m pleased to say that within the first two months of this scheme, 19 people (around 10% of the company) have taken us up on this offer, and have done some amazing things!

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