HUDSON AT LARGE: Tony's helping firms boost charities

Tony Martin, leader of Involve Swindon

Tony Martin, leader of Involve Swindon

First published in News

TONY Martin is in charge of one of the most important Swindon organisations you’ve probably never heard of.

Involve Swindon is a conduit between people who need help and businesses who can give it.

Whenever you hear of a company’s volunteers refurbishing a charity HQ, clearing land for a community garden or any countless other good works, there’s a good chance that Involve Swindon was, well, involved.

This year marks its 10th anniversary.

“People are very giving, if you give them the chance to give,” said Tony.

Like everybody else in Involve Swindon, he’s a volunteer. In his ‘day job’ he’s Zurich’s national manager for company volunteering projects.

If cliches about modern life are to be believed, most people are too busy keeping their own heads above water to think of helping strangers. Tony disagrees.

“The stuff you’re doing locally in the 160 Appeal for Prospect, and things like Children in Need, Comic Relief, Poppy Day, Help for Heroes, whatever it might be – I think they reflect that in this country people are prepared to do their bit for others if you give them the opportunity to do so.

“We are giving employees of companies that chose to do so the chance to enhance or transform the lives of local people.”

Involve Swindon has oiled the wheels for projects including a group from Intel clearing the scrubland which would become the Christchurch Community Centre, Co-op staff improving disabled access to the lake at Stanton Park and a squad from Zurich helping out at Swindon Food Bank.

There are also less visible projects, such as people from various companies volunteering their specialist skills.

Tony said: “In some cases it’s business skills that are required more than a decorating and garden project, so in recent years we’re encouraging companies to carry on with the team-build challenges but also to get behind skills donation.

“A lot of employees take their business skills for granted, but they can add a lot of value.

“It could be something as simple as somebody teaching Word or Excel to a charity, a community group or a school. It could be proof-reading a brochure before it goes to print.

“Let’s say it was website design or developing a database or a marketing and communications strategy. If you had to go out and pay for that you’d be talking about a lot of money.

“But there’s no reason why in the first instance they should have to pay for that because they can have the skills donated by a local business.”

Involve Swindon is neither a company nor a charity. ‘Entity’ is probably the best word for it. It’s run by a committee of people from businesses and other organisations across the area, and works through Voluntary Action Swindon and the Volunteer Centre.

It was founded after Tony’s work saw him involved with a national body, the Employees in the Community Network.

Most of the firms involved were London-based, but Tony saw potential for something similar much closer to home. He spoke to the Volunteer Centre and what was initially called Swindon Employees in the Community Network was born.

For Tony, one of the best things about the organisation is that commercial rivalries are set aside as companies unite for the good of the community as a whole.

He said: “It’s given a vehicle for any companies who are interested in this kind of engagement in their local communities.”

It’s also attracted attention in high places.

“The Cabinet Office came to Swindon in January of 2013 to see how we were doing it, because they saw it as a possible replicable model throughout the UK for building community spirit,” added Tony.

The Involve Swindon webste is involveswindon.co.uk

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