CHANGING LIVES AND COMMUNITIES FOR OVER 40 YEARS
Involve Kent was founded in 1975 in Maidstone, to recruit and support volunteers and respond to need in the community, at that time known as Maidstone Volunteer Bureau. Much has changed since that time, but our core mission and purpose remains the same, with volunteering and communities still at the heart of our work, and indeed our current logo (note the vol highlighted in green!).
Early services of the organisation included the volunteer transport service, which still runs in very much the same way today. People with a little time and their own vehicles, drive older, frail, isolated and disabled people to health appointments, social activities and even, importantly, trips to the hairdresser or similar, greatly maintaining their independence and wellbeing. The service is still coordinated predominantly by volunteers with only one part time member of staff, just as it was in the 1970’s, though now delivering over 7000 trips per year. Alongside this, the ‘Volunteer Brokerage’ service operated much like its current incarnation, social prescribing. Anyone feeling disconnected or isolated, with time to give or skills to share, wanting to meet people, make friends and get involved in their community, were advised about a huge range of local opportunities, and encouraged to get involved with local groups. Those facing health challenges or disabilities were supported, with buddying, befriending or joining one of our specialist ‘supported volunteering’ projects, then called The V Team (focusing on gardening and DIY). Support for Carers was first initiated in the 1990’s, then called ‘Maidstone Carers Project’, providing advice, social groups and emotional support to around 30 carers; we support more than 3000 today! Platform, the mental health service user forum, began in 1999 and still continues today, now funded by Engaging Kent CIC, empowering people to have a voice about their experiences.
In 2006 the organisation changed its name to Voluntary Action Maidstone, recognising it’s increasingly diverse range of services and its remit to support and develop local voluntary action as a Council for Voluntary Service. This involved various training and development programmes for others running charities and community groups, and a more complete ‘mapping’ of local organisations developing a Community Service Directory. ‘Brighter Futures for Older People’ also developed in this period, founded to reduce isolation for older people by connecting them with others, community groups and increasing social connections and volunteering. Now known as Involve Older People, this services has been predominantly funded by the Lottery over the last 7 years.
Involve is unique in being the only organisation twice awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent of an MBE for voluntary organisations; in 2003 for supported volunteering and 2011 for older people.
By 2015 many services had grown, not only incorporating new elements, (such as ‘Postural Stability’ fall prevention exercise programmes, community cancer support, event volunteering) but geographically, now covering many areas of Kent. Following a year long review, the Board, with Members, agreed to change the name to Involve Kent, incorporating the wide remit of work and reflecting the impact across the county.
Though there has been significant growth over the last 40 years, the core ethos and mission of the charity remains the same, as indeed do many of the services, continuing to strengthen and connect communities, reduce isolation and improve wellbeing for the most disadvantaged, frail and vulnerable.