Inspirational Woman: Elizabeth Grier-Menager | Founder & Chair of Hands On London

D514060_cWhat inspired you to set up Hands on London?

It started with my own journey to try to find a volunteer opportunity on the side of a full time day job but since I had to travel lot of for work, I was not able to commit every week to one volunteer activity. I found it very frustrating to volunteer which started with the volunteer search! The paperwork one had to go through to volunteer made it a huge hurdle for many to volunteer. What finally pushed me to start up my own charity, Hands On London, were 2 events: 1) During the financial crisis when I lost my job, many of my fellow colleagues and I wanted to make use of our free time during the months we were unemployed and looking for work but since the application process and CRB/DBS checks took months to go through, by the time we were ’allowed’ to volunteer, we had already found our new job and could no longer volunteer!

I eventually found one volunteer opportunity at the Ronald McDonald House through the American Women’s Club in London where we did home cooked meals for families whose child was sick with cancer and staying at the Ronald McDonald House in London Bridge. It was such a worthy yet simple activity. The families really appreciated coming back to their temporary home with a home cooked meal after a long day at the hospital. It was also a fun activity where I met a lot of great people who were also volunteers. When I asked the CEO of the London Bridge Ronald McDonald House how many other volunteer groups came to cook meals, she said ‘ You are the only ones’. Mind you, we did this just one evening a month! I decided right then and there that I was going to set up a charity to make it easier for people to volunteer and for charities to receive the help they need to maintain or increase their services to their beneficiaries. Simply, it would make London a better place to live- a win-win situation!

Sometimes you have to ignore the negative comments and believe in yourself.

What challenges have you had to overcome to get the charity mobilised?

Our main challenge has been long-term unrestricted funding. It is easier to receive project funding but not funding for overhead costs. Thankfully, with every year that passes, you build a track record of corporate and individual volunteering so grant applications become a bit easier. We have also seen an increase in corporate volunteer work which has been helpful.

How do you balance the needs of the charity alongside your corporate day job?

This requires a lot of planning. I have a long commute to work every day so I normally check and send emails for Hands On London to and from work. I also do a lot of work on the weekends for Hands On London such as grant applications, reviewing finances, reviewing certain proposals, etc. I also am very fortunate to have a supportive Manager at my day job who was very supportive of the Wrap Up London campaign when I needed to come into the office later than usual due to the Wrap Up London time commitments.

What words of wisdom would you share with our members who are thinking of setting up a charity?

I would say that first of all, it is much harder to set up a registered charity and manage its growth than setting up and managing a for-profit business! You need to have faith and confidence in yourself and in your network to overcome any short term setbacks especially during the start-up phase. Many people thought I was crazy leaving financial services for a few years to set up my charity. Sometimes you have to ignore the negative comments and believe in yourself.

2014 was quite a successful year for the charity, what are your plans for 2015?

Yes, it has been amazing that this year, my charity and our Wrap Up London campaign have been recognized through the UK Points of Light Civic Award by the Prime Minister! My plans for 2015 is to look for a permanent office space. Ours is generously donated at St Pauls’ but sadly, this will end in the Spring. We are therefore looking for free to highly subsidized office space preferably with a meeting room to fit 6 people somewhere in Zones 1 and 2. Secondly, we will be looking to increase our reach of beneficiaries during Wrap Up London 2015 so we can collect more coats (preferably more men’s coats) and give more coats away to those in need. Another major plan we have in 2015 is to secure a long term sponsor of our charity which would help raise our profile and also secure longer term funding for the charity so we can expand our volunteer services to more charities across London and so we can better service our volunteer base.

How can others support you and help the charity?

If any one can help us with any of the above points regarding our 2015 plans, that would be great! Also, if you are interested in volunteering, please sign up to our website and spread the word! . We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

We are also looking to raise more funds so anyone who is interested in organising a fundraiser for Hands On London, whether a gala, a corporate sponsored event or a 10k run, for example, would be very helpful! We are also looking for pro-bono help with improving the functionality of our website so if anyone can help us with enhancing our website, that would be fantastic! In addition, we are looking to increase our public profile so pro bono PR support would be hugely beneficial too. We would obviously look to publicly recognize any of our supporters.

You can also donate via our Virgin Money Giving page.

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