A year like no other

Like everyone else in the world, our year was shaped by COVID-19. We developed our COVID response early in 2020, not only to protect our own staff and volunteers but to provide ongoing support for local people in Leicester and Leicestershire.

Leicester was one of the most impacted cities in the UK. The city saw some of the highest infection rates in the UK at times and was in almost permanent lockdown from March 2020.

VAL’s role this year has been to continue offering vital support to local people, whether by contributing to Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland’s emergency COVID response by mobilising thousands of volunteers, or through supporting participants via our employability projects and helping people with learning disabilities to overcome isolation through lockdown.

Read on and see how VAL has continued its mission of helping people to change their lives for the better during one of the most difficult years in recent history.

Introduction by Linda Jones - VAL Chair

Voluntary Sector Support

The VAL Voluntary Sector Support team supports charities across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland through advice, resources and training. Through the pandemic local charities have been hit especially hard by disruptions to fundraising activities and being forced to close whilst demand for services increased.


raised with help from 9 groups

60 days

of one-to-one support to 635 groups


contacts with our helpline


training events attended by 937 people

Funding for mental health support

VAL supported Accept Mental Health with a funding application and helped them to win £10,000 from The National Lottery Community Fund for their Bereavement Project.

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Key Events

  • Future Focus: Future Focus was delivered over 3 days on the theme of  Resilience and Recovery. The event provided a series of workshops focusing on future-proofing VCSE organisations, sustainability and adapting. The final day offered representatives from the sector a chance to ask panel members questions on resilience and recovery.
  • County Virtual Funding Fair: 53 representatives from VCSE organisations based in the county, along with eight funders, attended the event over two two-and-a-half-hour sessions. Each attendee had pre-booked a 15-minute slot with the relevant funders that they wished to discuss their projects with.

Case studies

  • Sweet Pea Bowling Club, contacted VAL to help with converting from a charitable unincorporated association (CUA) to a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO).

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  • VAL started to support Peepul Enterprise in March 2020, helping them to submit an application and successfully secure £100,000 from Community Aid Funding.

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  • Throughout the pandemic, VAL has been providing free online training for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations in Leicester and Leicestershire.

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Mobilising the local community during COVID-19

In early 2020 VAL was invited to join the COVID response force for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Working alongside city, county and district councils, Police, NHS, universities and many others, VAL’s primary role was to recruit volunteers.


people volunteered


volunteering opportunities filled


is the estimated value of this support

VAL’s COVID response

For years we have enacted positive change for the local voluntary sector and although the COVID-19 restricted our face-to-face service delivery, VAL’s commitment to volunteers and volunteering enabled us to be a key driving force during the pandemic.

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VAL Volunteering

Even during lockdown, people across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland continued to volunteer their time to support local communities. Many charities rely on volunteers to continue delivering their services.


Non-COVID enquiries


organisations receiving support


vaccination volunteers recruited


new volunteering opportunities

Recruiting volunteers through the VAL Volunteering website

During the pandemic, VAL worked to update and refresh its VAL Volunteering website to improve the experience for volunteers and organisations recruiting volunteers.

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Working differently to offer volunteering advice

COVID-19 restrictions meant that we were unable to provide our face-to-face volunteering advice service, so we created more digital alternatives to continue offering volunteering support.

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Leicester and Leicestershire Virtual Volunteering Fair

VAL held a virtual event for volunteer involving organisations to promote their volunteering opportunities and for people interested in volunteering to virtually meet organisations to find out how they could get involved as volunteers in Leicester and Leicestershire.

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Investing in Volunteers Accreditation

In early 2020 VAL was assessed for the renewal of our Investing in Volunteers Accreditation. We received a glowing report from the assessor, with a particular focus on our work on developing the Volunteer’s Voice in the organisation, through volunteer meetings and training sessions to support the development of VAL’s volunteer opportunities and wider offer.

YES Project

The Youth Employability Support (YES) Project supports local young people to overcome challenges and barriers that have prevented them from finding a job or seeking further education. The project is funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.


participants supported


participants exited the project


exited into employment


found education/training opportunities


improved their confidence and motivation


met new people and felt less isolated

Supporting young people through a difficult year

In the three months leading up to the end of the 20/21 financial year, the YES Project received the highest number of referrals to date, beating any other record since the project’s inception in 2016. This suggests that the changes the project made to ensure support was there for young people was successful, as many referring organisations turned to YES for help.

To deal with the increase in referrals, the YES Project pioneered new initiatives to keep young people engaged. From the newly launched ‘Waiting Room’; an area on the website which is filled with free resources specifically for the young people that are waiting to be signed up, to a specialist IT suite that can be accessed by young people active on the project. Looking ahead, the YES Project is working on new ideas that will continue to engage with young people pre and post sign-up, and look forward to supporting as many participants as possible.

Case studies

  • Before joining the YES Project, Simran had just finished college but felt she wanted to invest more time into developing her confidence and employability skills. With the support of her mum, she came across the YES Project and went on to start at university.

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  • Before joining the YES Project, Shaikh was looking for work but not having much success. The added pressure from COVID-19 was making his search more difficult, and he started to feel at a loss with what to do next.

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  • Before joining the YES Project, Houda was feeling the impact of COVID-19 and the national lockdown. She was struggling to keep motivated as she was unable to leave her house, leaving her feeling frustrated and bored.

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Supporting young people from BAME backgrounds

At the start of the pandemic, the YES Project worked to identify the young people that had been affected the most by these additional barriers, so they could better understand what further support was needed. Realising that young people from BAME backgrounds were the hardest hit demographic, they devised support plans to help.

Watch the video

#ReRoutingFutures – The New Normal

It wasn’t just young people from BAME backgrounds that faced difficulties. Many of the project’s participants had fears and concerns to some extent, so the project completely altered the way they delivered their service to ensure young people could still access support. To showcase this new model of delivery, the YES Project held their first webinar, #ReRoutingFutures – The New Normal.

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GREAT Project

The GREAT (Getting Ready for Employment and Training) Project helps families in Leicester and Leicestershire to find work and training. The project is funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.


participants supported


participants were disadvantaged


moved into employment or training


left the project with an increase in their confidence


left with employability skills


saw an improvement in their relationships

Supporting participants virtually to reduce isolation

When the national lockdown was imposed, the GREAT Project transformed its activities to be delivered online or via telephone, allowing us to continue to deliver ongoing support to participants. This ensured that participants did not become demotivated or isolated during lockdowns, and could keep connected to the project and each other. Participants have been able to access one to one and group sessions to continue to build upon their skills and confidence, whilst keeping them motivated and engaged.

The GREAT Project also introduced a new delivery partner to support participants with their health and wellbeing. Optima UK joined the GREAT Project Partnership, offering participants one-to-one support sessions and workshops on topics to help participants improve their wellbeing and effectively manage their health needs in preparation for the world of work, but also to support them in dealing with the challenges of living through a pandemic.

Some participants even formed their own support group to help each other through the pandemic.

Changing Future Lives webinar

In September the GREAT Project ran a webinar to showcase the project and promote what has been available during lockdown from the project and looking ahead, demonstrating the impact the project has made to individuals and their families.

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Case studies

  • Urvish joined the GREAT project to boost his confidence and result in employment. The unforeseen Covid 19 pandemic however, presented new challenges for him, including increased isolation.

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  • When Bev joined the GREAT project in May, she was looking to build up her trust and confidence. Through her rediscovery of skills, positive social engagement and her own experiences, Bev has since founded her own mental health group.

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  • When Tracey saw the GREAT Project’s leaflets in the Job centre, she decided to get in contact. Tracey’s hope was that the project could help present her work experience to employers, secure interviews and ultimately find paid work.

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Work. Live. Leicestershire

VAL is a delivery partner for the Work.Live.Leicestershire (WiLL) Project (managed by VISTA), which helps individuals in rural areas of Leicestershire to find work, training or volunteering opportunities. VAL supports participants to gain experience through volunteering, improving accessibility to services and developing opportunities in response to the needs of rural residents across the county.


participants supported


exits to work, training or job search


went on to volunteer

Using volunteering to improve opportunities for local people

In addition to participant work the WiLL team supports VCSE organisations to develop volunteer opportunities, manage volunteers and ensure policies and procedures are in line with regulatory requirements. We supported the mobilisation of volunteers across the county, offering ongoing support to participants who wanted to be part of the community response.

We also had interest from young people and set up a pilot Youth Panel made up of a range of young people to discuss youth volunteering issues, including organisations to volunteer with, the range of opportunities available and what young people are looking for from the wider volunteering experience.

Case studies

  • Carl joined the WiLL project to help him gain confidence, learn new skills, improve his general mental health and eventually get into paid employment.

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  • Matt's signed up to the WiLL project to give him the confidence and direction to help him overcome his anxiety.

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  • Kevin had worked as a coal miner and ran his own gardening business. He was able to support himself and his family, however, two years ago his luck changed.

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Raising money for VAL and the WiLL Project

Luke completed the #CalenderClub Challenge to raise money for VAL and the Work.Live.Leicestershire (WiLL) project who supported his father Kevin through a tough time.

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The VALUES Project supports people with learning disabilities in Leicestershire to have fun, make friends and learn new skills. VALUES offers group activities ranging from life skills like maths and English to fun activities like cycling, dance and theatre.


people with a learning disability supported


days of service provided every week


weeks of support throughout the year

Engaging with clients virtually

With face-to-face activities suspended, VALUES support workers did an amazing job adapting to delivering virtual support, whilst also working to create a COVID-safe environment for limited face-to-face support.

Engaging with clients virtually also enabled VALUES to run sessions they may not have been able to run in person, like research commissioned by Leicester City Council about day services and introductions to local services like Healthwatch, the Police and Crime Commissioner and even Parliament.

We were also able to continue delivering support from Leicester Tigers funded by Mencap’s Round the World Challenge – the first time they had delivered a virtual service!

Keeping our support going during 2020

VALUES Drama Group

Cookery in lockdown

Cycling group getting outdoors

Christmas at VALUES

Gaming over video chat

Music group


Using technology to keep David connected

Isolation is a key issue for many people with learning disabilities during the pandemic. Funding from Mencap enabled us to provide a lifeline to VALUES clients like David, giving him the technology to take part in virtual sessions from home.

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Helping Zoe beat lockdown isolation

For some VALUES clients, like Zoe, taking part in virtual activities just wasn’t possible. VALUES put one-to-one support in place for Zoe to help her get out of the house and look after her mental health.

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Closing thoughts from Kevan Liles - Chief Executive

With thanks to our funders