“But there is way more to being an IMechE volunteer than that.” Helen has been a member and volunteer since joining as a student back in 1992. “The IMechE has 20 different ways to get involved, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she says.
The volunteer network spans the globe, and nearly 4,000 active volunteers are based in the UK, spread across 16 regions. “There’s a real sense of pride and passion among the volunteer community,” enthuses Helen. “I’ve always considered the IMechE to be my home, but the volunteers are definitely my family. It still amazes me how such a diverse group of people from across the engineering community can come together with a single purpose – to improve the world through engineering.”
Voice of the members
“We have a formal structure to the volunteering process, which helps us to engage with and disseminate information out to our members,” Helen explains. “I chair the Regional Strategy Board (RSB) which is made up of the chairs of 16 regional committees and represents the views of members across the UK. Our sister boards are the International Strategy Board, who represent members outside the UK, the Technical Strategy Board, which focuses on industrial sector interests, and the Young Members Board that reflects the views of young members.”
Martin Nash, chair of Thameswey region, explains: “The aim of RSB is to develop, review and coordinate the strategies and activities of the various regions, areas and young member panels; providing guidance and scrutiny of the Institution’s vision and strategic objectives, via Council and in some cases directly to the Trustee Board.”
From Aberdeen to the Channel Islands, Lincoln to Merseyside, and Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, 90 panels of active volunteers deliver nearly 1,000 events, services and community engagement projects a year to members and wider society.
“Each region and its constituent areas have their own unique offerings and community spirit influenced by industry, academia, geography and local heritage,” says Martin. “Together, the regional network strengthens links with the membership and increases member engagement, developing awareness of engineering and raising the profile of the IMechE.”
The volunteers take their responsibilities and purpose very seriously as well as getting a lot of enjoyment out of their involvement. Christine Brockley-Blatt, chair of the South Eastern region, outlines the five key objectives of the RSB and the regional committees in creating successful regional activities. “We put a great deal of thought into our events and engagement with members and the public,” she says. “We consider if we:
“Are inspiring the next generation to take up a career in engineering and specifically to become professional engineers
“Are engaging with existing members to encourage them to take part in regionally organised events and activities
“Will raise the profile of the profession, and particularly the IMechE, with non-members in the regions
“Can increase cooperation and joint activities with local branches of the other professional engineering institutions
“Are developing a sound succession process for regional committees and panels through our engagement.
“If we can achieve all these goals, then we feel confident our activities will be successful.” Christine believes that enablement is important to ensuring that members have a voice within the Institution. “I think it’s important for members to feel their views and needs are being listened to by the Institution. Our regional boards and area panels play a vital role in shaping the future of the Institution on their behalf, and I am proud to represent the South Eastern members on the RSB.”
Charity begins at home
“There is of course a serious side to volunteering, particularly at regional committee level,” says Helen as she reflects on the last few years of difficulties the Institution has faced. “The volunteers have played a critical role at regional, Council and Trustee Board level in helping to identify and address our governance difficulties.”
She believes it is the members and particularly the active volunteers who are helping to tackle the debate between the Institution’s charitable aims and its position as a membership organisation. “There still remains a concern among some members that the charitable aims of the Institution remain incongruous to our membership status, but I believe ‘charity begins at home’.
“In promoting the development of mechanical engineering and facilitating the exchange of information and ideas among our members, in part through the dedication of our volunteer network, we provide both them and wider society with a greater understanding and experience of engineering, and in doing so we improve the whole world through engineering.
“I am very keen to increase diversity across our volunteering network this year,” says Helen. “Over the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in the number of women and black, Asian and minority ethnic members joining the Institution, yet this has not been reflected in our volunteering community.
“If we are to ensure that engineering is seen as a worthwhile career path, then we have a duty to ensure all our members feel empowered to share their passions, culture and working experiences through volunteering.”
Support from HQ
A dedicated team based at IMechE HQ provide logistical, financial and IT support to the regional volunteers. “It’s often very hard work supporting so many members, but it’s great to feel we have contributed in a small way to their successful events,” says Maria Powell, chief governance officer. “We feel very much a part of their community.”
One area that is vitally important to communication with the regional members is the online Near You pages. “The first port of call for members wishing to find out more about member-led events and opportunities is the website,” explains Maria. “Through our Near You portal you can access information on all our UK regions.”
Alongside regional events calendars there is an extensive library of volunteers’ resource materials covering guidance on everything from establishing and running committee meetings to how to publicise an event, alongside templates and toolkits for member engagement and school outreach. “The downloadable materials have been created over many years from the best practice and experiences of our member volunteers,” says Maria. “This material is constantly evolving, thanks to their input.”
Every little helps
What is clear from the stories and enthusiasm of volunteers from across the regions is that ‘every little helps’.
There are loads of different ways and reasons to get involved, and in the next few issues of Professional Engineering we’ll be exploring some of them in more detail – including volunteering in schools, and how volunteering can benefit your CPD.
“It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, or if you can spend weeks or just a day a year getting involved,” says Alan Stewart, regional chair for Scotland, “we appreciate your involvement. We are especially grateful to those retired members who volunteer across the region; they provide valuable support, particularly to new members, with mentoring and CEng interview preparation.
“So, if you have an idea for an event with an interesting engineering theme, or think you’d like to get more strategically engaged on the boards and committees and drive the way the Institution works, then speak with one of your regional committee members. There is always plenty for you to get involved in.”
Christine echoes Alan’s views. “Over the years my volunteering has ebbed and flowed, depending on my work and family commitments,” she says. “It’s never been a chore and I’ve never felt my time was not appreciated by the Institution or by the membership.”
The UK regional committees and panels have formal AGMs at different times of the year, where elections are held for various committee positions, but members are welcome to attend any meeting throughout the year. There are always rolling vacancies on the committees and these positions can be found for each region on the Near You website.
If you would like to find out more about attending, helping with or running events, or would like to find out more about the regional committees and area panels, then contact our Governance and Engagement team.
For general information on Governance and Engagement, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For specific volunteering information, email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)20 7304 6996.
Find out more at imeche.org/get-involved.