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Meet the speakers! Suffolk Volunteering Conference on 25 May 2017

Organised by Community Action Suffolk, the Suffolk Volunteering Conference 2017 will bring together all those involved with volunteering in Suffolk’s Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector, both paid staff and volunteers.

The Suffolk Volunteering Conference 2017 is on Thursday 25 May 2017 at Great Barton Village Hall from 9:30am to 3pm, costing £35 (lunch and refreshments provided).

Conference agenda

Throughout the day there will be a number of speakers and workshops, we’ll also hear stories from volunteers and the difference they are making. Following feedback from last year’s conference, we will also allow plenty of time for networking with other attendees.

9:30am Registration and Coffee
10:00 Welcome Pete Richardson, CAS Chief Executive
10:15 Speaker: Emotional Intelligence Richard Wills, Breckland Training Services
10:45 Speaker: Recovery & Change Jamie Blyth, Focus 12
11:15 Break
11:45 Workshop 1 The Vulnerable Volunteer
Belinda Johnston, Our Special Friends
Workshop 2 How to Love Social Media
Nicki Dixon, St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Workshop 3 TBC
12:30pm Lunch
1:30 Workshop 4 Inspire, Achieve, Reward: Youth Volunteering
Jackie Markell, Mid Suffolk Hops
Workshop 5 Social Action in practice – WASSUP
Stephen Skeet, Volunteering Matters
Workshop 6 How to Love Social Media
Nicki Dixon, St Edmundsbury Cathedral
2:15 Networking Event
3pm Close




Richard Wills
Managing Director, Breckland Training Services

Richard Wills is the MD of BTS, a training company delivered by Breckland Council (Norfolk). BTS specialises in delivering management and leadership training, personal development workshops and team building events that are totally relevant to all sectors.

Richard spent the first half of his career working in customer facing roles within the hospitality industry before joining the public sector in 2003. Since then he has worked across different Government departments before joining Local Government where he remains today. Working alongside Breckland Councillors in 2013 he identified an opportunity to create BTS.

“I felt that the L&D industry was fast losing its way. I had witnessed countless examples of trainers performing like robots and feeding tired ideas into their audiences. We therefore wanted to create something that was fresh and motivating.” The market responded very quickly to the BTS message and the company has grown to having over 100 customers.

Richard’s presentation will be all about a secret drug that some of the world’s most successful people are seriously addicted to; Emotional Intelligence! He’ll explain what it is, why everyone’s talking about it and why it’s benefits are so seriously addictive.

Jamie Blyth
Fundraising Officer, Focus12

Jamie Blyth is Fundraising Officer for Focus12 in Bury St. Edmunds. He grew up in East Anglia before pursuing challenges overseas. He has enjoyed Finance in Hong Kong, documentary making in Sierra Leone, delivering yachts across the Atlantic and numerous other adventures. Having battled dependency most of his adult life, he now embraces ‘Recovery’, and devotes his life to helping others who struggle with addiction and alcoholism. Working at Focus12 provides the perfect vehicle for this.

Focus12 is an independent charity situated in Bury St Edmunds. It is a residential treatment centre offering 12 weeks primary treatment of alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, substance abuse and other related illnesses. Over 1000 adults have been treated since 1997 and results comfortably place it in the top quartile nationally for performance in abstinence based residential treatment. Focus offers a safe, supportive environment to explore and practice recovery with the goal of living an abstinent lifestyle.

Jamie raises money for the operation, and also aims to raise awareness and lift the stigma of addiction, hoping to one day see the disease addressed properly in the education system at schools. Volunteering is an enormous feature of his everyday life- he is always searching for volunteers to facilitate his work and the various projects which he undertakes that would falter were in not for their help.

Jamie will be talking about his life changing experiences – you may be surprised he is standing at the event.

Belinda Johnston
Chief Executive, Our Special Friends

Belinda Johnston is the founder and Chief Executive of the West Suffolk based Human-Animal Interaction/One Welfare charity, ‘Our Special Friends’ (OSF).

Her work is focused on promoting the role that companion animals can play in distressing situations and on enhancing the link between pets and people. OSF provides practical/emotional support and this novel holistic approach, working with both human- and animal-focused organisations and networks, is helping to address human and pet welfare needs in the community; enhancing wellbeing and reducing social isolation.

After qualifying as a vet, Belinda was a founder partner of a London clinic before marriage took her to Suffolk. Studying person-centred counselling skills and her volunteering for Cruse (human bereavement) and the Samaritans developed her passionate interest in bereavement training and the need for multidisciplinary community support.

The workshop is about ‘Vulnerable Volunteers’ and the need to support them in their roles. Often the vulnerability is invisible and good communication, a sensitive approach and well thought out protocols are vital. Topics touched on:

  • Understanding why people are at risk
  • Bereavement and the grieving process that follows
  • Counselling skills which are vital for supporting people
  • Emotional wellbeing and self-care

Nicki Dixon
Head of PR and Visitors, St Edmundsbury Cathedral

I’m a journalist by trade, having spent 20 plus years on local newspapers and magazines and time as a freelance before becoming press officer at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds and am currently Head of PR and Visitors at St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

It’s very much an outward looking role and I enjoy meeting people who come to the cathedral. I deal with media enquiries and I promote the various stories coming out of the organisation to the wider public.

I have worked through the evolution of social media as a communications tool and realise its value in many ways. It’s a great way to be a real part of your immediate, local community. It’s the chance to be part of something global as well as parochial – from celebrating International days, to telling you followers you have a power cut.

I believe everyone can benefit from using social media by interacting, that’s the key!

Sansha Allen-Jones
Employment Support Worker, St Giles Trust

Sansha has a background in the support and education of people with a range of disadvantages including learning difficulties/disabilities, mental heath issues and young people at risk of offending, in both support and management roles. She is currently working at St Giles Trust, supporting ex offenders back into work and increasing public awareness of the benefits of employing responsible members of the community who have at some point fallen foul of the law.

Jackie Markell
Co-ordinator, Mid Suffolk HOPS

I live in Stowmarket with my family. Since 2009, I have been the co-ordinator for Mid-Suffolk HOPS, a small local charity that provides daytime activities for children and young people between the ages of 4 and 17 with severe disabilities. Having seen how HOPS helped my own autistic son, I felt duty-bound to step in when the charity looked set to close and have since been applying previous retail management skills towards expanding and improving its services and facilities.

The Holiday Opportunity Play Scheme has been supporting families for the past 35 years. Regulated by Ofsted and the Charity Commission, HOPS has grown and evolved to meet the needs of more families requiring assistance over weekends and during the school holidays.

What makes HOPS unique is the active engagement of teenage volunteers. Dispelling the myth of the hoodie and the drooping waistband, over 60 young people get involved each year and their support and enthusiasm has contributed to HOPS winning a number of prestigious Suffolk awards.

Stephen Skeet
Head of East of England, Volunteering Matters

I started my career teaching young people English in Greece. My first role in the UK was for Essex County Council working intensively with families in difficulty in the Tendring district. From here I moved into Suffolk working with Young Offenders. In 2008 I was seconded to Funding and Development Manager for Children’s Services and for two years worked with young people in Suffolk to bring The Mix a £6m youth centre to reality. In 2010 I went back to working with young offenders, working in HMP Warren Hill with young people in custody including those on the longest tariffs for young people in the country. In 2012 I made the leap to the third sector managing a wide variety of services including supported housing, street drinker projects and appropriate adult services. I am currently Vice-Chair of the aforementioned ‘The Mix’ in Stowmarket and member of Ala Tour Café CIC in Ipswich. I deeply believe in social action in all its forms as a means to improving society for all.

How to book

  • Places can now be booked online, please follow this link
  • Cost is £35 per delegate, payment to be made at time of booking
  • Lunch and refreshments are included
  • Places are limited


For any enquiries regarding this event, please contact:
[email protected]

All information correct at time of publication.