Our volunteering


There’s an urban (or should that be rural?) myth that there are more than 130 community groups on Islay – about one committee for every 26 people! Being part of the community is being part of island life and we at Bruichladdich are no exception. Hannah Thaxter gets the facts.

As a B Corp company and socially responsible employer, Bruichladdich needs to govern and manage the impact we have on the community. Mandating time for volunteering is certainly on the agenda – in the year before the pandemic 484 hours were devoted to voluntary work – but that’s just the start.

In normal times, The Laddie Crew all take one paid day away from the distillery to help out in the community. Photos shown here of our team are from such a day in 2018. As the largest local private employer, we’ve got the manpower that can make a difference if there’s something that needs blitzing. A day can mean giving Bruichladdich Hall a paint job; creating a wildlife corridor for bees, or sorting out the Port Charlotte Primary School garden. On top of the fundraising activities run at Bruichladdich for local charities, this pro bono time can be measured as investment in kind.

Joanne Middleton getting stuck in, 2018

Individual volunteering

Throughout the year, members of our team give their own time to crew the lifeboats, coastguard stations and fire stations. They are also supported to answer a shout during work hours whenever possible. Many more donate time to clubs, sports teams, committees, neighbours, or are busy with a multitude of good works and good deeds.

Head of HR Emma Crawford says: “We always want to support people in giving back to the community – especially through the emergency services.”  Emma herself serves on three committees. Also, informal arrangements are very common. “It comes completely naturally to even the youngest member of the team, to immediately try to look after the people around them and give something back to the community,” says Emma.

Gordon, our Assistant Manager, says it’s instinctive, “It’s bred into you! I don’t think of it as volunteering. You just help people who are needing help. It’s just the Islay way.”

We surveyed all Bruichladdich staff to find out first-hand what exactly the support of their neighbours, friends and local community looks like.

From uniformed organisations to football clubs; chairing committees to fundraising; staffing the Agricultural Show or festival events; the RNLI to volunteering at the RSPB reserves on the island, half of the 44 who gave detailed responses, said they were engaged formally. Many more had informal arrangements helping out friends and neighbours with shopping, odd jobs, lambing, painting, gardening and so on.

Joanne Middleton, Head of Warehouse Operations, has many volunteering strings to her bow. “It’s good fun!” she says. “I like doing stuff, and I have always done volunteering.” She is a fundraiser for the RNLI, a show steward for Islay and Jura Agricultural Association, helps out at Festival (Fèis Ìle) and at Jura Music Festival, supported a bereaved family, and “anything else where a spare pair of hands is required.”

She’d like to see Bruichladdich do something specific to support the older generation on this part of the island (The Rhinns). She says helping and supporting the community is part of island life, but she’d get involved no matter where she lived.

“Most people do something for someone else, as that’s just what you do – they don’t see it as volunteering, just lending someone a hand.”

Iain MacLean, who works in the warehouse, joined the coastguard in 2016 after being invited by Production Director Allan Logan. He and fellow warehouseman and coastguard Stewart Young, were delivering spirit from the warehouse to the bottling hall in the Bruichladdich tanker, when we caught up.

“I enjoy being out and about,” said Iain, “You get to do your bit for the community and be part of a team.”

Stewart says when the shout comes they just downtools – there’s a quick check to ensure everything is safe and switched off and then they’re out. “If there’s a shout, at the warehouse, that’s half of us away!’ remarks Iain. It’s hard to quantify how many hours a month they give over to the Coastguard – it varies so much – but training can take up to 12 hours a month and a callout could take from one to 20 hours.

“The summer months are busier,” Stewart said, and it’s mainly visitors to the island, unfamiliar with the terrain, who get lost.

Blitzing the village hall, 2018

Comparing Islay to other places

50% of those who answered the survey said they volunteered, with 15.9% saying they volunteered during lockdown but not now. Nine of our 77 strong team on Islay are involved with the volantary emergency services including the voluntary fire service, coastguard and lifeboat crews.

It puts us somewhat above the national average. A Scottish household survey carried out in 2019 showed about a quarter (26%) of people volunteered in the preceding 12 months. Volunteering was slightly more common among women than men, the most common causes were young people and local neighbourhood.

This charitable work is something Gill Chasemore, who has worked in and around the third sector on Islay since she first came here 20 years ago, understands well. On Islay, attempts to list and connect all the voluntary groups into one directory haven’t yet succeeded.

Islay does not have all the services and the support systems of the mainland, so it has to create its own support networks.  “I suppose that’s what makes us so resilient,” Gill reflects. It comes back to the community feeling connected to each other, and to a place they love.

This theory is borne out by that same Scottish Government survey, which showed volunteering is more common among those living in rural areas – 33% – compared with 24% in large urban areas).

Gill doesn’t think Islay folk are particularly more altruistic than their other island neighbours in the Hebrides, however, or even on the mainland.  “It tends to be the same people over and over again,” she laughs.

What is needed is good organisation, she says. “You have to have a band of volunteers. It is a craft, managing volunteers.”

One of the problems, she says, is that you cannot make the same demands of volunteers as you can with a workforce – that’s the very nature of volunteering, people choose what they want to do, how much and when they want to do it. Smaller organisations find this even harder, without a paid person to do the organising.

Matthew Linning, Strategic Performance Manager with Volunteer Scotland says 72% of Scottish charities have no paid staff at all. It made them particularly vulnerable during lockdown when older volunteers were shielding, face-to-face contact could not happen and the coffers emptied fast without any way of fundraising.

Bottling Hall’s Clare on decorating detail, 2018.

What has been the effect of Covid 19?

During the first lockdown, volunteering and charity work declined nationally – mainly due to social distancing, lockdown and shielding. OSCR (the Scottish Charity Regulator) did an impact survey of 21,000 charities which showed volunteer numbers dropped for 41% of charities, whilst just 7% showed an increase.

But whilst formal volunteering nosedived, more people offered to help out locally – such as the 50,000 who signed up to the Scotland Cares Campaign, which aimed to support communities and the NHS in the pandemic.

In an Ipsos-Mori poll commissioned by Volunteer Scotand, a whopping 3/4 quarters of adults nationally (74%) said they had been involved in volunteering between March and June 2020, with informal volunteering being by far the most popular form of support during Covid-19.  35% helped family, friends or the wider community – that’s far higher than the pre-covid numbers of 26% of the population.

Meanwhile, on Islay…

When lockdown happened here, Islay rallied to the call for help and a volunteer army was mobilised in a few hours.  “People said we’d need police checks, data sheets etc. But we didn’t have time for that.” The Resilience group got round off-putting paperwork by devising a system where the volunteers did not have direct contact with those they were shopping for, and they were not handling money. The result was it was up-and-running in a matter of hours.

Within three weeks, the work of the Islay Resilience Group was recognised by the Scottish Government and became the blueprint for similar schemes throughout the country.

Gill Chasemore says people are much more likely to volunteer when they have something specific to do – they will mobilise when there is an emergency. She was instrumental in setting up Islay Resilience Group on Islay, when lockdown happened in March 2020. The local supermarket – the Co-Op – in Bowmore, were really switched on, calling Gill to make sure the island’s most vulnerable were well supplied. Bruichladdich was one of the first places to help, she said.

Head of HR, Emma Crawford, was the contact point. Our 9-seater buses and the distillery’s electric cars were made available to volunteers and the distillery helped facilitate the production of hand sanitiser when the island’s health professionals were struggling against shortages.

“Bruichladdich have been fantastic, and Allan Logan (production manager) has been an absolute saint,” says Gill. Bruichladdich printed and distributed leaflets, made lanyards for the volunteers and even designed an app for volunteers to have on their phones which they could use to identify themselves.  Everyone on the island got a bottle of hand sanitiser, volunteers were organised into districts and tasks were divided up – doing shopping for isolating people at the Co-op which would later be delivered to their door – picking up medication, delivering lunches, but above all, just being a friendly face.

Gill says for some people it might be the only person they saw for days on end, and it mattered that someone knew they were there – that someone knew they existed.

Gill Chasemore, Founder of Islay Resilience Group.

When Covid struck, Fiona Glover, who works in our hospitality team at Bruichladdich’s Academy House, answered a plea from Suzanne Clyne, whose husband Douglas is head engineer at the distillery, to sew scrubs for the hospital.

Her mum Carmen had always sewn, and so the pair of them set about making up tunics with beautiful floral fabrics donated by Islay Quilters, one of whom is Suzanne.

“It was very much make do and mend,” she says “It was a really nice experience as mother and daughter to spend this time together.”

She says in lockdown, the older generation came to the fore – they were the focus of people’s concern, which was a good thing, and very much a return to old Islay ways of checking on your neighbours and the older generation. “It took you back to a simpler life,” Fiona says.

Looking ahead

“One of the impacts of Covid is that more value is placed on volunteers,” said Matthew Leeming from Volunteer Scotland.

The data shows that many Scots expect to continue their activities after the pandemic comes to an end. Total volunteering is expected to increase from 48% to 59%, with formal volunteering up from 26% to 37% and informal volunteering expected to increase from 36% to 47%.

Research from OSCR in May and November 2020 showed some other positives from Covid-19 – 15% of charities said they had a stronger connection with the local community, 16% said they had increased recognition of their work in the community and 13% said they had stronger working relationships with other local charities, voluntary organisations and communities – this certainly happened with Islay Resilience and Bruichladdich.

Gill has clear ideas of how companies like Bruichladdich could develop their volunteering programmes to benefit the community even more – it’s not just about giving employees paid time off in which to do it, but actively getting involved practical tasks such as for big events, or in some sort of regular offer.

And it needs young people to volunteer – as Gill says “You can’t ask an 85-year-old lunch club member to be the treasurer!”

A card from Port Charlotte Primary

Why do it?

“The first thing I’ve always said is I get out a lot more than I put in,” says Gill. Even the smallest deed that you do might not seem a lot, but can be huge in a person’s life, and that can be a real feelgood factor. It’s good for your mental health because it makes you feel valued.”

Wellbeing, health, community; a holistic approach and institutional structures which support and value these things seem to benefit everyone. It’s the B Corp way, which Bruichladdich have very much bought into, trying to use business as a force for good.

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