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How we put volunteering at the heart of our community


As our Volunteering Partnerships Manager, Sabiha Khanam, is a big part of our Volunteering team – but she recognises that not everybody knows much about the team and the opportunities they offer. Here she tells us more about her role, and how rewarding volunteering can be.

Sabiha has worked with us for just over four years, and throughout that time she’s taken on  many different responsibilities.

She says:

“It’s been very varied, from creating opportunities for people from the community to get involved, to shaping those roles, carrying out supervision, and looking after the volunteers themselves.”

This is quite different from what she originally wanted to do – in fact, she dreamt of being a forensic scientist after years of binging CSI! But after studying Community Development and Youth Work at Goldsmiths University, Sabiha says  she wanted to make a ‘bigger change’ and saw the housing sector as a great area to do so.

She’s since worked for a number of housing associations, but it was Poplar HARCA’s commitment to community that really made it stand out.

“We’re pretty unique, especially with our community offer. Knowing that, as well as the homes we provide, there’s a real community-focus is hugely important to me. When housing associations look at cuts and budgeting, usually the community offer is the first to go, but at Poplar HARCA there’s a continued investment to ensuring that we still have public services available to residents, free of charge.”

However, while it’s very rewarding, it’s not always easy – and Sabiha says one of the biggest challenges can be encouraging people to volunteer.

“The pandemic really brought to light what volunteering is all about… people gave their time to help each other.”

At one point she was able to call on about 50 volunteers a week to help residents who couldn’t get out and needed extra assistance. But as the lockdowns ended, it became harder to generate enthusiasm.

So why should people volunteer with us?

Sabiha says:

“Volunteering with Poplar HARCA allows you to see the organisation in a different way. It enables us to bring a real human touch to our services in the community, and might even help you to develop deeper empathy for our residents. And you get to have fun while doing it…!”