HASSRA Y&H’s Karen Sinden, HASSRA Volunteer of the Year, tells us what she does, and why.

I joined HASSRA when I started in the department in 2004. You weren’t cool if you weren’t part of HASSRA! I originally joined more for the Lottery at the time and after only six months I won a whopping £5k.

I would join in any local office events but it wasn’t until I moved to Doncaster JCP that I joined the committee and really started to get more involved. At the time, most activities had been undertaken in the same way for what seemed like forever. However, when I attended the regional awards, I discovered that there was so much more that I could do for our members.  Doncaster wasn’t mentioned once in the nominations, so this motivated me to get ideas from other clubs and introduce them with my own.

I began to build funds in order to provide more activities for members, arranging dress-down days with a £1 donation, thus funding tickets for local events.  I totally overhauled our local offering to members and, with help from the committee, revamped the Christmas party. We changed venues, opened it up to partners, offered more prizes and games on the night, plus a bigger prize fund for the Christmas raffle. Doncaster’s activities soon gained recognition and I (jointly) won Regional Volunteer of the Year.

In 2020, we had gathered momentum but then Covid hit! I quickly realised that we mustn’t lose engagement, especially with staff who had to work from home. I introduced virtual online competitions, such as a Grand National Sweepstake – a ‘pretend’ Euro’s Sweepstake (as it was postponed), bingo, photo competitions and more dress down days where members would email photos in. I began to share Doncaster’s ideas through the department’s wellbeing network which led to other sites then doing similar things and sharing their stories.  This really helped with morale and people fed back to say they still felt included. Later in 2020, I changed job roles, temporally moving to Sheffield to on board new staff in the service centre. I made it my mission to get as many new staff signed up to HASSRA as possible. In order to do this – I visited Quarry House to raid their Y&H merchandise cupboard. Every new member got a goody bag and went into a new member cash draw. I also joined virtual tours of other new service centres, selling the benefits of joining HASSRA.  Over the year as a Y&H board member, I also suggested events we could do virtually for the region. All of this led to me being nominated again for Regional Volunteer of the Year.  On the day of the awards, which were held virtually, I received the most beautiful bunch of flowers and was told that I had won and would go forward to the National Awards which would be held in November 2021.

I went to the Annual Awards at Warwick University intent on having a good night whether or not I won.

When my name was called out as the 2020 National Volunteer of the year I was absolutely thrilled. I felt so proud of my achievements over what was a really tough year for all. All my hard work had been rewarded and I was over the moon.

I am also extremely passionate about diversity and inclusion at all levels, and I have been working with the HASSRA National Team implementing a new D&I policy and creating a more diverse programme. It’s great to see the rainbow smile on the HASSRA logo which was added in support of Pride is now there as a permanent reminder. 

HASSRA is the reason I still work in DWP. I was successful in two promotion exercises in 2020 and had to choose between the Home Office and DWP. A really nice position but HASSRA was the clincher as I feel I can still give so much more as a committee and board member, so watch this space!