Reimagining hospital volunteers – getting started with under 18s

Tips from hospital volunteer coordinators

It’s one thing to decide that you want to work with young volunteers, but where do you start and how do you keep new recruits interested? We recently hosted a webinar for the hospital volunteer coordinators supported by the Pears #iwill fund, to share how they are finding young people, training them and maintaining engagement. Below are the tips and tricks they shared.

  1. Develop flexible roles

One hospital’s young volunteering programme runs in term times and is flexible around exam schedules and studying. They offer rotating opportunities – following requests from a younger cohort of volunteers. Over the course of one academic year, young volunteers can undertake three roles:

  • ‘Boredom busters’ – working in pairs on particular wards and being involved with patients on a particular activity.
  • Mealtime support, especially in the elderly care or neuro wards.
  • Volunteering in the community with schools and colleges, raising health awareness about a particular health subject. Young people select the topic for their individual community fundraising.

Another Trust has developed an 8-12 week rotation scheme where young volunteers move between the Emergency Department, Neo Natal, Surgical Ward and Elderly Care Ward. Specific roles for volunteers on this rotation scheme include working within the emergency department supporting patients and visitors; helping with refreshments and restocking cubicles; escorting patients around the hospitals; and putting information packs together. Volunteers are supported by hospital staff in all these areas. Volunteers have given positive feedback about the variation and level of staff support they receive:

‘It is flexible and accommodates school and college commitments/A level exams’

‘Guarantees enough time within each department’

Some Trusts are starting to have conversations with local GP practices about possible volunteering opportunities and how volunteers could extend their work within the wider community. Each GP has very specific needs – so each volunteer programme will vary at different GP practices.

  1. Build relationships to help with recruitment
  • Invest time to establish and develop relationships with local schools and colleges – this will generate a regular flow of applications. Make the extra effort to contact schools/colleges near the hospital and then try to find the right person (e.g. career adviser, head of year, head teacher) who will offer you the opportunity to come and talk with their students about volunteering. It’s also worth knowing that health and social care students at colleges are required to do a minimum of 100 hours in health care placements. This can provide a regular flow of applications to volunteer.
  • Recruitment through the local university: Promote general awareness about volunteering programmes and opportunities for references and traineeships e.g. attending the fresher’s fair. Some Trusts have a pre-apprenticeship taster session, e.g. for a Nursing apprenticeship.
  • Outside of the formal education environment, use organisations within the community (e.g. Scouts, Guides and Duke of Edinburgh) as well as local youth clubs and community centres.
  • Don’t be afraid to close recruitment to ensure you maintain enough meaningful roles for your current volunteers.
  1. Create space for volunteers to debrief and ask for support
  • Have an accessible office space that volunteers feel able to approach you.
  • Try to have an experienced volunteer or staff member available at all times when a young person is volunteering in the hospital. The initial challenge is often a young person’s nervousness when they start volunteering, especially if they lack intensive pastoral support in first 2-3 weeks. After this period, they are reassured and don’t necessarily need the extra support. The first couple of weeks are key!
  • At the end of each week, run a session to talk about ‘highs and lows’ – (a highlight and a low of the week). The ‘low point’ doesn’t necessarily need to be negative. It could be something they found challenging and are trying to overcome, or something that was difficult to deal with. If you do this in a group context it may encourage the young volunteers to open up, engage with each other and to share stories – something as simple as ‘highs and lows’ can really help.
  • Celebration event to bring together all the young volunteers to say thank you.
  1. Engage ward staff with young volunteers
  • Create roles amongst ward staff to supervise a young volunteer. This provides a point of contact for the volunteers and a support network.
  • Have regular contact with staff on the wards. Run a briefing for ward staff to make sure they are all aware of who to contact about volunteering support and what a voluntary role includes or doesn’t include. Send out weekly emails from the volunteer manager with updates about the volunteer programme and provide the opportunity for any concerns or challenges to be resolved as and when they appear.
  • Work closely with the patient experience team. One volunteer coordinator uses data from this team to understand where there have been references to patient boredom, and then visits the identified wards to discuss volunteering opportunities with the ward staff. However, this process can be unpredictable – some staff are engaged with the idea, others can be nervous about young people joining the wards.
  • Promote positive examples of volunteering on hospital wards. If you have staff members on wards who are engaging with young volunteers, then other wards will see the impact this is having. Sometimes staff don’t know how to use volunteers and can question their roles and impact. If they see how well it can work, then are more likely to become involved. This is a long process and involves working with staff, especially the sisters, ward managers and matrons.
  • Be clear about how young volunteers can help. Set up an A3 laminated notice board where volunteers sign in, listing the areas and tasks that the volunteers can get involved with. This is a reference point for both the staff and volunteers.
  • Develop a recognition programme for staff members who have been engaged with young volunteers. This encourages more widespread cooperation.
  • Building these relationships takes time. A combination of strengthening existing relationships on wards and promoting volunteering on other wards is a useful approach.

This is the first of two blogs for #iwillWeek – you can read Annie’s second blog on embedding youth volunteering here.

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