‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’

A peer learning approach to supporting youth volunteering in health

The NHS Long Term plan this year made a commitment to supporting young people to volunteer in health settings – a great recognition of benefit that volunteers, and young people particularly, can bring.

Since 2018, we’ve been a learning partner to the Pears #iwill Fund, supporting a network of hospital trusts to implement or develop new approaches to youth volunteering. Some Trusts are supporting young volunteers for the first time, others are extending their existing offer into new wards or to work with specific groups of young people:

‘Our Trust looks after nine hospitals in Bristol, most of them central. When I walk around the sites now, and see how our ever increasing cohort of 16-25 year olds are supporting patients, staff, visitors and each other, it really makes me proud of all the work that’s been done since March 2018. The approach is to be as inclusive as possible so everyone from 16-80+ is welcomed as part of the same ‘kind family’ of UHBristol volunteers. On a daily basis now I see teenagers befriending babies, adults and their families, playing with young patients, providing mealtime and activity support, and welcoming people through the doors and making sure they reach their destinations. It’s a pleasure to see how volunteers of all ages, grow in confidence and skill, connect their experiences to career ambitions, and really learn to value how improving communication skills supports self-awareness and wellbeing for themselves and their personal support networks.’
Above and Beyond, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
‘We have been amazed at how driven and self-motivated this cohort of young volunteers are. Many of them are spurred on by their desire to have a career in medicine or the healthcare environment and this is proving to be an invaluable insight for them and an opportunity to gain the skills needed to excel in this area.’
The Royal Free Charity, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
‘As a nurse I have seen the potential for developing voluntary services … I am optimistic that patients, volunteers, and staff will all benefit from the new roles we are developing at Nottingham University Hospitals and look forward to supporting young people into hospital volunteering.’
Nottingham Hospitals Charity, Nottingham University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

NottinghamUniversityHospitalImage - png

Each year the network of volunteer coordinators and managers from 30 NHS Trusts meets to review progress, share experiences and set a learning agenda for the coming year.

In January 2019, we had our second annual gathering and took stock of the previous 12 months… drawing out tips and lessons, from how to recruit young volunteers (hint – you don’t have to call it volunteering) to when to start thinking about exit and sustainability (now, as it turns out). The network has now set itself three learning strands and we are supporting these small working groups to share, pool and collect learning for others in the network as well as those working in youth volunteering or health settings more generally. Our 2019 strands will look at:

  1. What it takes to widen participation – including, how to make the volunteering offer inclusive for young people with specific needs or Not in Education Employment or Training, as well as effective partnership working with local agencies and organisations.
  2. Evaluation and learning – we want to be gathering, sharing and generating learning about the outcomes and benefits for young people; explore what it takes to gather data on the experiences of patients and staff; and start to describe the ‘model’ or key features of the delivery approach – what it takes to work in this way and what would be ‘lost’ without the funding.
  3. Beginning to plan for exit and consider what it will take to sustain this work beyond the #iwill fund – the group are currently exploring how to influence decision makers and win ‘hearts and minds’

Below some of the network members share their reflections on our work together:

‘Sharing experiences and insights with other youth volunteering managers has been really priceless. Sometimes it’s been about sharing best practice and other times it’s about just knowing that there is anyways somewhere there you can talk with, someone that’s in the same situation and experiencing the same things professionally. Also having support from IVAR, Pears Foundation and Step up to Serve staff has been amazing and has helped us to guide our discussions and themes. I feel really lucky to be a part of this network.’
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board
‘Being part of the ‘Pears Peers’ network has been incredibly helpful to us, particularly in giving us the confidence to make changes as our programmes have matured. We regularly give advice to other Trusts who are interested in doing what we’re doing and, on more than one occasion, have contacted network colleagues to see how we could improve things based on their experiences. It’s so helpful to work within a network of people who are so open, and to know that all of our programmes – and the NHS – will benefit as a result.’
‘I think for me, new in post, knowing that there is support from other more experienced professionals working in the field or like IVAR working in the voluntary/ charitable sector really helps. It is good to know that there are people out there to help, provide advice or just know that they are meeting similar challenges. The job can be quite isolating in a very large organisation like a hospital trust.’
University Hospitals of Derby and Burton Foundation Trust
‘Being able to share the highs and the lows with a network of like-minded colleagues from all across the country has been a really positive experience.’
‘The requirements of some funding bids can be limiting but Pears #iwill Fund is refreshing – it allows organisations to have a flexible approach within the funding framework and acknowledges that young volunteers benefit from a dedicated support resource. We were able to customise our young volunteers projects to local needs and practice. This has been a key element of our success so far. The whole process (from bidding, setting up and peer support network) has transported me – in a most positive way – well out of my comfort/confidence zone to my ‘have a go at benefitting young people’ zone! Network colleagues have highlighted the value of focusing on quality not quantity as the foundation for embedding young people into the Trust’s mainstream volunteering. I’m reminded of the phrase in Henry V – St Crispin’s Day Speech when facing and overcoming challenging odds: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.’
Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
With thanks to the Royal Free Charity and Nottingham University Hospital for sharing images from their work. 

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