Marisa Baton and Annie Caffyn profile pictures.

Youth Volunteering in the NHS: Health is based in our communities and young people are part of communities

In April 2022, I interviewed Marisa – the Strategic Relationship Development and Engagement Manager in the Voluntary Partnerships Team for NHS England and NHS Improvement – about youth volunteering in the NHS. Marisa has been a key ally to the Pears #iwill NHS network from connecting Trusts to other initiatives across health and youth volunteering to playing an active role in supporting the learning and strategy in conversations with Pears Foundation and IVAR.

Marisa shared her reflections about what it takes to set up and sustain an inclusive volunteer service in NHS Trusts. 




Making inclusive volunteering the default

Trusts that are embracing the widening participation agenda are embracing it through their entire organisational culture – through their recruitment process, workforce strategy, and their community engagement. They are looking at equality and diversity as an organisational imperative and that extends to their voluntary services.

Senior leaders create the culture that encourages this inclusive approach which is why cultural transformation is key – otherwise it becomes something that’s siloed and operates in a particular service area or clinical discipline. You need managers at all levels to really take it on board. That’s where you see it work well. Success breeds confidence and with more success this approach becomes the default way of working.

Youth volunteering programmes are a gateway, helping Trusts to build confidence in their ability to deliver volunteering opportunities in a different way including extending support other groups like adults who face additional barriers. If you are flexible, the changes you make to a programme or a model, may make it easier to for others, often taking a different approach can make a process more efficient in general. Challenging your own assumptions can make you look at a problem differently, it prompts questions like “what additional expertise can the voluntary services team  draw upon, or can we engage with external partners who are looking for opportunities for young people to learn and develop new skills?”

Youth volunteering as a catalyst for volunteering transformation across NHS Trusts

In the Pears #iwill Network youth volunteering often demonstrated the art of the possible creating opportunities for young people in a system geared towards adults. Growing the youth volunteering model, enabled trusts to take steps to widen access and participation in volunteering across their organisation for the benefit of patients and staff.

Trusts on this journey are building that into their formal processes and putting in place the support that young people, and other groups of people, may need. For example, in the application process and the requirements around identity for DBS. The flexibility introduced for young people, is now being used for adults who may struggle to find formal means of identification. These minor adjustments are making volunteering more accessible in general.

Creating opportunities for young people is not just the responsibility of voluntary services managers, it has to be a whole team effort. You need willingness and flexibility to do things differently. When volunteers go onto the wards and are being managed by a colleague outside of the voluntary team, it is important that teams and departments operate from the same value base, so that young volunteers learn the importance of quality care for patients.

Integrating youth volunteering

As IVAR’s report says, there’s no one size fits approach to integrating youth volunteering services. Some Trusts run short programmes over 12-weeks or over the school summer holidays, others wouldn’t attempt that kind of structure. It’s about looking at the capacity and expertise you can draw on and deciding what works for you.

These things evolve – you might start with a short summer programme, then look at how best to bring young people into your formal volunteering structures, whether that’s doing the same roles as adult volunteers, or developing bespoke roles for young people.

Some people will assume that to work with young people you need to be youth worker or have an educational background. But that is not the case – what’s important is that you have people that are committed to this work. You can then build allies who bring in the expertise that you might lack. You may want to look for support from the other service areas within the Trust who engage with young people regularly, whether it’s patients or through youth voice engagement routes.

If you’re starting from scratch then coproduction with young people is key – talk to the voluntary and community sector, youth service and local education providers. Young people will love the opportunity to be involved. After all, if you’re developing a service to meet the needs of young people, you need to include young people’s views – how and at what point you do that is up to you.

Why senior leadership teams value widening access to volunteering

Volunteering gives people an understanding of the importance of health and care settings and helps people feel valued. This helps contribute to the overall health and care of a community.

When local communities see that as a Trust you see value in the contribution of people from different backgrounds and experiences – it shows them that you are part of that community and that you want to contribute beyond clinical healthcare.

What does it take to set up and sustain an inclusive volunteer service in NHS Trusts?

  • A commitment to equality for all.
  • A culture of learning and experimentation.
  • Being proactive in seeking allies – internally as well as in your local community.
  • A sense of pride and joy in facilitating youth volunteering.

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