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Making learning visible

What we have learned this year is that our Partners – those grantees with whom we have long-term, core funding relationships  – are our greatest resource. When Covid restrictions hit and our ability to relate was limited to a computer screen, that presented an incredible challenge. While some people can learn by introspection, at Pears we need others in order to learn. So, in 2021 we will lean into our trusted relationships to explore the following questions:

  1. Relationships require resources and input from both sides. As much as Pears Foundation values relational funding, let’s not kid ourselves that it is any less resource intensive for our grantees than other kinds of funding that require written applications and reports. How do we make sure that the grantees and the field benefit sufficiently from the relationships to justify the “cost”? In what way can we hold ourselves accountable for doing this?
  2. Learning requires some level of disequilibrium; something needs to push us out of complacency and into a space where we realise that new ideas or skills are needed. Covid pushed the entire world into that space. We had no choice but to adapt. And many of our partners are finding themselves stuck there involuntarily for far longer than they first anticipated. As we come out of the crisis, there will be an overwhelming urge to “return to normal” instead of staying in the uncomfortable space of uncertainty and complexity. How can we utilise our peer and grantee relationships to overcome that urge and maintain our ability to sit with uncertainty? How can we stretch this “uncertainty muscle” to stay curious and not draw to premature resolution? How can we keep ourselves in a state of disequilibrium that allows for ongoing learning?
  3. Crises can be challenging but they can also be opportunities to shed behaviours, values and assumptions that are no longer helpful. We often experience the period of shedding as a loss but it’s only by letting go of the known that we are able to grow. How can we utilise our relationships to support one another to name our losses, mourn them, and then not rush to fill the space where they were but allow new behaviours to grow in that space?

Crises bring into focus what our true values are. Pears Foundation has always held relationships to be at our core, but Covid has helped us discover that our commitment to relationships relies on deeper unspoken values of loyalty, humility and trust. Those lie at the core of many of our funding behaviours and they are what has helped us to learn.
We are deeply grateful for our relationship with IVAR and the community of learning it has created and we look forward to continuing to grapple with these questions together with our peers and partners.

The UK Evaluation Roundtable 2020 ‘teaching case’ told two stories – of the Pears Foundation and Corra Foundation. You can read reflections from Elaine Wilson of Corra Foundation here

New roles and adaptations for young hospital volunteers

Since April, we have facilitated a series of peer support sessions for Volunteer Coordinators from NHS Trusts. Through these sessions, hospital volunteer coordinators have shared their experiences and challenges, and explored adaptations to their youth volunteering programmes. We published this briefing paper in April – since then, have continued to hear about the creative and thoughtful adaptations that volunteer teams have made to enable young people to continue volunteering. 

The following are examples of how our network of 32 NHS Trusts have been working with young volunteers during Covid-19. 

Roles based in hospitals

  • Introducing a patient belonging hub. Young volunteers have been delivering patients belongings from families and friends up to the entrances of ward.
  • Setting up a specific email address for family and friends of patients to send emails that are then printed off, laminated and distributed to the appropriate ward entrance.  
  • Offering young volunteers the role to ring patients who have recently left hospital to hear how they are experiencing being home. Part of this role involves signposting people to local community support.
  • Developing training and safeguarding procedures for young volunteers to work at the entrance of hospitals for the ‘meet and greet’ role. Young volunteers in this role are accompanied by a member of staff or security and have been providing ‘a friendly face behind the mask at the welcome desk.’
  • Supporting the bereavement team – for example, returning possessions to family members as quickly as possible without the family having to come into the hospital.
  • Establishing a volunteer hub. Many trusts have recognised the importance of having a physical space, even just a small space with a sofa, within the hospital for young volunteers. One volunteer coordinator thinks this has helped to build retention in the volunteering programme and is keen to keep this as a permanent space in the future.

Remote opportunities outside hospital settings

  • Community response to making PPE – one volunteer coordinator team has been using an art centre in a community hall near the hospital. After carefully planning the risk management for this space, they have made and supplied over 30,000 gowns to their NHS Trust. ‘It started as there was a shortage of PPE and a need and everyone wanted to help… you get brains together and make it community-led, speak with other NHS Charities and pass on to each other what’s working and what’s not. An Art director from a school allowed us to use their sewing machines and volunteers wanted to help.’ 
  • Setting up weekly activity packs to share with patients. These packs can be accessed online and create a way for young people to develop new ideas and to contribute but from outside the hospital. Packs include resources, activities and support for patients and families during Covid-19
  • A 16-year-old volunteer created a pen pal system within the hospital called ‘Ward Wire’– volunteers writing to patients within the Trust.
  • Running a telephone befriending service and finding creative ways to develop this idea – for example, some young volunteers have been sharing recipes or YouTube workout videos with each other.
  • Testing out potential new roles involving tech support – digital championing roles. One Trust is responding to the increase in zoom appointments and is developing the equivalent of a meet-and-greet role to help people access and use tech. Young volunteers have been doing trial runs with patients before their outpatient appointments online – supporting both the patient during this process, as well as boosting the efficiency of the appointment schedule.


Maintaining communication


  • Continuing Forums for young people. One Trust has moved their forums onto zoom and has maintained their monthly meetings. Each month the agenda/ theme is different and has been chosen by the young volunteers. For example, Black Lives Matter, mental health, long term health conditions, have all be topics explored during these monthly calls. 
  • Developing relationships with new volunteers online. One Trust thinks this has been an inclusive process for many young volunteers who have preferred joining the volunteer programme by text and calls rather than face-to-face meetings straight away.
  • Maintaining WhatsApp for groups of volunteers.

We’ve learnt new and smarter ways of working. Once this has settled, there will be a revaluation of what’s worked and what are new ways of working going forwards. This has been a massive learning and will impact how our young volunteers work in the future.’ 

You can find resources for setting up youth volunteering in your hospital here. They have been collated from 30 NHS Trusts and their respective charities, who have been welcoming young volunteers since early 2018 with support from the Pears #iwill Fund.