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My Volunteering Experience during Covid

Tahmed shares his experience of volunteering at Birmingham Children’s Hospital during Covid-19. The hospital is part of a network of 30 NHS Trusts and their respective charities who have been welcoming young volunteers since early 2018. 


Who am I? My name is Tahmed and I’m an 18 year old student from Birmingham. I’m currently in my 2nd year of college, studying a BTEC in Emergency Services and I hope to join one of the emergency services sometime in the future. In my free time I like to volunteer at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.


So where do I start, here’s a bit of a background on my volunteering journey: I’ve volunteered at the trust for just over 18 months; I was initially interested in volunteering as I wanted to take my passion of helping people to the next level and I thought what better place to start helping people than within an NHS children’s hospital.


YPAG: I joined the trust as a volunteer in February of 2019 with my first role being a member of YPAG (Young Persons’ Advisory Group). YPAG is the service user/youth group at Birmingham Children’s Hospital where the group do a multitude of things such as: being panellists on interview panels, expressing the opinions of young people and teaching medical staff how to effectively engage with young people, to name a few things!


YAV programme: A few months later (August 2019) I decided to take on a second voluntary role within the hospital, this time as a volunteer on the YAV (Young Adult Volunteer) programme. As a YAV I would regularly engage with patients and families on wards across 3 different placements over 6 months. I completed the YAV programme in February of 2020 whilst also being involved in a variety of YPAG projects throughout that period as well. It was just a few weeks after I had completed the YAV programme, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.


The effects of Covid-19 on my volunteering experience: When the Covid-19 lockdown started, all volunteering opportunities in the Trust were put on hold. However, a few months into the lockdown, a handful of new volunteering opportunities began to slowly open up. These roles were completely different to the volunteering opportunities available pre-Covid-19.


I took up one of the roles which was a Meet and Greet Screening Volunteer, where I supported a member of staff at the front of house at Birmingham Children’s hospital. My responsibilities were to:


  • Screen visitors and patients before they came into the hospital to ensure they had no symptoms of Covid-19.
  • Provide visitors with a face mask if they didn’t have one of their own.
  • Direct visitors to their desired destination for appointments, consultations etc.
  • Help visitors with any general enquiries.
  • Be that friendly first point of contact for patients and visitors.

How I’ve found the role: The screening role has been varied. It’s been; fun, challenging, busy, funny, and hectic at times but above all an amazing opportunity! It’s also been a great learning experience and I’ve found that my general knowledge of the hospital and its services has improved immensely. I’ve also met loads of different staff members/medical students from different departments and faculties and have built a really good relationship with many of them.  The highlight of my role has to be the positive interactions that I’ve had with patients, families and staff.


Challenges I have faced: One of the regular challenges that I’ve faced is that I’ve had to inform parents/guardians about the “one adult with one patient” rule and, understandably, they’ve had their frustrations about it. These situations made me realise that on many occasions you can help people understand something from your perspective by simply being empathetic towards their situations and articulating your points in a calm and respectful manner. Most of the time people ended up respecting the rules and went about the situation in the right way because of it.


Skills that I have improved on:

  • Self-Discipline: I’ve had to have self-discipline to wake up really early in the morning for more than half of my screening shifts.
  • Empathy:  Empathy has been vital in communicating and engaging with people.
  • Adaptability: Things in the hospital continue to change on a regular basis, because of this, I’ve learnt how to adapt effectively in different situations.
  • Communication and Confidence:  My communication and confidence skills have improved a lot, I have done over 100 hours of volunteering in the Covid-19 period to date and have spoken to hundreds of people.


You can find resources for setting up youth volunteering in your hospital here

Volunteering and early childhood outcomes: an evidence review

Hats off to the Lottery and the team they helped bring together.


As IVAR’s Head of Research I get to put together a lot of our research teams. I love doing it and then watching what they come up with and how they gel both professionally and personally. The team that runs together in the early morning before delivering a fabulous workshop in the hills of Cumbria or the one that discovers a shared passion for forum theatre.


The ‘A Better Start’ volunteering research team is particularly special – a unique partnership between IVAR and Parents 1st. Seven fabulous women – a doctor who decided to swim upstream and see if she couldn’t do something to prevent some health issues happening at all; a former lawyer who redirected a forensic eye for the detail to researching and enabling parenting peer support … I could go on.


Together we have spent the last 18 months or so responding to 13 questions about why and how volunteers can support parents during pregnancy and the early years of raising a child and in doing so contribute to improved child development.


Where did the 13 questions come from? They were set by the Big Lottery as a direct response to five ‘A Better Start’ parenting programmes that they fund. The programmes said that they urgently needed an evidence base to help them set up volunteering schemes to achieve outcomes for children. And rather amazingly and with an elegant simplicity, the Big Lottery Fund commissioned an evidence review that would do exactly what it said on the tin: look in the literature for answers to all 13 questions and then take those answers back to the five ‘A Better Start’ programmes.


So how did we go about it? And what made it special? Celia Suppiah, CEO of Parents 1st who led the team used her experience and authority to make sure that we always focused on outcomes for children; and that we looked for counter narratives as well as the ones that endorsed volunteer support.


When we uncovered gaping holes in the published literature, the credibility of the team meant that our call for practitioners to send us their unpublished reports and documents got a terrific response – the call went to 120 organisations and 34 separate documents worth reviewing were sent in.


We returned an evidence review to the Big Lottery Fund that argued that, for this kind of work, a large-scale quantitative study is not superior to small-scale qualitative research. They are different, they help us understand the world in different ways and therefore need to sit alongside one another. We asserted that a ‘hierarchy of evidence’ would be unhelpful. The Big Lottery Fund listened and agreed.


The team is still together. And we want to hear from you. Get involved:


Read – If you read Volunteering and early childhood outcomes: an evidence review, you will find a set of principles for developing volunteer support; typical features of such interventions; and, whether you are a volunteer, practitioner or commissioner, a set of messages tailored to your role.


Join us – We are meeting with commissioners to help them work out how to support volunteering alongside statutory services. We know it’s not always easy so we want to use our experience of cross sector partnership working and commissioning to help.


Engage us – We know that the evidence review on paper sometimes isn’t enough. We can support you to plan and implement a volunteering programme that builds on the evidence.