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Never underestimate young potential

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHs Trust is part of a network of 30 NHS Trusts and their respective charities who have been welcoming young volunteers since early 2018. 

 

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy … when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”

 

In the world where you can be anything, be kind … It’s such a powerful sentence which we see around but do not think about more deeply. This is what I want you all to think about … be kind.

 

This year has been extremely difficult for everyone. The Covid-19 pandemic changed our world, our vision, our life and we’re still trying to get used to the new normal. We have faced an unprecedented situation which we need to deal with and quite often those working in the NHS are among the first people who need to adapt quickly and find solutions for swiftly changing demands.

 

The Voluntary Services Team at West Hertfordshire Hospital NHS Trust in Watford in a two week period, redeveloped services and created the Voluntary Response Hub, with most of the volunteers being aged 16 and over.

 

When the pandemic started, most of us adults believed that our children would be lying in bed until midday, spending their time on their phone, on social media or gaming, but not every teenager chose that route.

 

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From the 30th March, a group of 30 volunteers (many of whom were youths) stood up in the line to face the challenge of the unknown and served our community for the next couple of months with a smile, positive attitude, engagement and the belief that only together can we survive this difficult time.

 

Day by day, new cases, new admissions, more and more requests and yet we had the same number of youth volunteers. They were tirelessly running up and down the stairs, delivering patients belongings from their loved one; distributing meals, snacks and water to staff in isolation areas; serving tea for patients; helping housekeepers to serve lunches and dinners; and lots more. Throughout all of this, the most valuable thing they brought with them was “normality”, a smile, a hot tea … patients who they visited have been so thankful, for their willing attitudes and positive approach, their willingness to help, to listen to them and to spend time with them.

 

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These volunteers offered the most valuable gift – their time. Their great generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our patients and the community as a whole.  They have started to forge a new path in patient experience, adding volunteers’ influence as a positive impact for the patient.

 

And so today, using this great opportunity, on behalf of all of the staff of West Hertfordshire Hospital NHS Trust, and any other NHS Trust where youths play key roles, I want to express how proud we are of all of you. We’re very thankful for your commitment to share your time, that most precious of resource, to make life better for those who are in need, to lend a helping hand and to show kindness and caring that makes the greatest difference in the lives of the individuals. We know that you choose to volunteer selflessly and without expectation of being recognised or rewarded, but today we wish to do just that. We want to let you know just how much your dedication was appreciated by us.          

 

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Whether you are a long-time volunteer or if you got involved fairly recently, and regardless of how many hours you choose to give, it’s important for you to know that what you do makes a difference. Please never forget that “volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy … when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”

 

So when you think about 16, 17, 18 year old students, what is your first thought about them?

 

Meet our young volunteers: 

https://raisewestherts.org.uk/monica-leitao/

https://raisewestherts.org.uk/alex-chase/

https://raisewestherts.org.uk/teodore-bate/

https://raisewestherts.org.uk/rachel-kelly/

 

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

‘There’s no expectation to learn everything at once which makes it much less nerve wracking’

Poppy Osman, a volunteer at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust:

‘My name is Poppy and I’m currently volunteering in the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. At the moment I’m working in the Pathology department in my local hospital. I first decided to volunteer for the trust when the Coronavirus pandemic meant that there was a possibility that the NHS might be overwhelmed. I wanted to be able to do my bit to help in these uncertain times. I am in my first year of university studying biomedical science in Manchester. Volunteering has not only meant that I can contribute to the fight against Coronavirus, but it has also allowed me to gain experience of working in the NHS, a career path that I could potentially take in the future.

 

From volunteering in the NHS I have learnt many crucial skills which are useful in the workplace and in daily life. Working in the pathology department is often very fast paced as it is essential to get all the samples analysed on time. I have seen how communication is also key when discussing patient diagnosis. At times it can be hard and getting used to things as a new volunteer can be difficult but I have found from everyone I have worked with that if you are ever unsure, there are so many people willing to help you. There’s no expectation to learn everything at once which makes it much less nerve wracking.

 

My favourite moment about volunteering so far has been having the opportunity to work with and shadow the biomedical scientists in the laboratory. As biomedical science is the degree I am studying at university, having this opportunity to volunteer is not only a great experience but also something that I find really interesting and enjoyable. I’ve been able to have hands-on experience with organising samples to be sent off to hospitals in London, I have learnt how to start the process of analysing the urgent samples that come in from the hospital wards and also how to use the system to log the samples when they come into pathology reception.

 

From having this experience, I have improved so many skills including time management to ensure that samples that come into pathology reception are given to the lab as soon as possible. This is really important not only to ensure that there aren’t delays in the patients getting their results but also to ensure that the tests can be done on the sample before it becomes unsuitable for testing. Working in a hospital environment has also meant that I now have experience in a workplace which is different to one a university has to offer. As a young person it is often difficult to get opportunities to gain experience without having specialised training. It is so important that opportunities like this are more widely available to young people as it gives us the best start to our career as we become the scientists, doctors, nurses and teachers of tomorrow.’

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.