Youth Social Action: A Hospital’s perspective

We are pleased to welcome Chris Burghes, CEO of the Royal Free Charity, as our guest blogger.

17th October 2016

Developing health and social care volunteering opportunities for young people has been a growing priroty for Step Up to Serve in 2016. Although it is estimated that 3 million people volunteer in health and social care settings, the majority of these opportunities are only available if you are over 18. Step Up to Serve want to change this. By 2020, Step Up hope to enable a broad range of health and social care organisations to embed youth social action into their practices.

In September, Pears Foundation hosted an NHS Charities Roundtable to help make steps towards achieving this aim. Bringing together 14 key NHS Charity CEOs, the Minister for Civil Society, Nesta and Step Up to Serve, this was an opportunity to share experiences, learning and best practices, and in particular hear from the hospitals that have already successfully embedded youth social action. One such hospital is the Royal Free Charity in Hampstead, and we have asked the CEO, Chris Burghes, to share his experiences of youth volunteering in hospitals and his reflections from the Roundtable.

Volunteering has always been a central component of any hospital; most of our major well known hospitals were initially formed, funded and run by volunteers. Today you would be hard placed to walk around any hospital and not see or meet volunteers. Yet, those volunteers tend to be from older generations and opportunities for those under 18 are, at best, limited.

Fourteen key NHS Charity CEOs came together last month, along with Step Up To Serve, the Minister for Civil Society and NESTA, to see how that can be changed. We all recognise that if you are going to volunteer what a great and rewarding place a hospital is to do so. Not only are there a wide range of opportunities to provide a satisfying volunteering experience, regardless of what your skills and desires are, but also most hospitals have good public transport so they are easy places for young people to get to.

When the Royal Free Charity took over volunteering at the hospitals it supports there was a rule in place that no one under 18 could volunteer even though you could work at hospital from 16! There was no reason for the barrier; so we removed it. Eighteen months later 20% of our volunteers are young people. Over this short period we’ve learnt:

– We are lucky to have so many young people who add a new range of skills to the Charity and the hospital. We’re lucky to have their energy and commitment.

– We treat them the same as all other volunteers, from the uniform they wear to the expenses we pay, and they have responded like the adults they are.

– They are not all A* students who want to become the Doctors of tomorrow. They come from every walk of life. Some want to become clinicians, some work in an office environment, some develop a trade skill

At the event last month we all shared our experiences. We all recognised that hospitals have so many opportunities for young people to get involved in and we recognised that we need to do more to initiate this. What was most powerful was hearing about the difference it made to patients to have someone young come and help them. The patient, more than the Charity, more than the Hospital, got the most out of young people volunteering at the Royal Free and that’s why we won’t stop recruiting and welcoming young people to volunteer. However, we are just one hospital and following on from the event, a number of the Chief Executives involved will to continue work together, alongside the Association of NHS Charities, Step Up To Serve and Pears Foundation, to explore how we can make the vision of NHS Charities supporting youth social action a reality.