Best For You’s new volunteering programme launches this month, in response to young people’s feedback that they wanted to be supported by people they could relate to.
We caught up with Tina Fletcher, Best For You Volunteering Manager, to find out more.
What sort of things will the Best For You volunteers do?
So many things! Our volunteers are here to support young people who are struggling with their mental health. How they support these young people will look different on each volunteering shift.
Some days, this might include spending time with our young patients on wards helping them to use the (expert-reviewed) digital tools and apps that their clinicians have recommended. Other days, volunteers might collect feedback from young people so we can improve the services Best For You provides.
Volunteers might also support friends and family members or talk to young people at our drop-in centre. Our volunteers are an integral part of the Best for You programme and the help and support they can give our young patients is essential.
That sounds great. Why have volunteers doing this rather than members of staff?
Our volunteers have a really valuable resource that our staff have much less of – time! Our clinical staff are incredible, and their main priority is looking after the clinical care of patients.
The volunteers have the time to get to know our patients. They can sit down and spend a few hours with them individually every time they come in. At first, this might just be chatting about the young person’s day or playing a therapeutic game together. Over time, this can help to create a strong relationship and gives our young patients someone independent they can talk to.
Our volunteers help to create a strong supportive network around our patients, which compliments the excellent clinical care they receive.
What sort of training do Best For You volunteers get?
We give our volunteers a wide range of training. They cover things from working in a hospital environment to supporting vulnerable young people, and they get scenario-based training from our children and adolescent mental health teams at the hospital.
We focus on training our volunteers to have potentially difficult or challenging conversations with our young people. Because our volunteers are trained to know how to support young people, patients feel they have someone to talk to and can open up.
Our training doesn’t stop when our volunteers start their role. We regularly offer training opportunities to build on our volunteers’ knowledge and skills. This makes sure they’re supporting our young people in the best possible way and getting the most out of their volunteering experience.
It sounds like there are a lot of potential benefits for young patients. How do you know that volunteering will make a difference?
Young people receiving mental health care have told us they want to be supported by people that look like them, sound like them and have similar backgrounds to them. They want support from people they can relate to.
Relatable volunteers give young people the chance to be supported by people they want to talk to. We’ve seen this work in other volunteering programmes at the hospital. I’ve seen young patients open up and engage with peer volunteers much more than staff members because young people find volunteers more relatable and feel more at ease talking and opening up to them.
The Best For You volunteering programme will make sure that young people are getting excellent care in both the clinical setting and the supportive setting.
What about the volunteers? Will they see benefits too?
Volunteers get a real insight into working to support young people’s mental health in hospital and community settings. They get direct experience of the day-to-day care that makes a big difference for young people.
Research has shown that in general, volunteering is good for people’s mental health and helps them to feel less isolated. Volunteering is a fulfilling way to help others and has been proven to impart as many health benefits on the volunteer as well as the people they are helping.
The top benefits of volunteering include building self-esteem, reducing stress, creating a sense of purpose, and learning new skills. It can also help people trying to get back into the workplace after a break in their career.
The Best For You programme really focuses on making sure that volunteers get everything they can out of it. We have training and employment opportunities in place to support volunteers, for example, if they’re interested in working in mental health support in the future.
What makes a good volunteer?
You need to have an open mind! The best volunteers are flexible, adaptable, and willing to get stuck in in a variety of different ways – even if that might be different to what they initially expected.
It’s a fast-paced role, so we need volunteers who are happy to support wherever necessary in the best interests of the patients and young people. We’re looking for people who really care and are passionate about wanting to make a difference and a positive change to young people’s lives.
Can you tell us a bit about the first Best For You volunteers?
We’re so excited about our first cohort! We have a variety of volunteers who all bring a wealth of skills, knowledge, and life experience.
We advertised for volunteers in the local community, at local universities and colleges, and with businesses in the area. We’ve been overwhelmed with the responses from people who want to support the project and young people’s mental health.
Our volunteers all have their own personal reasons for volunteering, but overall, they’re all passionate about wanting to help young people.
Finally, what should people do if they’re interested in volunteering for Best For You (or elsewhere with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust)?
Please get in touch! Drop me an email at Christina.firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in volunteering in the Best for You programme or if you’d like to volunteer in a different area of the hospital. I’d love to chat to you about the different roles available.