Age 10 isn’t too young to volunteer at Birmingham Women and Children’s Hospital

Birmingham Women and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust have, thanks to the Pears Foundation #iwill Fund, started a Junior Volunteer programme for 10-16 year olds, enabling them to make a positive difference to healthcare and the health of their peers, whilst growing their understanding & lessening fear about what goes on in a hospital.

The Junior Volunteering programme at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospitals – the NHS’s first structured scheme for 10-16s – engages small groups of young people in project volunteering. Launched in response to #iwill, it benefits not only the individuals, patients, families and staff– but communities, too.

Children are at the heart of what we do. With two established youth forums, adding a youth strand to our Volunteering Service was a natural step for us. Working with enthusiastic and receptive children as young as 10 has helped us think about the very long-term impacts of our work, and produced immediate benefits for patients, staff and families. With a strong focus on widening participation, the programme aims to: raise participants’ aspirations, encouraging greater diversity and local representation in the applicant pool for NHS jobs; educate communities about healthcare issues; and engender a lifetime commitment to social action.

Junior Volunteers (JVs) normally spend between half a day and two days on-site getting familiar with the range of jobs in an NHS Trust, learning about a specific area of healthcare and address a challenge in that area. We’ve already seen JVs write more accessible patient information, learn CPR, devise board games addressing mental health issues, campaign for organ donation, design posters around specific issues, and more. It doesn’t stop with the JVs – they pass on their new-found knowledge through school assemblies and similar activities, helping to raise awareness of health issues within Birmingham’s diverse communities, and even to raise funds for the Trust’s charity.

The JV programme has benefited our staff too. Showcasing what they do and building interest in young people builds positive morale among staff project leaders and supports their development. Among a few projects aimed at staff, one of our most memorable involved a group of fantastic 10-year-olds working with our Transformation Team to create a staff training video. The result is a lasting resource relevant to all 5,700 people working at the Trust.

The most important impact, though, is on the JVs and their local communities. In its first nine months, the JV programme has already engaged 26 schools/organisations and over 200 local young people. After volunteering, 171 of 173 respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they had a better understanding of what goes on in a hospital. And 120 said they agreed or strongly agreed that they’d consider working in a hospital.

Well over 50% of our JVs come from the most deprived areas in Birmingham. They can be powerful advocates, spreading public health messages and raising awareness within hard-to-reach groups. According to the Index of Multiple Deprivations, 64% of the communities impacted through our JVs disseminating information were within the 10% most deprived areas in the country.

Pioneering 10-16s hospital-based volunteering has also raised our profile, by giving us the chance to cultivate a leadership role within our city and region. We’re a founding member of Birmingham’s recently-established youth social action network, chaired by the Jubilee Centre (University of Birmingham), which aims to embed youth social action within the West Midlands region.

And as one of the Beacon sites for #iwill, we organise and host termly regional network meetings, inviting Trusts from around the Midlands – and further afield – to share the successes, challenges and learnings of our programmes.

For more information on our two youth volunteering programmes, visit www.bwc.nhs.uk/volunteer.