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Pears Foundation - 03 June 2016
When I was 7, I found myself joining, almost accidentally, the Brownies in the sleepy seaside town I grew up in. That was the beginning of my youth social action journey that took me into a children’s home, a primary school, a magistrates’ court, and a mental health care provider among other places.
Nearly three decades later, I can clearly see the difference this journey made to me, both personally and professionally. Having a purpose protected me against the usual teenage angsts and helped me connect across cultures and generations. My early experiences fed my sense of possibility and drive to seek work with social purpose. But more than anything I hope that I made a difference to the people around me.
The #iwill campaign’s ambition is of course to increase participation in youth social action, but increasing the quality of opportunities is equally important. Before the campaign was launched, a cross-sector consultation developed six principles of great quality social action. Since then, I have been pleasantly surprised at how organically these principles emerge when young people speak about their social action journeys or when education leaders talk about embedding social action in their school or college culture.
Meeting Elaine Donnellon and Desiree Benson last year as they developed the young volunteers programme at the Royal Free Hospital brought these principles to life in a health and social care setting. They involved the young volunteers in shaping the programme, embedded it within hospital life and the existing volunteer initiatives, and created a learning matrix so that the young volunteers could reflect on their development journey.
Nearly a year later, I joined a celebration of the programme. I entered a room brimming with purpose, smiles, and the characteristic purple T-shirts of the Royal Free volunteers. I spoke to young people who never thought they would be volunteering in a hospital but were now hooked. From helping guide patients and visitors through the maze that is the Royal Free, to keeping patients company during mealtime, this was as much about connecting a community as it was about helping patients have a more positive experience.
One of the young volunteers told me about the jukeboxes they now have and how he tries to play music that will resonate with patients on the dementia ward – also teaching him something about great music from years gone by, I’m sure!
And were they making a difference? Danielle Wilde, the Dementia Lead at the Royal Free said: “We’ve been privileged to see some beautiful interactions happen between these young volunteers and our patients. We’ve seen patients light up at the sight of them. We’ve seen our frailest patients get up and dance with them…”
Let’s use this Volunteers’ week to celebrate the commitment of so many adults like Elaine and Desiree, who go above and beyond to support young people in their quest to help others. And let’s also thank all the young people who are brightening up someone’s day and leading the way towards a more caring and compassionate society.
"I volunteer because I am giving back to society and appreciating the help that others have given. In other words I am saying thank you” Young volunteer at Royal Free Hospital
The #iwill campaign is a movement of leaders from across society working to make youth social action a part of life for 10 to 20 year olds across the UK, co-ordinated by the charity Step Up to Serve. To join over 500 cross-sector organisations, who have made a pledge please visit www.iwill.org.uk