As far as seeing the great work of volunteers in our organisation, we are very lucky to have front row seats. We see their generousity – in giving their time, their skills and in sharing their own experiences, and we see the difference their contribution makes to our services. Often though, they won’t – they won’t realise just what a big help they are.
An interview for example. It’s just a few hours, to ask a few questions, and our volunteers are one of a panel of people (sometimes quite a few) who make the final decision. You could be forgiven for thinking this doesn’t make a big difference, really.
- They devise the questions, often with the help of patients, to make sure that the right values are not overlooked and we don’t accidentally appoint the right person on paper, but the wrong person in life.
- Patients feel valued and significant because they’re asked to contribute to the questions that will be posed to someone who will later care for them or others. Our services can’t always involve a patient in an interview but our volunteers step in on their behalf, representing their best interests. That matters.
- Volunteers change the dynamic in the interview room. Often candidates say the question that tested them most was the one from the volunteer. That’s firstly because the questions are carefully considered and brilliant, and secondly because it’s unexpected – staff are caught off guard by our volunteers questions and so they get an honest, unscripted answer. That’s where the person’s character, values and opinions shine through.
- Our volunteers stand up for patients interests when that can sometimes be overshadowed. In the deliberation, our volunteers will fight hard for the person who they felt showed the most genuine devotion to patient care and that they felt was most sincere in their motivations for applying. Sometimes this isn’t the person the staff panel favour and it’s important to have that balance. More often than not they agree – which is reassuring.
- Our volunteers stay connected to services, and so often interact with the successful candidate at a later stage. I’ve known them give people a nudge years down the line to remember the values they showed in their interview, and hold true to the aspirations they had when they began in the role. That’s pretty powerful.
When all this is in addition to the training and on-hand support our volunteers provide to patients to enable them to take part in interviews, you start to see just what a big difference they’re making.
And that is only one of the very many things our volunteers have done this year (and do every year). From staffing tea bars to attending patient forums. From capturing patient feedback to representing patients in meetings with commissioners. From running activities on wards to befriending patients without any family. It’s hard to overstate the amount our volunteers do, and the difference they make.
This year we reinstated the Volunteer Impact Assessment questionnaire, which was sent out to volunteers, patients and staff. The purpose of the questionnaire is to help us understand the impact our volunteers have – on services, on culture, on staff and on patients, as well as the impact volunteering has on the lives of our volunteers. The summary report is posted on the blog; what was truly brilliant was the amount of amazing feedback we had from staff (more than have ever completed it in previous years) saying that volunteers 1. did things that they can’t make time for but know are important and 2. did things that only a volunteer can do well. There’s a lot of humility amongst our volunteers but I hope they all feel very proud when they read that kind of feedback.
One of the things worth noting from the last year is the recruitment of volunteers based at the Involvement Centre at Trust HQ (Duncan Macmillan House). We’ve been delighted to see so many new faces, hear so many new perspectives and experiences, and welcome our new recruits into existing and new roles in the Trust. It has reinvigorated our team’s work. There is also a notable broadening of the cultures, races, health experiences and ages represented in our volunteering population now – which is a really positive thing. Welcome to all our new volunteers – we’re very glad to have you ‘on our team’!
It would be fair to say that the volunteers who are based at HQ (and Rosewood) are a bit higher profile, and therefore the ones who come to mind when we think of volunteering at the Trust but of course, there are many more volunteers out in our services. This year we have recruited a group of young people volunteering in our CAMH services now, helping other young people along the route to recovery. We have also developed our Conversation Partner volunteering scheme, where volunteers talk with people who have communication difficulties so that they can build up their ability and confidence. We have befrienders visiting and calling isolated patients in our locked Forensic sites, sometimes their only visitor and connection to life outside of health services. Our children’s centres have now moved under the management of Notts County Council, but with them go hundreds of brilliant volunteers who have spent the last year co-delivering parenting courses and children’s groups – offering much needed support to vulnerable families in their local area.
It’s easy to overlook these volunteers when they quietly volunteer out of the spotlight, but of course, they deserve as much recognition.
In recent weeks, we’ve all been dealing with this pandemic and as a team, we’ve found it hard to not be in our centres, with our volunteers. Most of us thrive off the daily interactions we have with our colleagues, our volunteers and staff and patients in our services. This bizarre time has reminded us just how much we enjoy being with our volunteers, and how much of our job satisfaction we derive from seeing the difference they make. But of course, they’ve not been idol. Those who’ve been able have volunteered themselves to help in the Trust’s efforts (driving PPE equipment, for example) and we’re now seeing a good handful connected into the senior meetings that are coming back online. We’re currently focussing on how we do more of this, to make sure that our volunteers, representing patients and families, have a say in all the important decisions – as they always have.
This time last year, we celebrated Volunteers Week with an event in Ollerton. It was a gorgeous sunny day, lots of people came, John (our CEO) spoke – thanking our volunteers and stating how important they were as part of our workforce and we all felt a buzz on our way homes. Sadly, we’re not able to do that this year, and it doesn’t feel right to call this a ‘celebration’ given what is happening in the world, and in the world’s of our volunteers and our patients and staff, but it is most certainly a thank you.
Thank you, for your attitudes and your commitment.
Thank you, for your generousity in trusting us with the experiences you share and in your faith that it will be used to improve care for everyone (it does).
Thank you, for your good humour and kindness – which we, as a team, are every bit as grateful for as our staff and patients.
Thank you, for your patience while we work all this new, bizarre stuff out and get you back in, doing what you love.
Thank you, for choosing (and continuing) to volunteer for our Trust. It is all the better for having you as volunteers.