#iwill Week: Championing the role of young people within communities

Monday 18 November marks the beginning of another #iwill week, a week to recognise and celebrate the transformative power of youth social action. Katie Thomson, Youth Volunteering Manager at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust knows first hand how important young volunteering can be in building valuable life skills, read what she has to say.

Launching into the second annual #iwill week at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has made me reflect on my own personal experience of taking part in youth social action – in particular volunteering.

Youth social action has the double benefit of supporting communities while giving young people new skills and experiences. As a manager, I am asked to report on quantitative evidence which details the support given to our community, the hospital. For example, how many patients have the volunteers spoken to, which wards or areas and what sort of interaction/activity took place? However, I am not always asked about the benefit volunteering has for the young people themselves. This is not something that should be forgotten about. At a time of significant social and economic change, the skills a young person can gain through volunteering are endless, and priceless – confidence, logistics, time management, teamwork, and discipline just to name a few. These skills are vital to ensure that our young people are ‘work ready.’

I often hear my volunteers speak of the academic pressures they are under from schools, colleges, and family. I am acutely aware of the weighting academic success has for progression to further or higher education, but I am advocating for a shift in balance to include life skills gained from youth social action experiences. I do perhaps have a biased view having both personally experienced the benefit of acquiring such skills for my own professional progression, and now professionally as the one creating opportunities.

Within the medical field specifically, we know that after graduating from university some of our junior doctors will never have spoken to a patient out of a controlled exam environment. We should not just rely on the academic knowledge our future doctors have, but also invest in their ability to communicate with their patients. Interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are equally if not more important, but not always prioritised. Support in recognising interpersonal skills gained needs to be advocated by current education providers, and importantly recognised by future employers. I want space within the interview room for young people to celebrate and talk confidently of their non-academic achievements. For their social action activities to be taken seriously and given the recognition they deserve. Reassurance needs to be given that taking time out of a busy study timetable for an hour a week will provide skills to compliment academic achievements. I am positive that there are colleges, universities and employers out there who are indeed providing the deserved recognition, but I think we have a long way to go.

Personally I have seen how being an active part of my local community growing up allowed me to build confidence, resilience and be disciplined in time management. From collecting food donations for the annual village harvest festival, to reading at school with younger pupils I have always juggled study, volunteering and my social life. And continue to do so to this day! I have now seen my youth volunteers grow in confidence, build resilience and over six months to one year period become young adults with a holistic view of themselves and an understanding of the value they can contribute to society. I make them problem solve and allow their voice to shape the programme which reinforces a belief that they can and should contribute.

I have focused this discussion to reflect the soft outcomes of volunteering happening in the hospital right now – but young social action has no limits. For any young person reading this please invest your time in experiences, not your money on material items. For any adult, please support young people to gain these experiences – don’t be afraid.