Having had personal experiences of the impact volunteers make during a six month spell in and out of hospital, I was inspired to give back to my local community. Many young people may find it difficult to find volunteering positions that are flexible around their studies and other commitments or available for their age group. However, with research and patience, voluntary work can have a lasting impact on your life and outlook.
My first real volunteering position was through an amazing charity called the Lions Club, which has groups globally and, whether in Birmingham or Brazil, there is always a Lion willing to help. On a local scale, I was thrilled to help run the Lions’ “Talking Newspaper”, which is a recording of volunteers reading key stories from local newspapers so that the visually impaired can feel more connected to their town events. Although I am the youngest volunteer in my unit by a couple of decades, the knowledge and confidence that I have gained through working alongside other passionate individuals was a brilliant experience and I have learnt immensely from their wisdom and generosity. Whether through being an elf on the Christmas markets or realising that we were giving away rare Beanie Boos on a raffle, the Lions have offered me an insight into how a collective goal can result in real change on such a dramatic level, not only assisting personal cases within a local community but also working towards improving eyesight in children globally and diabetes care.
Volunteering through an amazing tutoring organisation called MentorJr has allowed me to build a long term connection with younger pupils and watch them flourish and begin to revel in learning. Initially established by sixth form students from Godolphin and Latymer School in London, MentorJr aims to bridge the educational gap and offer free weekly tutoring sessions online with older students. The young people who volunteer their time each week are truly remarkable and their expertise and joy at helping their younger peers is palpable. My personal experience of tutoring twin seven year old boys has not only taught me very important patience skills but also how to adapt complex information for different audiences and ensure that they understand the lessons. Aside from the satisfaction of watching them begin to understand topics they previously struggled with, the bond I created with the boys is amazing and I began to look forward to seeing their huge smiles every week and hearing about how well they were doing in school. Even if it was only for one hour a week, I felt that I was part of a larger movement and taking small steps to help younger pupils achieve their educational dreams without the need for payment or travelling.
Another amazing charity that young people are encouraged to get involved with is “Kissing it Better”, an organisation aiming to reduce loneliness within the older population through weekly Zoom calls with young people from all over the world. “Kissing it Better” offers the amazing chance to learn about different generations’ experiences through adversities such as war, pandemics and things as simple as their schooling experience. Learning about the experiences of older people allows young people to become more aware of different generations’ needs and promotes sensitivity. Not only does it help older people feel connected to today’s youth and learn about things such as social media and the modern school system’s pressure of GCSEs, it also offers young people a fascinating insight into history and encourages them to use their listening skills with older people in their own lives.
Brownies, Rainbows and Girlguiding also allow anyone over the age of fourteen to get involved with helping their younger members through assisting sessions. My personal experience of volunteering with my local Brownies allowed me to take part in fun activities such as sparklers, making smores, and arts and crafts. The relationships I created with the girls made me excited to return every week and help to provide joyful memories and lots of laughs that they will remember into the future.
Volunteering as a young person requires regular commitment and passion for helping. The beauty of volunteering is that it does not require any particular skills, just willingness to help and dedication. I would encourage any young person to get involved with some of the amazing opportunities available to them, both locally and nationally as many have become more accessible due to becoming online in the pandemic.
The world of youth volunteering can be incredibly daunting. Young people searching for an initial voluntary programme can often feel as if they are constantly met with barriers of age, qualification and experience. Consequently, volunteering can feel like an impossible field to enter. I wanted to highlight my journey into youth activism and show it is never too late to start making your voice heard and to represent other young people.
Before going to university, my experience of youth representation was limited. I had participated in equality, diversity and inclusion services as part of my sixth form college, and had been a school prefect, but I had not participated in any external services. However when I arrived at university, a few factors made me want to find ways to speak up and represent the opinions and experiences of children and young people on a larger scale. Firstly, I began to understand more about the negative experiences that my parents and my non-verbal autistic brother have faced with the NHS children and young people’s service. This stemmed from a lack of understanding from clinicians on my brother’s needs, as well as inflexible treatment plans that disallowed the individual variations that are intrinsic to neurodivergent children and young people. This felt particularly frustrating as my brother is unable to articulate these injustices himself. I felt a responsibility to represent his viewpoint and to pioneer for change.
Another significant motivator to get involved in youth activism for me was my exposure to the health inequalities experienced by LGBTQIA+ individuals within healthcare systems. In medical school, I was exposed to some of the alarming healthcare outcomes for LGBTQIA+ individuals within our healthcare system. In parallel to this, I was shocked by a lack of understanding by clinicians and fellow medical students. I found that this was primarily due to a lack of education on the mechanisms contributing to these inequalities, and an absence of LGBTQIA+ narratives within healthcare. I wanted to do something to raise awareness of the healthcare stories of queer youth, and to advocate for education on the health inequalities experienced by marginalised groups within our healthcare systems. These two factors propelled me to look for ways in which I could make a change outside of my university and social spheres.
As I began this process, I felt as if I was already behind. As a 19-year-old, I had missed out on a lot of the youth voice programmes designed for school-age individuals, and was too young and inexperienced to join many of the more structured advocacy services within the NHS. When I found the NHS Youth Forum, I recognised that this service offered exactly what I wanted. This would give me the opportunity to have my voice represented on a much larger scale, and to collaborate with other young people on projects that I was incredibly passionate about. I got through to the interview stage, and felt very intimidated by the amount of lived experience that the other people in my interview had. When I was initially not accepted onto the forum, this did not come as a surprise to me, as I felt as if I did not have enough experience for the programme. Although this was disappointing, I felt as if I could continue to work on a smaller scale within my university to tackle some of the inequalities I was passionate about fighting against. However, a few weeks later, I got an email asking if I was still interested in the forum. I was incredibly excited to get involved. I am now part of the NHS Youth Forum, and I am enjoying my time incredibly.
There are still times when I do feel my lack of experience. In spite of this, I remind myself of why I am there. I am passionate about standing up for what I believe is right, and this is independent of the amount of experience I have had.
There are three main points that I can take from my journey into youth volunteering. Firstly, it is never too late to enter into activism. Regardless of your experience or your prior knowledge, if you have a passion for something, there are ways in which you can pursue it. Secondly, resilience is paramount to success. You will have times when you feel as if the voluntary field is inaccessible, but if you can pick yourself up and continue to engage with every opportunity that you encounter, you will find a way for your voice to be heard. Finally, if you do feel that something is wrong, you have the ability to take action. Your voice is more powerful than you think.
I am now working on a project within the Youth Forum to identify youth perceptions and priorities in the field of healthcare inequalities. These will then be compared to the views of clinicians to identify differences in opinions. This work involves representing many of the inequalities that motivated me to enter youth volunteering and I am incredibly excited to see the potential impact of this vital project.
The winners of the British Youth Council’s Youth Voice Star Awards, Bright Minds Big Futures, lead the way in making sure the voices of local youth are heard! Read about how they’ve crafted their way into Stockton-On-Tees’ council and are set to make waves with their ‘Big Plan’ campaign. Kameron Spence of Bright Minds Big Futures tells us more…
The story of Bright Minds Big Futures (BMBF) started about two years ago with just a handful of young people meeting together to get more involved within local events happening in Stockton-On-Tees.
It was after an increased interest of young volunteers that we were able to start a press team– where we would be invited to report on events run by the local council.
As a team, it was our mission to attract people from the local area to events by producing content and supplying a visually unique experience of the individual events to our audiences. One of our live streams reached 22k views, and very quickly BMBF gained its local fame.
Once the press team was up and running, we developed our game-changing ‘Social Action’ team. This gave young people in Stockton-On-Tees a chance to get more involved with local charities, whilst developing themselves personally and professionally. They were able to volunteer on causes that they cared about and gain skills in writing CVs and personal statements in return.
The interest in the social action team fuelled us to host our own gig at our local venue, showcasing the talent of our area and giving young people a safe place to hang out. Our most recent gig raised over £350, which all goes back into BMBF for equipment and future projects.
Finally, we then went on to develop our exceptional ‘Big Committee‘, a cabinet of young people who come together to address and debate issues facing the youth of our Borough.
The committee itself was designed to mirror the divisions within the council, where every young person at the table uses their leadership skills to direct their own department. The committee helps promote democracy to young people. They do this by voting on topics and debates that are relevant to them, and even electing their own chair to represent them. It gives young people a direct and effective way of expressing their opinions into local politics.
I have had the pleasure of being the elected chair of the committee for almost seven months now. This involves writing agendas, picking topics for debates and representing the committee at events & conferences all around the UK.
Our biggest achievement was having our very first youth manifesto called ‘The Big Plan’, which found its way to be reviewed and approved within Stockton Councils Cabinet. This plan, written up entirely by young people, lays out the specific issues the youth face locally and nationally. It states the ways we wish to tackle the issues and the support we will need from councillors and local MPs to do so.
The plan had tremendous praise from each elected member of Stockton’s council and the director, resulting in the pairing up of every Big Committee member with an official.
All of us at BMBF love the work we do and think it is a wonderful way to get young people involved in politics and in influencing decision-making on policies that affects them directly.
The support from Stockton Council has helped us tremendously in giving young people a voice and they stand as an exemplifier to other councils around the U.K.
We are proud of all that we have achieved so far and look forward to the future.
The former Chair of the British Youth Council, Anna Rose Barker, has been appointed MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for her dedication to promoting the voices of young people.
Anna Rose Barker MBE, was a trustee of the youth-led charity, the British Youth Council. Anna joined the board in 2015 as Vice Chair for Participation and Development before being elected as Chair in 2017. Within her 3 year tenure at the British Youth Council she was recognised for her passion and distinguished service to young people across the country.
Commenting on the appointment, Jo Hobbs, Chief Executive of the British Youth Council said “I’m absolutely delighted that Anna Rose Barker has been awarded an MBE. Anna was a force for good within the sector, played a paramount role in shaping the future of our charity, and remained dedicated to her role and the young people we serve.
“It’s important young people have a say on the biggest issues facing the UK and its also important they’re recognised for their contribution to social change”
Celebrating the news, Anna Rose Barker MBE, former Chair of the British Youth Council, said “It really is a privilege to be recognised in this way.
“There are so many young people across the country who are dedicated to social action and bringing about change for their communities and I hope this inspires even more young people to be active citizens.”
The British Youth Council’s trustees, who are aged 16-25, are elected and appointed to oversee the strategic and financial direction of the charity.
Did you know that children and young people make up nearly 25% of the population, and thus a significant proportion of the NHS’s patients? Or that we are some of the largest users of primary care, such as GP practices and clinics; as well as secondary care, which includes A&E’s, hospitals and so forth…
It’s true! We are a crucial piece in the big picture of how the NHS operates, who it provides a service for and the quality of that service as well. The voices of young people are vital in shaping how the NHS is structured and exactly how it delivers the services that we all make use of and appreciate.
The NHS Youth Forum, established in 2014, consists of around 25 young people from across England, who work together to improve quality of care for children and youth within the NHS. They also ensure young people’s voices are heard by NHS staff, local hospitals and trusts, GP clinics, policymakers and Government bodies. We are committed to ensuring young people’s experience of healthcare and their assessment of whether the healthcare that is currently available today, is meeting the needs of our generation.
In addition to the core NHS Youth Forum group, whose members change each year, the forum’s Alumni members have come together this year to form a group of NHS Youth Social Action Advisors (NYSAA’s). Their main priority is to inspire more young people to get involved in volunteering and other forms of social action within healthcare; and to contact NHS organisations and trusts around the country to support in putting programs in place that offer young people these opportunities to get involved.
Another of their priorities is to ensure they link the NHS Youth Forum base with the #iWill movement, as some of the NYSAA’s are also #iWill Ambassadors. This in turn, will maximise the incredible resource of young people within both organisations, and give us the opportunity to work together on meeting the timed objectives of the #iWill campaign.
Why is this important?
Young people are powerhouses. We are extremely ‘in-the-know’ about the world we live in and have creative and innovative ideas about how our society can, and should, be shaped to better support the people who live within it. Healthcare is a pivotal part of this society, and so it is important that we participate in its management.
It doesn’t take all that much work to be engaged in life and inspire others. Being engaged is also great for our emotional and physical wellbeing, and makes people feel more important and valued.
We can also make a massive impact. For example, in 2014 I set up a youth patient group at my local medical practice and asked friends of mine to come along to meetings and support me to review the weekly young person’s clinic, redesign their flyers and also give feedback on how services could be improved.
A year or so down the line we ran a workshop at a local children’s festival on how much sugar was inside certain drinks. We were then asked to stage the same workshop at another event, and another, and eventually we had worked with hundreds of children.
A highlight of leading the group was carrying out a ‘Canteen Takeover Day’ at my college to promote healthier eating and encourage students to get engaged in their health. The event was an incredible success and everyone participated, even if it was through giving out free food! One of my friends said that she would never have thought she’d be interested in joining a ‘health forum’ or would even take part in what might be deemed ‘extracurricular activities’; but she loved the feeling of giving back to the community and being involved in projects that had a real and evident impact.
No matter what your experience is, whether you’ve used the GP practice once in your life or a hundred times; been to the hospital regularly for a long-term condition or just that one time when you broke your wrist, you have a unique angle on our NHS, which is worth gold. Another key point is that if you’re not interested in ‘healthy eating’ or talking directly to your local practice, there are so many other areas of health you could explore; mental health, supporting people with addictions, exercise, exams stress, staying warm in winter, you name it.
You can find out if your GP Practice has a youth forum or group that you can join by researching online, popping in or calling them. You can even contact the NHS Youth Forum at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can do the research for you! It’s also worth investigating how your school, college or university supports students with their physical and mental health. You can give them some suggestions or get involved in setting up projects which could support your peers.
The British Youth Council has been shortlisted as a finalist for two Children and Young People Now Awards – ‘Tne Youth Volunteering and Social Action Award’ and ‘The Children and Young People’s Charity Award’. The nominations are in recognition of the volunteers, partners and staff who came together to ensure over 960,000 young people had their say during UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark campaign in, UK Youth Parliament’s 2015 campaign for better mental health services, ‘Time to Talk’ and it’s most recent campaign on racism and religious discrimination, ‘Don’t Hate, Educate’. The second nomination for Charity Award is for the charity’s work in giving young people a voice through its democracy-based initiative, Youth Voice, across the UK.
UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark campaign has cemented its place as the UK’s largest referendum of young people with more young people having their say year on year. The Make Your Mark campaign gives young people a say on what is discussed by their Members of Youth Parliament in their annual House of Commons debate. Both this year’s topics were also made subjects of British Youth Council’s Youth Select Committee inquiries which attract a formal Government response and dialogue between young people and Ministers.
‘Don’t Hate, Educate!’ has seen Members of Youth Parliament working in their communities to reduce racism and racial discrimination. Over the last year, UK Youth Parliament have campaigned, in partnership with Kick It Out, to challenge negative attitudes around race and religion; work with others to educate their communities in order to tackle ignorance about race and religion, and promote integration in their communities.
UK Youth Parliament’s devolved campaign, ‘Time to Talk’, involved Members of Youth Parliament striving to improve young people’s access to school counsellors within their place of learning. The campaign, which was developed in partnership with Youth Access, also saw Members of Youth Parliament call on decision makers to ensure that schools allocate enough time for students to see school counsellors; and that they are safe, professional and youth friendly.
The Children & Young People Now Awards have become the gold standard for everyone working with children, young people and families. Now in their eleventh year, these awards provide a great source of pride and recognition for all those who strive day in, day out, to improve the lives of others. They offer an opportunity to raise the profile of projects and initiatives to funders and the general public.
The awards present a tremendous showcase of learning and best practice from across the country that can be an inspiration to all. They also recognise initiatives from the public, private and voluntary sector that work with children and young people from birth to adolescence as well as their families. Initiatives might be aimed at all children and families within a community or targeted at those who are the most vulnerable or disadvantaged.
Anna Barker, Chair, British Youth Council said: “It’s exciting to see the work of our young people and staff celebrated at a national level. UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark campaign is the largest referendum of young people in the UK, and each year the UK Youth Parliament has managed to reach even more young people but I’m equally pleased to see their mental health campaign and ‘Don’t Hate, Educate’ campaign recognised. Mental health has been a longstanding priority for young people, and racism and religious discrimination, an issue that has become more prevalent post-Brexit, must be tackled in modern Britain.”
James Cathcart, Chief Executive, British Youth Council said: “I’m very proud that the work of the young volunteers, partners and team has been recognised, particularly at time when youth voice and its champions needs to be heard and supported more than ever before”