Investing in volunteers to build connections with our communities

Across the country, tens of thousands of dedicated and passionate people devote their time every day to provide extra support to healthcare workers in a wide range of clinical and community settings – and their collective impact is enormous. Chris Neal, head of volunteering at Imperial Health Charity, explains how the benefits of volunteering to our Trust stretch far beyond the hospital walls.

Here at Imperial College Healthcare, our volunteers are an important and highly-valued part of our NHS team. In 2021/22 more than 500 people gave their time to volunteer on a regular basis in our hospitals, carrying out a variety of helpful tasks – from welcoming visitors and providing directions, to serving meals on our wards and offering companionship to patients at the bedside.

Our hospital volunteering programme is managed on the Trust’s behalf by my team at Imperial Health Charity, who provide professional training, guidance and support to make sure those who give their time to help our hospitals have a high-quality experience while volunteering with us. Recently, we were awarded the highly-regarded ‘Investing in Volunteers’ status in recognition of our high standards of volunteer management – an achievement that is testament not only to the efforts of all our volunteers but also the staff in our hospitals with whom we work closely on a daily basis. In a recent survey, nine out of 10 of our volunteers told us they felt well-supported in their role and 88 per cent of hospital staff agreed the contribution of volunteers makes our Trust a better place to work.

We know that volunteers have a real impact within our hospitals, enhancing the care we provide and the overall hospital experience for our patients as well as playing an important role in supporting our staff. But the benefits of volunteering go far beyond lending a hand in our hospitals.

Engaging our communities in north west London

Since 2017 our volunteering programme has grown dramatically, from around 140 active volunteers five years ago to over 500 today. The vast majority of our volunteers live and work in the surrounding communities near to our hospitals – representing a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and experiences – and many are highly motivated to give back to the NHS in their local area. As well as daytime roles, we offer our volunteers flexible shift times at evenings and weekends, and help with food and travel expenses, to make volunteering accessible to everyone.

By working closely with community stakeholders, such as schools, college and local authorities, to advertise our volunteer roles in the local area, we’ve been able to build strong and mutually beneficial relationships with a wide range of partners in north west London – contributing to the Trust’s strategic vision to be an anchor organisation in the wider community. Our volunteers are also a fantastic asset in helping us share important messages around better health beyond the hospital walls. By opening up opportunities through volunteering, we can champion key aspects of the Trust’s health and equity framework, which aims to improve health, wealth and wellbeing for people living in our local communities, with highly-engaged volunteers able to advocate positive health choices within their networks of friends, family and colleagues.

Building skills and confidence to help people into employment

We know that lack of employment is a major inequality that has a detrimental effect on people’s health – but volunteering provides a fantastic platform for us to address the health impacts of worklessness. Through meaningful volunteer roles in our hospitals, supported by additional learning opportunities that we provide for our volunteers, we can help people who may be struggling to find employment build up their skills and confidence in the workplace.

Right now we’re developing a new volunteer pathway that will enable us to create opportunities for local people who may need support to enhance their employability prospects. We’re also expanding our work with young people – specifically those aged 16 to 21 – to provide hospital volunteering opportunities that may inspire them to progress their careers in science and healthcare. At the end of our most recent youth volunteering programme, 89 per cent of participants told us they were considering a future career in healthcare or further education and training in the sector.
I’ve been inspired time and again by the remarkable commitment of our volunteers, many of whom have been signing up for shifts on a regular basis for several years. Working alongside such a passionate and dedicated group of people only reaffirms my belief that volunteers can and do make an extraordinary impact in healthcare – and there are many more opportunities ahead for us to continue growing our sector-leading programme to provide valuable extra support for our hospitals long into the future.

The volunteering programme at our hospitals is managed on the Trust’s behalf by Imperial Health Charity. You can read more about the latest volunteering opportunities at our hospitals on the charity’s website.