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The Head of Volunteering at London’s Kings College Hospital marks International Volunteer Managers’ Day:
If you saw a job advert with these qualifications required: Counsellor; project manager; firefighter; learning and development specialist; financial guru; magician, would you apply?
If I’d seen this ad 17 years ago, I’d have probably said: “No – it’s not for me!” But 17 years on these are just some of the skills that I have learnt, developed, and called upon over my years as a manager of volunteers. I think my peers would agree, we are required to wear many different hats every day, sometimes all at the same time.
When you talk to a volunteer manager, what you commonly hear is that they didn’t necessarily choose to be a volunteer manager. The role seems to have either come to them, or they have fallen into it, or are just fated to be one.
Some have started out as beneficiaries of an organisation and volunteer because they wish to give something back. Then sometimes a paid role comes up and, because of their experience and skills, they apply and are successful.
My path was slightly different. I trained as an engineer and was in the industry for a few years before becoming disillusioned. Then I heard a nurse from a children’s hospice speak at an event and I realised I wanted to be in a field where I could speak that passionately about my own work and see the impact I was having.
Within a year, I had joined the voluntary sector, managing a team of volunteers, and I have never stopped working alongside volunteers since.
At King’s we have a team of paid staff dedicated to supporting volunteers across the Trust. We also have hundreds of staff – from ward clerks to nurses to clinical housekeepers- who take on the responsibility of managing and supporting volunteers alongside their day jobs.
The King’s volunteer programme exists so that volunteers can help to improve the experience of our patients whilst they are in our care. Without the help of our staff on the ground supporting our volunteers, we just couldn’t achieve this. I am sure it’s the same across the NHS.
The International Volunteer Managers Day website, identifies several reasons for recognising Volunteer Managers, two of which I want to explore:
Firstly, Volunteer Managers have the skills and knowledge to help people be part of the solution in meeting community needs. Secondly, Volunteer Managers change lives — both the lives of volunteers themselves and of those served by well-led volunteers.
These statements resonate – let me explain why:
Volunteer managers see a need, and create volunteer-led solutions to meet that need. At King’s, we have developed bespoke projects to meet the needs of our patients. For example, a hand massage programme for palliative care patients, a home hamper scheme where vulnerable patients receive a food parcel on discharge after a long stay in hospital and, more recently, a programme to support patients visiting our A&Es.
I agree that mine is a life changing profession. My role reminds me of the best in humanity, of people who are willing to donate their time to better the lives of others and their community. I also learn about others, about the amazing journeys they have been on, their strength, their resilience and also their vulnerability.
Understanding these people gives me an understanding of my community and there is a huge strength and value in this.
I believe the role of the volunteer manager is as a leading professional with a unique set of skills and experience. It’s a role where you can grow and develop, where you can start out as a volunteer, develop to lead volunteer projects and move into volunteer management. These skills are transferrable; across sectors and even countries.
In the NHS there is excellent support in terms of best practice guidance to support volunteer managers. For example, NHS England’s recently published guidance on recruitment and management of volunteers.
As someone relatively new to the NHS, it’s been particularly useful to meet with my London based peers to test out new ideas and learn what’s working and what’s not.
I am a bone fide paid up manager of volunteers, but I cannot do my job without the support of many other staff members. It takes all of us to make it work and to recognise, through days like this, that we all have a part to play.
I can’t end this blog without recognising and thanking the amazing staff I have worked alongside over the years, many of whom remain great friends, my current team at King’s and all the volunteer managers across the NHS and voluntary sector.
Volunteering is central to the NHS70 celebrations and as part of this we have launched a campaign to support youth social action in health and care. To find out more please email firstname.lastname@example.org