Time and again, we have seen how local communities rally round when it’s most needed, whether that’s to support the NHS or neighbours who need some extra help. Yet the pandemic also revealed that it’s easier to volunteer in some places than in others.
We know the vital difference that volunteering can make and want to see it thrive in all parts of England. Earlier today I had the pleasure of announcing a £10 million programme that will deliver grant funding and tailored support to around 15 local systems to help develop new approaches to volunteering.
Volunteering for Health is being delivered through a partnership of NHS England, NHS Charities Together and CW+, the official charity of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. It is a three-year programme that will accelerate change in systems that have seen an under-investment in volunteering. It will help to break down barriers, test new volunteering models and develop guidance and best practice for all systems.
The programme is part of NHS England’s response to the NHS Volunteering Taskforce which brought together health charities, volunteers, clinicians, civil servants and policy makers and published its recommendations in June. The Taskforce concluded that the NHS nationally and locally could do much more to maximise the benefits of volunteers and volunteering.
Attitudes to volunteering in health and care have come on in strides over the past few years and volunteers now operate, alongside staff, in many more health settings, especially for people without family or friends to look after them.
But we still tend to think about volunteers and volunteering in relation to a single organisation – whether it’s your local hospital or a local community group – when we need to be using it as a resource for reaching into our local communities and addressing some of our most pressing health and care issues such as long waits, health inequalities and social needs such as loneliness and isolation.
As the Taskforce highlighted, a major problem is the inconsistency in the infrastructure supporting volunteering, from one part of the country to another. Often it is the areas with less robust volunteering infrastructure that could benefit the most.
These are places and communities we want to reach through Volunteering for Health. We want to give them an opportunity to create something new or build on what they already have in a way that can catalyse change across their system. Put simply, we want to use the programme to help places realise the potential of local community spirit which is currently being held back. We also want to support systems who can see new ways to connect volunteering in different ways to foster more joined-up care.
This means Volunteering for Health has to be much more than a grants fund. When we open to expression of interest next month, potential applicants will be offered advice and coaching to help them put together the best possible proposals.
To ensure the programme can drive change across all systems, we will also be evaluating the programme from the ‘get go’ and using our findings to develop learning networks, raise the profile of volunteering and influence policy so that volunteering can become a more prominent and better supported element of healthcare nationally and locally.
We will be inviting applications next month – December 2023 – when more details about the eligibility and application process for grant funding will be available. And in January, we will hold information sessions for prospective applicants. We will, of course, share this information through the usual NHS networks and bulletins. Alternatively, you can register to hear more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.