A Healthwatch Leeds initiative to give young people a voice about how to improve local health and social care services is being hailed as a beacon of best practice.
YouthWatch, a group of volunteers aged 16 – 25, feeds into the main board of the health and social care watchdog, enabling the organisation to talk to children and young people across Leeds. Now other Healthwatch bodies in the UK have approached the Leeds consumer champion for advice and tips on recruiting and engaging with young volunteers.
What they say
Harriet Wright, who helps to co-ordinate young volunteers at Healthwatch Leeds, explains:
With 23% of the population of Leeds under the age of 19 it is vital that we listen to young people about issues relating to their physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
“Our volunteers have a unique perspective to contribute on what it means to be young in Leeds today - particularly in a rapidly changing world very different from the one where most of our decision makers grew up. YouthWatch gives young people a place where their views are listened to and where they feel comfortable to contribute.”
Student Rosie Brookes, aged 22, is a YouthWatch group representative on the main Healthwatch Leeds board where she and her fellow young volunteers feedback views from the group and help inform and shape strategy. She says:
I initially searched for volunteering as part of university course, in order to gain experience in jobs that I'm interested in. Healthwatch seemed to suit both my academic and personal interests.
“I feel strongly about young people being able to have a positive influence on their communities and sometimes young people do not have a voice or the opportunity to make decisions around their own health and social care.”
20-year-old Steven Cross, who also volunteers with charity Young Minds and mental health campaign Time to Change, comments:
I was already passionate about change, not just in mental health but health as a whole. It’s important for young people to volunteer for organisations like Healthwatch because we are the next generation, we're the ones who are going to be using health and social care services for the next 40 years or so, and it's crucial we have a say on what those services will be and how they'll be run.”
Supply teacher and volunteer youth worker Hanna Adam, aged 22, is a YouthWatch representative on the main Healthwatch board:
As a new volunteer I didn't know what to expect at first but it has been a truly rewarding experience. Through YouthWatch I feel I can use the knowledge and skills I already have and build on them as there is so much support on offer through courses, other volunteers, staff and members of the community.”
Harriet Wright adds:
Working with young volunteers can energise your internal teams. They’re keen, committed and bring new ideas and lots of energy. I’m always amazed at some of the young volunteers’ confidence in throwing themselves into new situations, and trying new things.”
YouthWatch volunteers are helping Healthwatch Leeds to plan a programme over the summer in partnership with Young Minds as part of the ‘Breeze on tour’ events. Also in the pipeline is a project with school nursing, where young volunteers will be going into schools to talk to students about designs for a health drop-in.