“What has been beyond any aspiration is how achieving IiV has raised the profile of our organisation’s volunteering both internally and externally. Notably our Trust Board are now more aware of what our amazing volunteers do in a way which hadn’t been tapped into before.”
South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT) achieved Investing in Volunteers (IiV) for the first time in October 2019.
In this Achiever case study, Rob Horton, Responder Manager at SWASFT, shares his experience leading a successful journey for his Ambulance Service.
What is the value of volunteering for Ambulance Trusts & healthcare services in general?
Now more than ever our volunteers are absolutely key to supporting the NHS and local communities. The volunteers here at SWASFT have been going above and beyond recently during the Coronavirus crisis, volunteering more time and stepping into new roles supporting our ambulance dispatch team, stores management and distributing personal protective equipment to ambulance stations. It is so important that volunteers are given the right support and we are really pleased to have achieved Investing in Volunteers.
Ambulance Services have about 25 years of volunteering history. This might be surprising as this is not widely recognised by the community or across the wider NHS. Our volunteers are on the frontline at the heart of communities, often supporting at critical life or death situations. Ensuring that volunteers in our communities are able to respond effectively and confidently is key.
Volunteering has a clear benefit to our patients and our patient's outcomes have a great impact on the volunteers. Belonging to an organisation, meeting people, learning new skills and feeling recognised for volunteering time and commitment are all hugely beneficial.
Why did you sign up for IiV?
Volunteering at our organisation has historically been driven by individuals and not by following a recognised standard of good practice. I felt the time was right to challenge our practices with an IiV journey, and I had identified IiV as the only quality standard that covered such a wide view of volunteering.
My objectives were to challenge what we do and how we do it. I wanted to drive future plans by setting our volunteering on the correct path, ensuring that we co-design our direction (and not just from behind a desk!).
What have been the benefits of SWASFT achieving IiV?
There have been many benefits, although what has been beyond any aspiration is how achieving IiV has raised the profile of our organisation’s volunteering internally and externally. Notably our Trust Board are more aware of what our amazing volunteers do in a way which we hadn’t tapped into before.
The volunteering experience we offer has certainly grown in ways I didn’t realise were of interest to other parts of the organisation.
Our volunteers spoke for themselves during the interviews, of their experiences and their feelings and this is why we achieved IiV. They really are benefiting from volunteering in the Ambulance Service environment and they feel that achieving IiV ensures we stay on track as we shape the future of our volunteering.
There is something brave about putting years of work out in to the open for everyone to critique but it really is beneficial to reflect honestly while working on IiV, sometimes you even get a pleasant surprise with the feedback!
Which stages of the IiV journey did you really value?
The opening workshop worked really well for us. It outlined the steps and helped all stakeholders to understand IiV and to start thinking about how to approach the process.
The self-assessment made us be honest as to whether we actually believed our volunteers felt the same way about aspects of our volunteer programme as staff did. We realised this needed to be tested as part of the self-assessment. We found that although elements were clear in our policy, this didn’t appear to be lived within our volunteer network.
The variety of individual, group and telephone interviews as part of the assessment worked really well and gave the assessor the chance to triangulate everything that was said.
What challenges did SWASFT take on as part of the IiV journey?
SWASFT covers 20% of England, the largest geographical coverage of all Ambulance Trusts, with large moorland and an extensive coastline. We have a diverse team of volunteers in some really rural areas. Some of our local volunteer teams are made up of whole communities. Including a sample of all our volunteers within the IiV assessment was a challenge.
This challenge was topped by the desire to gather everyone’s voice, not just from the few. This taught us that you must have a flexible approach and a wide variety of communication tools if you are to give every volunteer the opportunity to contribute.
Do you have any examples of good practice developed during your IiV journey?
We developed a new volunteer agreement during one of our volunteer workshops. The existing agreement only really focused on the ID badge and Trust clothing, it completely missed the opportunity to highlight mutual expectations between the Trust and the volunteer.
A simple co-design resulted in an improved agreement that covered Trust/Volunteer expectations and feels much more relevant to agree to.
How do your volunteers feel as a result of SWASFT having gone through an IiV journey?
There is a good level of excitement about the future of volunteering across the whole organisation. The feeling is that we are ensuring that the volunteering experience is the best it can be.
Our volunteers now feel that we have good levels of communication in place and that a variety of platforms are in place to hear every voice.
They also said that the external, independent review of our volunteering programme against the IiV standard was a brave and beneficial move, something not felt before. The ‘independent challenge’ has been mentioned several times.
What advice would you give to an organisation thinking about applying for IiV?
- Don’t wait just do it! There are a million and one reasons why you could delay but none are as compelling as the feeling of being on the other side of it. You, your volunteers and your organisation will benefit by going through this process.
- Involve everyone – don’t try and do it on your own, you will find it too challenging and it won’t be honest enough. Create a working party to breakdown the work.
- Hold local workshops to discuss what matters to volunteers and tackle problems or frustrations in an owned way – spend time on how an issue can be improved, no matter what the issue is.
- Ask for help from a similar organisation who have already achieved IiV. I guarantee they will have a wealth of knowledge and would do it differently if they were just starting out. Learn, and again don’t be afraid of doing things differently.