'A thoroughly worthwhile, well organised and useful process. I would certainly recommend it to anyone thinking about it, but who may be a bit unsure as to whether to go ahead. Strangely, this is an ideal time in so many ways'.
'IiV provided us with an opportunity to gather and review our volunteers' experiences and work together to find new ways of promoting policies and applying practice'.
Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have recently reached the end of their first IiV journey. In June they had an online assessment visit and were awarded IiV for the first time. In this case study Heather Lord, Volunteer Manager, reflects on how volunteering was affected by the onset of Covid-19 and how continued IiV activity helped to engage their volunteers during the crisis.
What have been the overall benefits of the Investing in Volunteers journey so far?
IiV has been a really positive experience, the process has allowed us to acknowledge all the good policies, practices and relationships we have with our volunteers and enabled us to feel confident about our programme.
The IiV journey helped us highlight a few areas of improvement to focus work on. We developed different styles of engagement with our volunteers leading up to the assessment and will use these in the future to ensure a programme of continuous development.
More importantly it made us focus on all-inclusive practice. We arranged a round of meetings to talk about how our volunteers feel about their experience of volunteering with us. Their experiences are vital to the way we work, and the insight gained from these sessions has helped shape planning and development for the future. Looking at things from another person’s perspective is so important. IiV provided us with an opportunity to gather and review our volunteers’ experiences and work together to find new ways of promoting our policies and applying practice.
What impact has the Investing in Volunteers journey had on your volunteers?
Our volunteers felt ‘listened to’ and ‘valued’ by us, which they obviously do, but this can be difficult to communicate to volunteers sometimes. IiV was an effective process that enabled us to involve volunteers and show them just how much they mean to us as an organisation.
We were able to demonstrate to them how practices are being reviewed and that their opinions matter in this process. IiV enables an organisation to ask the question; Do policies and practices work for the volunteers and the organisation? We all need to make sure this is the case. It felt like IiV impacted very positively for our volunteers.
We hope to develop new opportunities and adapt some roles in the future, utilising more of our volunteers’ lived experiences and aligning with organisational objectives.
How did you find the new online delivery of IiV assessments?
It was great to be able to complete our IiV journey during this time, the introduction of online assessments was really welcomed! It enabled flexibility at a challenging time, and we were able to interview the necessary staff and volunteers to complete our journey.
Enabling our volunteers to feel connected to the organisation is so very important to us, so taking part in the assessment was an effective way of creating meaningful engagement, particularly as they are unable to be involved with our usual activities at the moment.
A thoroughly worthwhile, well organised and useful process. I would certainly recommend it to anyone thinking about it, but who may be a bit unsure as to whether to go ahead. Strangely, this is an ideal time in so many ways.
Can you share any examples of good or innovative practice now in place as a result of your IiV journey?
Our assessor provided some really useful advice throughout the journey, and we found new ways of engaging volunteers and staff.
We set up reflective feedback sessions with staff and volunteers to investigate policy, practice and process. This has created space for honest feedback to support a proactive annual review, to feed into current and future development programmes.Our findings and a report compiling feedback about volunteer experiences is going to form our baseline for monitoring outcomes, outputs and improvements in the future.
One area we want to continue to actively explore, are ways of being more inclusive. IiV has proven to be a ‘driver’ for this work and further on-going change. We are looking to create new opportunities and ways of promoting roles to appeal to a diverse community including younger volunteers and people from BAME groups.
We have gained insight from volunteers and are seeking further feedback about how the organisation and our volunteer opportunities appear, appeal and are accessible to those exploring ways to get involved with Healthwatch. We want to ensure we diversify our community of volunteers by re-evaluating existing and perceived barriers. To this end, we will focus on developing project or leadership roles for younger volunteers, and we are talking to and developing trust and knowledge of Healthwatch within BAME communities.
Do you have any advice for other organisations on how to make the most out of their IiV journey?
I would say be brave and have an open mind to the views expressed by your volunteers – you may think you are doing a great job and you probably are, but don’t be worried about hearing about things that need re-evaluating or improvement.
Remember practices, messages and updates don’t always get across to people in the same way you think they do – especially when involving volunteers who are effectively quite remote from the organisation. If we haven’t communicated something clearly enough that is our responsibility, and we should look at more effective ways to do this.
Managing volunteers is all about people skills and open communication. Make listening an active process and find time for open, honest discussion and reflection. Remember you can’t and probably shouldn’t do everything suggested during feedback, but the insight to shape developments really should be listened to and understood in order to find key priorities and new solutions. You’ll gain more respect showing how you can work together and how you’ve considered suggestions for change, even if you are not able to implement them - effective delivery must be at the heart of any change.
Be thorough in your thinking and honest in how you do the self-assessment. This work is meant to help you identify where you need to improve and where you are doing well. It’s all about improving the organisation from the perspective and experience of the volunteers as well as the management of volunteers. If we don’t ask, listen and change, then we are not doing our job and we are wasting the opportunity that this initiative presents to improve and grow.
It will all be worth it in the end. Your volunteers will respect you, and the organisation, for the work you do on this.
We’d like to know about any initiatives involving your Healthwatch volunteers that have had an impact on tackling Covid-19 in your community?
Our primary volunteering tasks are 'face to face’ with the public, obviously we cannot do this at the moment so, where possible, we have found other ways to harness the offer of volunteer time to support the community and keep our volunteers engaged.
Our volunteers have been so flexible and keen to support the local community:
• Some volunteers have joined local hubs/networks to support local people.
• Volunteers have helped promote and take part in a survey asking local people about their experiences of health and care services during Covid-19. This will help shape improvements in these services.
• We are asking our volunteers to support a project asking people about their experiences of ‘remote’ health and care appointments, again, to help shape improvements.
• We are also starting a project to review GP websites and we will be asking volunteers to support this.
How have you been engaging volunteers who are not able to be involved in their usual volunteering activities due to Covid-19?
Our volunteers are an important part of our Healthwatch, we have been ensuring we stay connected with them all regularly.
We send out regular ‘bumper’ emails containing news and useful links, keeping them up-to-date and involved. We are also encouraging them to let family, friends and their contacts know about the work Healthwatch continues to do. Our volunteers are a vital part of hearing from and reaching local communities.
We have started arranging ‘volunteer catch up’ group meetings on Zoom. These have been incredibly popular and well attended as well as a very effective way of ensuring our volunteers and communities stay active and connected through these difficult times.
We have some volunteers with learning disabilities who have found lockdown and staying at home particularly challenging and isolating. They have really appreciated the opportunity for online engagement with others, finding it an inclusive, enjoyable addition that has enhanced their volunteer experience and made them feel valued by us.
Heather Lord - Volunteer Manager - Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough
Feedback from a Healthwatch Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Volunteer
My name is Nadia Emmony and I belong to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Healthwatch, working as a Volunteer and Director.
I attended a joint meeting to discuss the Investing in Volunteering journey and award, where the standards were outlined and discussed. The whole process for this scheme appears extremely well organised and encourages motivation to a team of volunteers from a variety of backgrounds.
As a volunteer I have always felt supported and valued. When I joined, I was given a full induction. I have never been afraid to ask a question or ask for clarification on a point I feel strongly about. Being a volunteer could be very lonely and isolating, but with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Healthwatch, I have always felt needed and involved.
As a retired NHS worker, I am delighted to be part of an organisation which is not afraid of change or improvement, whose end goal is to support and listen to local communities and ensure health and social care services are improved.