Investing in Volunteers

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We are pleased to announce that YouthNet has successfully renewed its Investing in Volunteers UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management.   The standard recognises that YouthNet are working to best practice and our volunteers receive a high level of support, recognition and management.

YouthNet’s CEO, Emma Thomas said: ‘Really pleased to have our commitment and approach to involving volunteers in our work recognised by the IiV accreditation.  This is also a recognition of the vital support our volunteers provide to other young people in the form of online social action, and in working alongside YouthNet in shaping and delivery digital support that helps young people with the challenges they are facing.  I am constantly impressed by the commitment of young people who volunteer with us in many different ways, and their creativity and quality of support for others’

As part of the assessment staff, volunteers and trustees participated in a series of interviews to assess the quality of our volunteering programmes.  In the final report the IiV assessor stated that ‘YouthNet demonstrated a clear commitment to volunteering’ and ‘volunteers play a very important role in operating and developing the organisation.’

One of YouthNet’s Trustees, Julie Dawson, who took part in the assessment said ‘volunteers are the pulse of the organisation…operating in every department and integral to every service’.

Volunteering at YouthNet

YouthNet involve 200 volunteers in a variety of roles, with the majority volunteering online from across the UK.  Roles include:

Peer to peer support

Our volunteers help us provide peer-to-peer emotional support, advice and signposting to other young people using our services.  Volunteers moderate our live chat service, discussion boards, comments on articles and help write answers to relationships questions submitted to our Ask a Question service.

Consultation and co-creation

When developing new products and services YouthNet ensure we involve young people in every stage of the process.  Volunteers inform and advise us on key areas of service development and delivery in roles such as our TheSite Leaders and our new group of DA (Depression and Anxiety) Warriors.

Content creation

Whilst browsing TheSite you are likely to come across an image taken by one of our volunteer photographers, or a rant written by an aspiring journalist.  Volunteers create content for our websites helping us to keep our content fresh and relevant.

Advocates

Volunteers champion the work that we do, helping to promote TheSite and our services.  This includes our Communication Champion volunteers and is a key area of development for YouthNet going forwards.

To find out more about volunteering at YouthNet please see our volunteering opportunities page or hear about the experiences of some of our volunteers on our meet the volunteers page.

 

Leah’s work experience at YouthNet

News Volunteering at YouthNet

Leah recently joined us in the office and volunteered for a week in the Partnerships and Volunteering & Training teams.   Here’s what she got up to:

I spent 6 days volunteering with YouthNet for work experience and during this time I’ve learnt a lot about the organisation and about volunteering. I chose to do work experience with a youth charity as I wanted to do something useful (rather than just making coffees and collecting McDonald’s orders) and I’m also looking to work with young people when I’m older.

For the first 3 days I worked with the Do-it team. Do-it is the national volunteering database and connects volunteers to organisations with volunteering opportunities.  I was surprised to see how many opportunities there are just in the UK!  My role was to go through all the organisations on the site and check we had the correct contact details for them, which was quite fun as I got to use the phone to speak to loads of different people.

The most interesting thing I did with the Do-it team was helping a prisoner find a suitable volunteering opportunity from the website, as it never really struck me how many kinds of different people are willing to volunteer to help others.

For the next two days I helped the Volunteering and Training team with their Technology Together project, which recruits young volunteers to help connect older people through the internet.  I helped the team to research organisations that they could get in touch with to recruit new young volunteers.

My last day was the busiest as I had to finish my research and add to the organisation’s Flickr account. Flickr is a photo sharing website and YouthNet’s volunteer photographers upload their photos into groups which YouthNet can use on their websites. I’m really into art so looking through photography didn’t really seem like work! I looked through loads of different photos and chose ones which I thought could be useful on the websites, and I saw loads of photos I recognised from them.

From my experience with YouthNet, I’ve learned that office work isn’t just about filing, that there are thousands of different types of volunteering opportunities around the country, and that there are loads of volunteers looking for opportunities, which can be hard – and that’s why we have Do-it.

Megan’s week at YouthNet

News Volunteering at YouthNet

Megan has spent a week volunteering with us and here’s what she got up to in her own words:

For my work experience placement, I spent a week at YouthNet in their Engagement and Support and Volunteering and Training teams. I really wanted to find out what it was like to work behind the scenes of TheSite, as I’ve been a user for a while now, and I knew that the work that the Engagement and Support team did would be useful if I ended up going into counselling, something I’m seriously considering. I had the added bonus of being in an office environment, which gave a taste of what adult life will be like!

On my first day I was given an induction by Laura, and started one of my regular tasks of checking applications to the Technology Together project with Age UK, a scheme involving younger people teaching older people how to use technology, so they feel more in touch and less isolated. I then spent most of the day working through the Essential Skills online training course, which gave me a better understanding of what YouthNet offers to young people through TheSite and improved my own skills when giving emotional support. It was a really interesting course to complete and I definitely learnt a lot, not only about listening effectively and providing options to people who need emotional support, but making sure that I was comfortable and happy too.

On Tuesday, as well as completing the online training, I put together a page of ‘top tips’ about jealousy from points that were discussed in a relationship adviser’s live chat. This included what jealousy was, what causes it, and what to include when replying to someone who deals with it. There was a lot of information I took away from that activity about why people are jealous and how to overcome it, including some points which I’d never even thought about before.

Wednesday was spent working on TheSite Leaders and learning about what they do, including some recent and ongoing projects. I started a discussion on one of the boards about Facebook and its effect on relationships,asking people for their insights and all the little annoyances they have about relationships on social media! I also did some research to find out about youth organisations in the Coventry area, ordering them all into an Excel spreadsheet, and I had probably had more fun than is normal, spending an hour making tables…

The main thing I did on Thursday was edit a chat transcript ‘What to expect from counselling‘ to be uploaded to the archive. I managed to condense it all down to the basic information and add various hyperlinks to relevant articles on TheSite. One thing I liked about doing things like this was that I got to learn about all the different issues while actually contributing something productive, which is always good!

Friday’s here, and it’s my last day. It’s been such a packed week but I’ve really enjoyed all the work I’ve done combined with what I’ve learnt. In such a relatively short space of time, I’ve learnt a lot and it’s going to be useful for me to reflect back on in later life and I’ll be able to apply the skills I’ve learnt in whatever I go on to do as an adult. Everyone’s been so friendly and I was really made to feel at ease, and I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to gain some first-hand experience. I’m even going to miss the tube ride into London (I like long journeys) but it’s safe to say I’ll be happy I can now have a lie-in again.

 

A young person’s perspective on developing TheSite.org for mobile

News Technology Volunteering at YouthNet Youth

On Saturday 14th September we ran a workshop here at YouthNet to find out all about how young people use their mobile phones to access information and advice.  Rachel is one of our volunteers who took part in the workshop.  Here’s what she got up to on the day in her own words.

Following on from successful previous workshops, a group of young people gathered at the YouthNet offices to endure a day of fun (and hard work!). Our morning started bright and early but on arrival we were provided with great breakfast – muchly appreciated, amazing hospitality which carried on for the whole day!

Breaking the ice

Sitting in a room with people you don’t know can be very daunting right? So ice breaker games and getting to know you tasks were carried out and by the end, a group of smiley, friendly people were ready to begin more focused tasks. An introduction to the day was helpful so we had a brief idea of what was to come and kicking off the action was ‘post your card on the wall’. A lot of blank faces listened carefully to instructions – sure did require a lot of thinking for a Saturday morning! Around the room were many posters covering topics such as housing, health & well-being, sex & relationships, money and more. Individually, we were required to decide whether we would use a PC/laptop or a mobile phone in order to research information on the topics. We then had to state where we would be when searching for such information, whether it be in the bedroom, at work, in college or school, uni and more. We were allowed a 1st and 2nd preference for this – phew! This was definitely harder than anticipated once questions arose from more questions! It was extremely interesting to look back on the results to find that a lot of us agreed with each other and when people had different preferences, their reasons behind their choice was very fascinating.

Creating a persona

Next up we split into pairs, ready to complete the next task: ‘write about a friend’. In two’s we mapped out information based on some real life and fictional friend characteristics. We mutually agreed on gender, age, location, job status, family/relationship circumstances, challenges they face, what help they require and how and where they would find that help.

We returned, energetic and enthusiastic about the rest of the day after being well fed and watered – yum! The group collaborated our ideas from before lunch and then discussed our reasonings. This provided a great insight into the problems that people can and do face when trying to access help relating to any problems.

Voting with your feet

‘Voting with your feet’ amused many of us before we knew what the task entailed! This activity gave us the opportunity to portray our views and opinions around mobile phone and laptop use in a fun yet constructive way. On one side of the room was ‘Mobile Phone’ and the other ‘Laptop/PC’ and we were to individually decide where abouts we would stand along the line – representing whether we would use our mobile’s or laptop’s in relation to specific questions. Each of the group members were asked to disclose the reasons behind where they were stood. It was extremely interesting to listen to each other’s views.

Getting creative

After a much needed tea break, ‘Be Creative!’ was next on the day’s agenda. This consisted of mapping out potential ideas for suitable ways to help young people access help and information. One of the main ideas highlighted was the use of an App on a mobile phone. It was suggested that the app would offer all kinds of help, including games and useful tools. The App would consist of contacts, further helpful pages and links to message boards and forums.

Another suggestion was the possibility to ‘Ask TheSite’ via a text or email service. This would enable young people to get rapid advice, help and support on a subject  confidentially. It would be a safe and secure way of accessing help, flexibly.

It was a great ending to such a productive and enjoyable day. It was such a positive experience and a privilege to be part of the workshop.

A week in the life of a YouthNet volunteer

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YouthNet have been very lucky that some of our fantastic volunteers have given up a week of their summer holidays to come and volunteer with us recently.  Anjeli is one of our TheSite Leader volunteers and she spent last week helping the Engagement and Support and Partnerships Teams. Here’s what she got up to in her own words:

I’ve been connected to YouthNet for a few years now. It started when I was browsing Do-it when I was sixteen years old to find some volunteering opportunities and I came across Lifetracks. I was part of Lifetracks which involved me contributing to discussions in the run up to the launch of the Lifetracks website. Shortly after this, I joined the TheSite.org Leaders Network, which involves me contributing to online discussion boards and participating in live chats to help develop TheSite.org. I have previously come into the London office for a few offline events and when I came to the photo shoot for Barclays in April I started to wonder what it would be like to spend a week in the offices. So that’s why I’m here!

This week I have spent three days with the Engagement and Support team and two days with the Partnerships team. Here is what I got up to over my week here:

Monday

Laura and Clare gave me an induction to YouthNet, running me through what all the different teams do and in particular what Engagement and Support does. They gave me an overview of the different tasks I would be doing over the course of the week, and I felt really excited and welcome.

A lot of the work I did in Engagement and Support was very similar to the online volunteering I do with TheSite Leaders Network. I made use of my ability to consult on discussions, comment on projects and give constructive criticism.

Laura told me about the new pilot project called Technology Together, which is being run with Age UK, in the run up to the London Virgin Marathon in 2013. This project will involve young people teaching older people how to use technology. A toolkit has been produced to guide volunteers into their role, and to start up my week I looked at the booklet in detail and gave my thoughts as to the feel of the project, how it looked and its content. I then created a discussion on the Volunteer Network to encourage volunteers to give us some feedback. We have had a few responses this week so its been really informative to read about peoples thoughts on this initiative. Something which was also quite exciting was giving my thoughts on the actresses that would be featured in the launch of the project!

I also spent some time browsing around on Step Finder, which has been launched recently on TheSite.org as a way to help young people overcome barriers they face in seeking help services. I already knew about Step Finder from some tasks I completed in a live chat a few months ago, but I spent this time really learning about specific problems young people face, in preparation for a task Jo was to give me on Tuesday.

Tuesday

On Tuesday I created a discussion to tell the Leaders about an upcoming online workshop for Step Finder. This workshop is aimed at hearing people’s first hand experiences of seeking counselling services and I encouraged the relevant young volunteers to step forward.

Something I found really interested is looking at a training chat for Clare on self-care. This chat was for discussion board moderators, live chat moderators and peer advisors to address some of their thoughts and experiences when participating in online chats around self-harm. As I was editing the document I learnt a lot about the way people advise others and I found this really useful!

Another project I gave feedback on was the Essential skills training that YouthNet asks Peer Advisors to complete. In terms of supporting people and giving advice I found this extremely interesting, particularly as I am a Law student, so any experience on advising others is key to someone like me.

I also launched a discussion about a couple of websites that the Angelus Foundation has asked us to look at. The Angelus Foundation is in the process of launching a website to educate young people about legal highs and as part of this I encouraged the TheSite Leaders to contribute their thoughts on which website draft they thought was better.

Wednesday and Thursday

I spent these two days in the Partnerships team which was very different to what Engagement and Support does. Andy gave me an informative introduction to what Partnerships does and it was really interesting to see the way that Do-it runs and the way that YouthNet works with other like minded organisations.

I started my work in Partnerships by creating a sheet of statistics for the previous month for the upcoming Budget Report, including details such as number of registered volunteers and the number of do-it applications. Something which I found quite interesting is the rise in the number of applications in the past few months – maybe because of the Olympics?

Over the next couple of days I spent some time inputting feedback forms from the Vbase 3.0 training session. Vbase is a volunteering database which many Volunteer Centres use and they recently had a morning of training after the launch of version 3.0. It was really useful to see people’s opinions on the training session, with some people really pleased with the training apart from the traffic outside!

Something which I also carried out in Partnerships was finding out contact details of a number of charitable organisations, some of which could be potential partners for the future.

Friday

On Friday morning I rounded up the responses we had from volunteers about the Technology Together booklet. As mentioned before, it was useful to see contrasting opinions around the project and the information provided in the booklet and I produced a brief report of the overall response.

And now I am sitting here writing this blog on my last day. I have really enjoyed my week here. The staff here are so welcoming and friendly and the office has such a relaxed atmosphere. Through being given my own tasks to complete and being left to use my own initiative I have had a first hand experience of what Engagement and Support and Partnerships do at YouthNet, as well as a more all round experience of what goes on in the office. I will miss it here but I’m sure I will be back in the future for other Leader’s events!

TheSite Support Workshop

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Last weekend a group of current volunteers, new volunteers and staff joined together at YouthNet HQ for the first TheSite Support Workshop.  The aim of the day was to start to develop Step Finder: a new service on the TheSite.org to help overcome barriers to getting support.

The aim of the workshop

Step Finder consists of personal stories written by young people, discussions and other content where anyone can talk about the issues they’ve experienced getting the support they need whether from friends or experts.

It is still in the early stages and the support workshop gave us the chance to hear each other’s ideas and to start creating new content that’s engaging.

Step Finder covers a really broad range of situations.  For the workshop, we concentrated on two common barriers:

  • Visiting your GP which can involve practical barriers like travel, and  emotional barriers like talking about an issue and confidentially.
  • Having difficult conversations is something many people find hard to do, whether it’s with a parent, friend or teacher.

The day was split into two main activities, accompanied by some ice breakers and energisers which all included a certain purple octopus.  The morning activity gave attendees the chance to understand how personal stories can support others. Each group got the opportunity to read a personal story and identify the barriers the writer faced.

The second activity gave the young volunteers the opportunity to get creative and produce their own content on one of the chosen themes (with assistance from YouthNet’s Multimedia Producer, Chris – thanks Chris).

The content created on the day is really impressive and can now be seen on Step Finder.  Click on the pictures below to see each piece in full:

Content we created for the Visiting your GP theme:

Phoning the doctors

 

 

 

 

Self harm and getting help

 

 

 

 

Content we created for the “Having difficult conversations” theme:

Talking to Mum and Dad about bullying

 

 

 

 

Talking to Mum

 

 

 

 

Through creating content like this, Step Finder offers young people a chance to explore the barriers that might be holding them back. Importantly it brings together solutions, tips, ideas and suggestions of ways they can overcome these from both professionals and their peers.

This is just the beginning, and we will be supporting our young volunteers to develop more creative and supportive content for their peers in the future.  We are really excited about all the pieces of content that were produced on the day, and look forward to seeing more.

Spotlight on a volunteer

History of YouthNet News Volunteering Volunteering at YouthNet

As Volunteering Development Manager at YouthNet I am very lucky to work with amazing volunteers who give their time, energy and skills to help us improve and enhance the services we offer for young people.

Our volunteers take part in a range of opportunities such as peer advising, moderating, photographing and writing and each volunteer’s journey with us is different.

One of our volunteers has recently written a blog entitled ‘Volunteering? Yes, please!’  which tells the story of her journey as a YouthNet volunteer over the past few years.  This presents me with the perfect opportunity to introduce her to you all as one example of the amazing volunteers in our team at YouthNet and to demonstrate the extra mile they go for us.

Fransisca Nelson started volunteering with YouthNet in 2009 after seeing an advert on Do-it to get involved as an online project member for the Lifetracks programme.  Fransisca spends a lot of her time online and decided to look for a way to spend some of this productively to help others and to improve her CV.

‘I was thinking of how I could spend my spare time doing something that will help me build my experience, make my CV look dashing and all that, but, I want to do it all around my studies and in my own time. Eerr, how does one go about doing that, exactly?’

The virtual opportunity

This volunteering opportunity was conducted online, which by its very nature proved popular with young people due to its flexibility and because many young people spend a large proportion of their time online already. Virtual volunteering is also inclusive as it can cater for people who want to volunteer but find it hard to do so in more traditional ways.  For example it can appeal to volunteers who do not want to or cannot leave their house, volunteers in rural areas, disabled volunteers, young parents or carers and those who cannot commit to a specific time each week due to heavy workloads or other commitments.

‘…the good thing about being a virtual volunteer is that we’re never left alone, or not knowing what we have to do, other volunteers are online (the network) if you ever need to trade ideas, discuss things, etc, and our contact (the Volunteer Manager) is only an e-mail away’

Although the Lifetracks consultation group is no longer recruiting volunteers, 16-25 year olds interested in virtual volunteering, websites and helping to improve online services for young people can get involved as TheSite.org Leader.

Making progress offline

Fransisca soon progressed as a volunteer and became one of 18 Lifetracks Ambassadors who represented and promoted the Lifetracks website and programme both online and offline in a variety of ways.  As part of the programme the Ambassadors attended a full day training session where they learnt skills such as public speaking and got the chance to meet each other.  In addition to this, Ambassadors were encouraged to discuss the skills they wanted to use, develop, and gain from volunteering.  It soon became clear that Fransisca’s talent and interest was creative design and she wanted to use this to both benefit YouthNet and to hone her skills.

As the Lifetracks programme came to an end, Fransisca’s volunteering with us certainly did not.  The opportunity to be a design volunteer was tailor-made giving her the chance to continue the great work she had already done for us.  Since then Fransisca has designed numerous newsletters for our photographer volunteers, using her creative skills to ensure they are interesting and engaging.

Honing skills

Most recently Fransisca has designed the banner on our brand new online volunteer network as well as YouthNet’s 16th Birthday invite.  Always willing to help more, she is currently working on a new banner for TheSite.org discussion boards so watch this space.

Fransisca’s journey with us is just one example but it is a great one to demonstrate the advantages of virtual volunteering and how volunteers can develop and grow within an organisation.  I am going to use a quote from Fransisca’s blog about volunteering to finish, as it’s always so much better from the horse’s mouth:

‘So much to do, so much to gain, the opportunities are there, and that leaves YOU to make it what it is. Get involved!’

To read Fransisca’s blog in full visit http://fan-fare.blogspot.com/

If you are interested in volunteering at YouthNet please check out our current opportunities or email volunteer@youthnet.org.

Volunteers Week at YouthNet – thanks to our writers and photographers

News Volunteering Volunteering at YouthNet YouthNet

During each (working) day of Volunteers’ Week 2011 we have been recognising a different group of our volunteers through this blog.  Today is the penultimate day and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers who create content for our websites.

TheSite.org and Do-it.org are of full articles, factsheets, videos and podcasts. Our editorial team are responsible for a large amount of these, but we also need to recognise the content that is created by young people for young people.

When looking for advice it is often easy to see the benefit of factual information but also, and often more importantly, we can learn from other peoples’ experiences.  As previous volunteers’ week blogs have highlighted, YouthNet’s services all benefit from peer-to-peer support and information sharing.  By creating content for their peers volunteers add real life examples, experiences and a fresh perspective to our websites, often helping our users to realise they are not alone.

So, I’d like to introduce and thank the different groups of volunteers that create content for our websites:

Bloggers share their experiences of volunteering by writing blogs for Do-it.org.  These blogs offer insight into a wide range of volunteering opportunities including campaigning, environmental volunteering, film making and overseas volunteering.  Hannah’s account of volunteering in Haiti is a great example of the way that writing can bring volunteering to life and inspire others who are considering getting involved themselves.

Photographer volunteers take photos of everything and anything relevant to our websites and upload these to our group on Flickr.  When choosing images to sit alongside our articles and illustrate our pages we choose photos from the Flickr group and credit the volunteer.

Personal stories are real life accounts written by volunteers of experiences or situations they have faced.  Volunteers have recently been writing these for the soon to launch section of TheSite; the Step Finder.  The Step Finder is all about helping young people overcome the barriers that get in the way when accessing support.  Personal stories are all about a time when accessing support was challenging, and how the writer overcame the personal, emotional or physical barriers that made this difficult.

The ranters section of TheSite community is a space where volunteers can have a good old rant about anything that really makes them mad.  Nicole recently wrote a rant about the Royal Wedding which was certainly not her cup of tea!

TheSite also has an area for True stories which are written by volunteers who are willing to share a personal story with other young people, to educate them or advise them.  Jessica* recently wrote about her experience of being tricked into smuggling drugs in order to raise awareness and ask other young people to be vigilant and learn from her experience.

Journalist volunteers contributed to Lifetracks, a three year project funded by Vodafone and v, by writing articles for www.lifetracks.com.  Supported by the YouthNet editorial team volunteers wrote articles on a variety of subjects, such as Seyi’s article about A-Level angst.

Last, but definitely not least, our actor volunteers appear in video and audio pieces.  For example Luke appeared in this comical and very useful video about body language at interviews.  Actor volunteers have also attended one day photo shoots and have appeared in photos that are used across the websites.

So, on behalf of everyone at YouthNet I’d like to say a massive thanks to all our budding journalist volunteers who have written articles, rants, stories and blogs, to all our photographer volunteers who have snapped some great shots for the websites and to all our model and actor volunteers who have posed and pouted at the right time.  Our websites, and the experiences of the people who use our websites, wouldn’t be the same without you all so thanks guys, you really are all amazing!