At this year’s Conservative and Labour Party Conferences, St John Ambulance volunteers and cadets hosted panels within the Youth Zone, discussing the importance of volunteering for young people and for their communities. Chaired by prominent MPs – Conservative’s Peter Aldous and Labour’s Luke Pollard – alongside guest panellists, including YUF Director Sam Hyde.
Below are extracts of speeches by four St John Ambulance volunteers, delivered to audiences at both conference panels.
“Ever since I was young, I have aspired to be a police officer which I think has had a huge influence in everything I have done. I was 13 when I first heard about St John Ambulance, I heard about the organisation as I was completing a first aid course taught by them at my high school I was attending at the time. Towards the end of the course, the course trainer mentioned to us about cadets and told us how we could get involved. I instantly thought that this would be a great opportunity for my CV but after around eight years of volunteering for St John ambulance, I found that I had got so much more out of it than just a handful of skills. I have a sense of belonging, sense of value and it has inspired me to achieve so much more out of my life. Volunteering almost instantly became addictive to me, from volunteering out on events to finding out what other youth volunteering organisations were out there!
I started to campaign about giving young people the chance to learn first aid in school and I then started to deliver first aid training to schools across Leicestershire.
Volunteering gave me so much more than just a few skills to put on my CV – I made loads of friends along my social action journey, I’ve travelled all over the country and I have been to so many places I never thought I would go, such as parliament, party conferences, Buckingham palace and more! The thing I fear about the most is that if it wasn’t for the first aid trainer at my school this incredible journey I have been on would have never started. The opportunity for me to volunteer and open thousands of doors for me would never have came and above more I may never have succeeded in my career ambitions.”
– Jamie, Conservative Party Conference 2018
“I started out as a cadet aged 14 with St John Ambulance and now, I’m working with the National Team as well as young people from around the country on policies and projects five years later. By joining a Youth focused voluntary organisation, I was able to better access the support and resources needed to further my personal and professional development. And when I found myself struggling, say on a cadet night, I’d simply return the following week and try again.
I think volunteering allows for young people to access more opportunities, as there are few barriers to entry. It has been proven that, when undertaken over a long period of time, volunteering helps people from varied backgrounds integrate cohesively. The evidence for this can be found in the impact report conducted by ComRes, in partnership with Youth United. Having personally attended a white-majority private school, I found myself sheltered from people who, like me, came from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds until I joined St. John Ambulance. With the current climate of hostility towards minorities, refugees, and persons of colour, it is now more important than ever that all elements of our community can mix and develop those important social bonds that prevent our society from becoming segregated. Long term volunteering gives people time to explore different cultures and perspectives and allows for the development of relationships that would be impossible in the short term.
I am aware that there are lots of different types of volunteer experience. I understand that not every young person is in situation where an open-ended commitment is possible. But really, for me one of the best parts of being with St John is getting stuck in to a serious issue that couldn’t be easily resolved. For example, we campaigned for years for first aid to be taught in every school. I had the chance to be a part of that very campaign for a year and half. I went to parliament, consulted with the Department of Education, got other young people involved and had a real sense of the campaign. In the end, we were successful! It wasn’t a quick fix by any stretch but it will have a real, long lasting legacy.”
– Nakkita, Labour Party Conference 2018
“I’m a doctor within the NHS. I’ve been volunteering for ten years, eight of which have been with St John Ambulance. For me, the benefits of long-term volunteering are countless. They are simply innumerable.
I’d like to tell you about a cadet that we’ll call Tim. Tim recently said “St John Ambulance saved my life.” That’s not because he had a cardiac arrest and was resuscitated. That’s not because he was choking and received effective first aid. It was because the friends, the interests and the community he had developed, prevented him from committing suicide.
Let’s just pause and think about that for a moment.
What a powerful, powerful impact his volunteering had on him. I was stunned by this and started to look around for other examples, and I quickly realised that this isn’t an isolated case.
A systematic review and meta-analysis – geeky talk for the highest level of evidence – showed that not only did volunteering improve both physical and mental health, but it actually decreased mortality rates! Numerous other studies have demonstrated how volunteering improves happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression, and – importantly – the longer and more frequent the volunteering, the more significant the benefits. With up to 20% of us as young people experiencing a mental health problem in any given year, this is incredibly relevant.
After several years of volunteering as a student, I applied and was appointed as a Regional Student Volunteering Officer, responsible for supporting university students across the south west of England. This enabled me to share my passion for volunteering with hundreds of other young people. I had the opportunity to teach them, the opportunity to lead several of them across the country, and many, many opportunities to be inspired and learn from them. I developed myself by seizing the opportunities that volunteering presented to me.
Indeed, the more volunteering I have done, the more opportunities have opened their doors – and not just within the volunteering sector but also outside of it. I’ve developed life skills and experience that many of my professional peers haven’t had the opportunity to gain.”
– Luke, Labour Party Conference 2018
“My volunteering family, my home away from home, has changed a lot in the last 18 months as I’ve moved from my unit of nine years to a new Student Volunteering unit. And it’s quite the cliché to be a “special snowflake” and say that “safe” space has allowed me to grow and develop around like-minded individuals, who are actually a lot more understanding when you have a 3000-word essay due the next day and are feeling a little bit flustered.
Volunteering has subtly been engraved in my life, like for many families. Social conventions reinforce altruism- say please, thank you, hold the door. And like statistics have shown, the earlier that volunteering is encouraged, the more likely a person “sticks at it”. I’ve been a volunteer for half my life.
When Kate entered our cadet unit, she was shy and apprehensive but willing to give it a go to learn a skill for life. Over the course of 6 years, I watched her develop core skills such as delegation, leadership, responsibility, accountability and, most importantly, self-belief. She interviewed and took leadership responsibility in a role designed to create an organisational structure, learning skills to help her in the workforce. During her interview, she said that she had never believed in herself until joining the Unit, underscoring the impact that long-term volunteering had on her personally, psychologically and socially.
She recently received a place to study Nursing. She, like many young volunteers, is entering the workforce with a bank of knowledge and a skill set that her many of her peers, who have not discovered volunteering experiences may lack.
Long-term volunteering, when great social action principles are applied, is embedded and available to all, creates a safe space where young people can come together regularly, to find friends and create relationships and socially mix leading to a community that flourishes and celebrates community cohesion.”
– Rebecca, Conservative Party Conference 2018