The role of the voluntary sector in supporting young people’s health. Duncan Tree – Volunteering Matters

It is clear that the voluntary and community sector has a critical role to play in enabling and empowering young people to make healthier life choices. Engaging young people in volunteering and social action is increasingly recognised as a vehicle through which young people can improve their health and wellbeing. Volunteering Matter’s ‘Sex Matters Too‘ programme, in Torfaen South Wales, provides a great example of this.

Sex Matters Too is an award winning sex education initiative, run by young people for young people. Young volunteers, aged 18-25, are recruited and trained to design and deliver Sex Matters workshops for other young people, aged 14-15. The project gives young people vital information regarding sexual health and healthy relationships. Over 80% of participants report feeling more confident in how to prevent STI’s and say that they now know what safe sex means and how to practice it.

There are further benefits to the volunteers in terms of employment and access to further education. In the words of one 18 year old volunteer: “I have always wanted to be a midwife but I knew it was really hard to get a place. Being on the Sex Matters Project means that I have something on my application that others don’t. It makes me really proud.” For more inspiring case studies from the voluntary sector, visit our website and see our toolkit for organisations interested in involving more young volunteers in health and social care.

A key success factor in volunteering programmes is that they are genuinely co-produced, with young people driving their design and delivery. Young people also tell us that these programmes work because they feel more comfortable discussing health and wellbeing with their peers.

But as our own work shows, and recent research by IPSOS MORI for the #iwill campaign has emphasised, there remains a social gradient in relation to participation by young people in volunteering and social action.  Although the gap in participation between the most and least affluent has lessened, young people from the most affluent families are still significantly more likely than those from less affluent backgrounds to have taken part in social action. Addressing the barriers faced by many young people in accessing volunteering opportunities is essential if we are to realise the full benefits to health and wellbeing.

Duncan Tree leads Volunteering Matters’ policy work and has more than 25 years experience in both the public and voluntary sectors at national and local levels. He has a particular interest in and experience of the development and implementation of health and social care policy.

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