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A volunteer ascends to dizzy heights – but couldn’t there be more?

I’ve reached the summit.  Or rather a summit.  The top of a greasy pole (albeit a fairly small one).  I’ve become chair of a Health and Wellbeing Board sub-committee on mental health. 

You could spin it pretty well on a CV (if I was writing one – I’m doing this, like most of my activities now on a voluntary basis).  It’s delivering on the Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy for the whole of adult mental health, and with mental equal to physical health, this is the driving force for change across a huge part of the population’s health and wellbeing.

However, that’s not how it is.  The committee is a backwater, largely ignored by senior decision makers in the key organisations, with a steadily dwindling attendance as people discover it’s not worth their time.

What I’m hoping to do about that, as the new chair, is for another time.  My point for now is about the use of volunteers.

Why was I asked to take on this chairmanship?  Because I turn up, am vaguely competent and no-one else wanted it (I assume).  But, even if only in desperation, they have at least accepted that a volunteer can be worthwhile.

But there is scope for so much more.  While there about 400 volunteers supporting our local acute hospital, volunteers are virtually unknown in the local council or in GP Patient Participation Groups.

What does it take to maintain such a free resource?  Valuing them for what they have to offer, treating them well, providing clear, challenging but achievable and worthwhile roles and thanking them for what they do.  (Oh, and making sure they’re not out of pocket).

And what, besides free labour (which shouldn’t substitute for proper funding of public services), is the benefit?  Surely it’s embedding the public as partners in the services they receive and increasingly making the promotion of our health and wellbeing a joint endeavour.

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