Celebrating our Champions this Volunteers’ Week

1st June 2017 By: Anastasia Bow-Bertrand

Today marks the start of Volunteers’ Week, an annual event during which we celebrate the difference that our volunteers make to the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families’ community and those we support.

At the Anna Freud National Centre, we are committed to ensuring that the experiences of parents and young people help us to further improve our services for those most in need of support. Our aim is that children, young people and parents are involved in all aspects of our work.

We are proud to give parents and young people a range of opportunities to contribute to our projects and services as champions. Each of our champions have unique stories and reasons for getting involved but they all do have one thing in common – they are passionate about improving mental healthcare for children and families.

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Many of our volunteers first engage with our participation work by joining our Parent and Youth panels. These are a forum for parents, carers and young people who have used our services or who have relevant experiences to provide feedback and support the Centre’s development of services.

Funmi, a Parent Champion who is a member of our Parents’ Panel and helped to conduct an audit of the Centre’s participation programme shared her motivations:

“Leaving children’s wellbeing to someone else is no longer enough and so I embraced the opportunity to make a difference by becoming an active volunteer at the Centre.”

As well as contributing their voices to our panels, our champions represent the Centre at events and conferences, help to improve how existing services are delivered, train mental health professionals so they understand the needs of service users and talk to funders about mental health and wellbeing.

Other opportunities include getting involved in designing and developing new projects. Most recently, Vera and Selwa, Centre champions, approached our participation team with an idea to set up a creative project to transform an unused room at a local temporary residence. The end result was a gorgeous mural and vibrant hub to host community events. Read more about the project here.

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Over the years, many of our volunteers have also chosen to share their experiences with journalists and a wider audience to help shape the national conversation on mental health. Many contributors to our Child in Mind podcast series are Centre champions while others have joined us in getting our Heads Together as part of the Royal Foundation led campaign of which we are a charity partner.

The way we look is literally the product of our co-creation work. Many of the images that we use across Centre communications were produced with young people from Wac Arts, based in Hampstead, who developed their photography skills while producing a set of images to reflect our work and coincide with our rebrand last year.

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We also have professional volunteer roles available with our clinical series, including at our Early Years Parenting Unit and Parent Toddler Group which prioritise those who have experience of caring for children.

All of our volunteers are an invaluable part of the Centre team. Our Participation colleagues provide ongoing support and training to enable our champions to develop new skills. Maisy, one of our Young Champions, wrote a blog called ‘Participants not Patients’ published here, in which she discusses her volunteer work with us. She writes:

‘To me, participation means that I can be more than just a patient: I can actively contribute and make the changes to services that I want to see happen.’

Professor Peter Fonagy, our Chief Executive Officer, said:

‘The voices and contributions of our Young and Parent Champions are crucial to making sure that our aim to put children, young people and families at the heart of our work is realised. Through our participation activity we are able to enact a sharing of knowledge that enriches our work by canvassing the experiences, thoughts and ideas of those best placed to shape the services that we offer.’

We celebrate our champions every day but especially this week we extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to you all. If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering for the Centre, upcoming champion recruitment deadlines, or for ways that you can support us, please get in touch with our Participation Officers, Nick and Salma.

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