How an NHS Trust is fast-tracking volunteers into healthcare careers

13th September 2022

Lindsey Watson no mask

Helpforce’s Volunteer to Career (VtC) programme, funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing and Health Education England, has opened up new and exciting opportunities at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust (BDCT), demonstrating one of the ways in which volunteering experience can lead to a full-time career in health and care.

We spoke to Catherine Jowitt, Head of Charity and Volunteering at the trust, who gave us a valuable insight into their work and the decision to focus on health visiting as the basis for their Volunteer to Career project.

Catherine explained: “The decision to focus on the ‘Volunteer to Career’ programme within health visiting was not easy, as this was a very unfamiliar territory for us. When we were recruiting our clinical lead, we hadn’t identified a particular area we wanted to focus on. Instead, we interviewed three different clinical leads from different parts of the trust and eventually chose health visiting, particularly baby clinics, as our core aim for the programme. We immediately identified the health visitor’s enthusiasm and her ability to see the spaces where volunteers could make the biggest impact.”

Due to the various lockdowns throughout the pandemic, the baby clinics across the district were closed in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. There was a huge pressure within the trust to begin opening up these community-based clinics, but there were complications due to staffing issues and concerns over how they can operate safely. Volunteers quickly became part of the solution to these challenges. They helped with cleaning down the equipment after each use and maintaining an even flow of mothers and children through the centre. During the first wave of recruitment, five volunteers were selected to work alongside the staff within the clinics. Catherine said:

“The volunteers also did the routine weights and measures, which was a really great opportunity as they were actually part of the intervention and created more time for health visitors to speak with mothers directly. The staff really valued having the volunteers as well as all the mothers.”

Lindsey Watson with mask

Volunteer Lindsey Watson, who is part of the VtC programme at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust

Out of the first five volunteers, one moved onto a career outside of the organisation within housing, but the remaining four are now embarking on careers within health and social care. After exploring different options, one is moving on to study Dietetics at university in September 2022, whilst another volunteer now has two positions working as a receptionist at a GP surgery and also as a support worker in the community. The remaining two are now exploring the prospect of further training to become nurses, one being particularly interested in paediatric nursing. Whatever the future holds, these volunteers didn’t know these careers were within their skills set and experience, which has become a reality for them through their voluntary work.

A further four volunteers are now undergoing the recruitment and training process for the same role, one of which is a man. Catherine commented: In such a female dominated profession like Health Visiting, it’s refreshing to have a male volunteer and the team is excited to have a different perspective that can help us provide a better service for carers and babies.”

Partly due to the results of the Volunteer to Career programme, the trust is now very keen on encouraging volunteering and expanding its impact. The programme is becoming more embedded in their strategy moving forward and advancements have already been made - funding has been provided for a Volunteer Coordinator in Childrens’ Services and another in Community Mental Health Services, which is a significant opportunity to create more roles.

Catherine described the positive impact working with Helpforce had on the Volunteer to Career programme at BDCT: “Working with Helpforce has contributed to a culture shift in the organisation where volunteering is really seen as part of the solution to future workforce challenges. Prior to the programme, volunteering had not been part of workforce or service transformation conversations, but we have now seen a real organisational shift in the credibility and potential volunteering has in creating pathways into the health and social care workforce - it is no understatement when I say I have never known a project have such a great impact in such a short space of time. We are incredibly thankful to Helpforce for the opportunity and support in delivering Volunteer to Career programmes within our trust.”

Bob Champion, Chief People Officer at BDCT, shared with us his thoughts of the programme and the effectiveness it has to produce a skilled and experienced workforce within the Trust and provide the best possible care for service users:

“In these challenging times in which workforce supply often falls short of demand, not only in terms of overall numbers, but also sometimes in the calibre, or experience of would-be healthcare workers. In the latter respect, the introduction of the Volunteer to Career programme provides an excellent vehicle for harnessing talent and enthusiasm to make a difference to our service users and their carers and families. Whether volunteering for recovery, work experience or altruistic reasons, our volunteers bring a wealth of life experiences, including the direct impact of being on the receiving end of our services. That richness of experience benefits our wider volunteer workforce and offers us a fantastic pool of people to call on to support our health and care workers across a broad range of activities and functions. The transition from volunteering into employment, whether part time or full time, or temporary or permanent, should be seen as a natural and seamless process and Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust is proud to be participating so actively and successfully in this programme and making it sustainable for the future.”

Mark Burrett, Helpforce’s Programme Manager, added:

“Here at Helpforce, working with the volunteering team at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust on the VtC Programme has been a real joy. The passion the team have shown to make the Volunteer to Career programme a success has been exemplary. They delivered effective community engagement work and clinical leadership and designed a robust career pathway for involved volunteers. Because of the success, it is great to see the programme continuing and creating additional volunteering roles in Children’s Services.”

The organisation now recognises volunteering as part of the solution for addressing many of the staffing challenges within the trust. It has created a huge culture shift in attitudes towards volunteering, and many conversations around the untapped potential of volunteers are now happening at all levels. Catherine added: “It’s not all down to the Volunteer to Career programme, but it is a massive contribution to the ongoing change. Many of the breakthroughs we have had would not have happened without it.”

If you would like to find out more about how you can run a Volunteer to Career project in your organisation, get in touch with us at

We will be holding an online conference, "Your volunteers - Your future workforce" to share more details about the Volunteer to Career programme. This conference will take place on the 19th October, 10 - 11.30 am. For more information about the programme and to register, please visit this link.

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The Volunteer to Career programme is funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing and Health Education England.