As my year as a Time to Shine leader ends, it seems the perfect opportunity to reflect upon the past twelve months. My name is Abi, and I joined Empowerment Charity in Blackpool as a Time to Shine leader in March 2021. This opportunity allowed me to join Healthwatch Blackpool’s tiny team of two as a Young Person’s Engagement Officer, listening to young people’s voices relating to all things health and social care.
My journey to this role has been full of ups and downs. Having obtained a 2:1 BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology from The University of Liverpool, I found myself lost and applied for numerous different jobs back in Blackpool as a temporary stopgap for the summer. This is how I started my role at Royal Mail. Through working as a postwoman, I was taught how to communicate effectively both with peers and members of the community, whilst remaining friendly and approachable. Although I enjoyed being outdoors (weather permitting) and the shorter working days, I knew this was not something I wanted to do for the foreseeable and wasn’t a job I felt passionate about. Having already volunteered at Empowerment for four months joining the local Corona Kindness initiative, I heard about the opportunity with The Rank Foundation and did not hesitate to apply. Having acquired numerous transferable skills whilst at Royal Mail, I felt the advertised role would be perfect for me but without relevant experience, I had struggled to secure a role within my desired sector. Despite this, the skills I had paid off and I was lucky enough to be asked to join the team. My Time to Shine leadership position commenced.
I was nervous to start as a Young Person’s Engagement Officer with Healthwatch Blackpool as I lacked self-confidence, however felt overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity, and that others had seen potential in me. To add context, Healthwatch Blackpool is the independent consumer voice for health and social care, existing under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. We listen to the views of local people and aim to make services work for the people who use them. Through our work, Healthwatch Blackpool welcomes local people’s experiences of healthcare services to influence change and offer improvement. Having predominantly listened to the voices of adults, my role focused largely on young people, with the primary aim of giving this demographic in Blackpool a platform to share their views and experiences of local health and care services. This was an exciting opportunity, as working specifically with young people had not been done before. Although a risk, this was something we were hopeful to be a success and could not wait to get started.
Consequently, I successfully established ‘Youthwatch Blackpool’, created with the primary aim of giving young people a platform to express their views, build friendships and gain experience. Youthwatch provides opportunities for children and young people to be involved in sharing feedback and influencing local service delivery. Within the past twelve months, I have inducted six active volunteers, aged 11-18, to help to regularly represent Youthwatch and support Healthwatch Blackpool engagements. They listen to other young people’s experiences of services and share intelligence to identify what is needed in the locality. As part of my role as Young Person’s Engagement Officer, I have also co-designed and facilitated two surveys alongside Youthwatch volunteers. In total, I have engaged with over 300 young people around health and social care, providing them with the opportunity to have their voice heard.
In addition to this, I successfully facilitated a myth busting Q&A session with Blackpool’s Director of Public Health, Dr Arif Rajpura, addressing vaccine hesitancy in young people. Youthwatch Blackpool volunteers recognised that young peers and family members were reluctant to receive the Covid-19 vaccine through fears it could negatively affect fertility rates. Consequently, six Youthwatch volunteers produced a list of questions relating to the vaccine and fertility, which they felt required clarification. They proposed the questions be answered by Dr Arif Rajpura via an online Q&A session. This session was recorded and distributed on social media channels, as well as other third sector organisations. This provided the opportunity for unbiased information to be shared among young people, enabling accurate informed decision-making.
Whilst all of the above seems like yesterday, the year has flown by. None of this would have been possible without the help and support from everybody at Rank. Action learning sets and leadership days have been a staple throughout the year, providing me with the opportunity to become an excellent listener and learn the skill of self-reflection. Through participating in action learning sets, I have been able to solve workplace problems through open-ended questions. Taking a different approach instead of the traditional approach of automatically offering solutions has been beneficial and has enabled me to incorporate this into my personal life. Although plans had seemed uncertain because of Covid-19 throughout the past twelve months, I was lucky enough to be able to meet my cohort and facilitator face to face on four different occasions. Consequently, the friendships made and bonds built over the course of the year have been incomparable. I know that the relationships created will continue long beyond Rank and I feel incredibly lucky to have met and been supported by my cohort. A big thanks to Kev for all your help facilitating, we could not have asked for anyone better!
Overall, my Time to Shine journey has provided me with the opportunity to develop my skills with a supportive network around me to flourish and grow. Since starting the programme one year ago, I have grown in confidence and achieved so many things I did not think were possible. Saving the best until last, I want to say a massive thank you to my highly commended team at Healthwatch Blackpool for always being positive and being there for me every step of the way (even with my million and one questions haha). The support you both have offered has been invaluable and I could not have done it without your constant help and encouragement when I feel like an imposter (my biggest cheerleaders). I am incredibly thankful and grateful for you both.
Moving forward, I am extremely excited that I have been offered a permanent role within Empowerment and look forward to continuing my work as a Young Person’s Engagement Officer. Although a risk, this past year has proved successful, with Youthwatch Blackpool volunteers continuing to meet regularly and allowing young people’s voices to be heard. Through upcoming projects, we hope to coproduce change through working collaboratively with the system. A final massive thank you to The Rank Foundation and Mike for the opportunity and believing in me when I did not believe in myself.