Caroline Wood reports on the 2016 YHA Youth Conference, held at YHA Manchester, Saturday 5th March 2016
As volunteers are such an important part of the YHA, Caroline White (CEO of the YHA) herself made the trip to give us a personal welcome. “Our goal is to reach 1 million young people each year and every one of you in this room can help us achieve this” she said.
The YHA was originally founded to help young people access the countryside and this commitment still underpins the organisation today. Last year, for instance, over 150,000 young people visited a YHA through their school/college and 7,500 disadvantaged young people benefitted from a bursary from the YHA Breaks for Kids fund. But these staggering numbers need a staggering workforce to make it happen – and that’s where volunteers come in, over 3,000 of them to be precise! And it’s not hard to see why people are drawn to give up their time for the YHA; as Caroline put it, “The YHA is about having fun – we’re not boring or corporate!”
Besides having wonderful experiences, YHA volunteers also benefit from personal development and increased employability skills as Holly and Lee from the Recruitment Team explained. “Volunteering stands out on your CV– it says you are willing to give up your time and that you are motivated” Lee said.
The sheer breadth of roles available – catering, front of house, marketing, fundraising – makes it ideally placed to “find your strengths”. YHA volunteering placements, in conjunction with the charity Centrepoint, have even provided homeless young people with a way in to employment. We then amassed our problem-solving skills for the infamous YHA Egg-Drop challenge – apparently a summer camp leader favourite! Unfortunately, the “landing stage” wasn’t big enough for our egg…but we cleaned up the mess eventually!
Laurence then gave us an insight into a summer camp leader’s life, describing how rewarding it was to help children from all walks of life – including young carers and children with physical, emotional or behavioural needs – to have an unforgettable stay. “Some of these experiences will be the one and only time they get to experience something like rock climbing” he said. In return, volunteers develop life skills in safeguarding, child protection, building rapport and managing challenging behaviour – invaluable for a career working with children. As he reminded us, it can be easy to be drawn to exotic placements such as Camp America, but “there is a whole world to explore within these Isles”.
But the YHA CAN cater for those that yearn for international travel, as Theodore illustrated with his placement at Altamar YHA in Spain. His photographs certainly whetted our appetites but he assured us that, far from being a holiday, the work he did there helped to demonstrate personal qualities of self-development, altruism and employability. “It’s helped me in every interview and application since and was critical in helping me to secure an internship in finance” he said.
Meanwhile, Cery’s international YHA journey exemplifies the organisation’s aim to provide opportunities for young people from different countries to interact together. Last August, she was one of three delegates the YHA sent to the Hostelling International Youth Conference held in Amiens (France), to promote peaceful relations between nations affected by the First World War. The two weeks were jam-packed with activities both reflective and social – including video editing, radio interviews, a scavenger trail and even visiting the European Parliament in Brussels!
Finally, Jon Smith and Samantha Wragg from the YHA Digital Team revealed some of the work the YHA is doing to keep up with an increasingly digital society. As John said, “these days, everyone feels and experiences their life through a digital device” – which can make it difficult to sell the appeal of outdoor, “raw” adventure in the wilds.
Hence, the YHA Digital Team has been busy and recently launched a brilliant video detailing “12 Hostelling Hacks: Tips for Travellers” – who knew that coathangers make a great personal bunkbed cinema?! It’s just another brilliant example of how dynamic and imaginative the YHA is – which is what makes being a YHA volunteer so worthwhile.
So, if you aren’t already a YHA volunteer – get involved! From being a Young Champion, volunteering at a summer camp or even managing a hostel for a week – check out the range of opportunities on the website. And if you are already involved, why not see how you can take it further? Get connected on Facebook and make sure you are subscribed to the volunteering e-newsletter to get the latest news on placements available and one-off volunteering events.