Case Study

Expanding volunteering roles to create career opportunities

Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust used volunteers to support their allied health professionals, offering a first step into an NHS career.

13 February 2023

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Offers people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to gain valuable work experience in the healthcare sector and encourages them to consider a career within the NHS.
  • Creates a mutually beneficial relationship where volunteers receive coaching and career support while helping the trust to reduce staff shortages.
  • Existing staff who engage with volunteers gain positive mentoring and management experience.
  • An innovative way to create new talent pipelines and tackle specific workforce needs.

What the organisation faced

Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust (BDCFT) faced difficulties recruiting to hard-to-fill allied health profession (AHP) roles such as podiatry and physiotherapy. Applications were low so the trust needed to find innovative ways to spark interest and passion for these roles. Lack of work experience was identified as a barrier, so the organisation needed to look at providing relevant opportunities to develop a pipeline of staff.

What the organisation did

Following COVID-19, staff shortages led to the delayed re-opening of BDCFT‘s baby clinics in children’s services. To address this the clinic successfully recruited volunteers to support families in the clinic which allowed it to reopen and provide an effective service. This inspired further initiatives that used volunteers to help increase capacity and release staff time.  

The trust teamed up with Helpforce, a charity that supports health and care organisations to accelerate the growth and impact of their volunteering, to establish a volunteer to career programme. The idea was to engage the community through offering them practical experience and exposure to AHP roles.

The trust advertised several entry-level volunteer vacancies, available to anyone who met the basic value-based recruitment standards. These roles included supporting professionals including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and podiatrists.

Most volunteers stayed with the organisation for at least a year and all candidates were supported by a mentor, from the application stage through to the end of their volunteering journey. The trust matched their interests with the right volunteering opportunity, as well as keeping them engaged and motivated through one-to-one support sessions. The volunteers had a robust induction process that included a variety of different e-learning modules on topics such as safeguarding, health and safety and roles and responsibilities. All volunteers worked towards the National Volunteer Certificate accredited by Health Education England. Volunteers were paired with a dedicated supervisor who made sure that they and the patients they worked with were protected from risk. There was also an ‘Act as One’ relationship between Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust and Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, this allowed volunteers to access a wider range of placements in locations that suited them. This led to long term volunteering, many staying for over a year and seeking work in the trust.

Results and benefits

During the volunteer recruitment process the trust engaged with local communities, which is crucially important when working within an area of high deprivation levels and a large amount of diversity. Volunteering offers the opportunity for members of the local community to take that first step into an NHS career without some of the barriers that exist through traditional entry routes.

Volunteers were able to ‘try before you buy’ and see which career might suit them in the future. If they had directly entered through a job application, they might have decided the role was not for them and have left the NHS, but the flexibility of volunteering allowed them to see what roles suited them.

The trust was surprised to find the positive impact that this had on staff beyond the practical support that volunteers can offer. Staff who worked with volunteers enjoyed supporting them with that first step into an NHS career and took an active role in supporting and mentoring.

The trust is already seeing the potential for a valuable new talent pipeline with two volunteers looking to become healthcare support workers (HSW). One volunteer wishes to join as a HSW while studying at university, showing it could be a good source of part-time or flexible workers. The team believes that volunteers seeking to enter the workforce in the trust after a period of volunteering, will become the norm.

Overcoming obstacles

The trust originally noted some resistance from certain members of staff who were concerned about the practical aspect of having a volunteer in their team and how safety would be maintained. Beyond the element of formal training, it was also beneficial that many staff had worked with volunteers before and championed the advantages they can bring to their colleagues.

It was important to the trust that the recruitment process was rigorous and as close as possible to the standard recruitment process. Recruitment was complex because the volunteer roles were created for an individual, rather than adapting a role that currently existed. To manage this the team maintained a constant dialogue with the HR team.

The original project plan was to rotate the volunteers through five different areas. Unfortunately, the trust’s recruitment system could not specify multiple roles for each candidate and the onboarding process would not have worked. The team decided that they should ensure that potential volunteers were asked about their interests during the recruitment process to provide career advice or the most relevant volunteer role. The trust is still hoping to pursue this in the future to support volunteers to gain a real understanding of the role.

Volunteering should be seen as a viable option for those who, for whatever reason, cannot enter employment at the time of application. For candidates with specific workplace needs the clinical lead holds a tailored discussion around suitability of volunteering and suggests alternatives. After a discussion with a candidate who has autism, the trust recognises that the current volunteer roles are not suitable and is exploring how to put in place reasonable adjustments to provide additional support.

Future plans

The trust hopes to develop its volunteer programme further with the intended introduction of a dietician mealtime volunteer from early 2023. This would compliment the final intention of having a multi-disciplinary clinic with relevant volunteers to support the speech therapists, occupational therapists, dieticians and physiotherapists, ideally using a rotational model.

Having a dedicated individual to support the volunteers in their first NHS job has brought great benefits. So the team would like to submit a business case to make the role of volunteer to career clinical lead a substantive post.

Take-away tips

  • Get involved with the local community to find innovative solutions to workforce challenges.
  • Encourage members of the community to pursue a career within the healthcare sector by creating an inclusive environment where people can discuss preferences and aspirations.
  • Make sure existing staff can also benefit from being involved in the initiative by offering development and career progression opportunities.
  • Work collaboratively with other organisations, thus widening the scope of the initiative and increasing the number of opportunities.
  • Ensure volunteers remain committed and motivated by offering support and mentorship throughout the entire process.
  • Put in place a comprehensive induction plan and provide volunteers with pastoral support prior to their start.

Contact Details

If you would like to find out anything further about expanding volunteer support in the allied health professions please contact Catherine Jowitt, head of charity & volunteering ( or Joanne Smith, Health Education England workforce supply volunteer to career (