A male volunteer plays with stuffed toys with a young girl in a health clinic

Helpforce Cymru – five years on

Published: 09/04/24 | Categories: Influencing,Volunteering, Author: Fiona Liddell

Five years ago we began a programme to expand and embed volunteering within health & social care in Wales. Fiona Liddell, WCVA’s Helpforce Cymru Manager, reflects on the legacy so far.


Our Helpforce Cymru project began five years ago. It was thanks to Helpforce that work kicked off in Wales (and also Scotland and Ireland), with two year funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and (in the case of Wales) from Welsh Government.

Initially I was part of two teams: the volunteering team in WCVA and the Helpforce staff team, which met monthly in London. Work planning and supervision was managed by both organisations collaboratively. The Helpforce Cymru Steering group was formed, bringing together individuals from across all sectors who have an interest in the strategic development of volunteering in relation to health and social care.

Now, Helpforce Cymru is supported with three year funding from Welsh Government, as part of the WCVA Health and Care project. The focus is still on volunteering – both within statutory and voluntary organisations and communities.

Under the guidance and supportive chairing of two Bevan Commissioners, Fran Targett and Mary Cowern, our Helpforce Cymru Network (as it is now called) discusses innovative developments and enables many informal connections that really help to make things happen.


Working hand in hand with Helpforce, back in 2020/21 we supported three pilot projects on volunteering and end of life care as part of a wider UK programme with Marie Curie. Three participating health boards sought to adapt and embed volunteering roles that have been tested and honed by Marie Curie over the years. Their work has helped to extend the experience and evidence base for the positive impact of volunteering within health care settings.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic caused serious challenges and delays to these projects. But in other ways, the pandemic gave rise to some positive opportunities for Helpforce Cymru.

The local response of volunteers during the pandemic really changed the national discourse around volunteers. At the same time, Helpforce Cymru was drawn into high level conversations for emergency planning – which opened the door to new working relationships with a number of governmental bodies.

A further strand of work that grew out of the pandemic was volunteering in care homes. Work with Age Cymru began in 2021, at the request of Care Inspectorate Wales, to enable volunteers to support relatives to visit residents in care homes under COVID-19 restrictions. This work has continued and evolved, through several funding phases.

Social Care Wales is now looking to develop a model for supporting volunteering within social care settings and consultants have been appointed to embark on this work.


Helpforce Cymru advocated the inclusion of volunteering in the workforce strategy for health and social care in 2020 (see Action 32). Volunteering also featured within the strategic mental health workforce plan (see Action 6) and more recently, the national workforce implementation plan (see page 20).

While it is not appropriate to plan for and to deploy volunteers in the same way as we would for staff, we have advocated for strategic thinking about volunteering alongside thinking about workforce development. This was discussed in a blog in 2021 Are volunteers part of the workforce?

From a ‘workforce’ perspective we need first to improve understanding of the contribution of volunteers, through research and by developing reliable sources of volunteer related data at national and regional levels. We need to plan for the resources (including staff time) required to recruit, train and support volunteers.

Creating pathways from volunteering into careers in health and social care benefits not only individual volunteers but also the wider system. Helpforce UK’s Volunteer to Career programme (which includes funding projects in Wales) contributes evidence and experience to our thinking in this area.


In 2019 we negotiated and published a Charter for volunteering and workplace relationships, in conjunction with Wales TUC. This is a useful basis for discussion about developments in relation to volunteering, particularly in unionised workplaces such as NHS.

A Welsh Government COVID-19 Recovery Grant for Volunteering enabled us to work with Bevan Commission, Social Care Wales and Richard Newton Consulting to develop the Framework for Volunteering in Health and Social Care.

This interactive resource explores six key questions to be addressed by organisations involved in volunteering – whether they be commissioners, delivery organisations, infrastructure bodies (such as County Voluntary Councils) or community groups. The self assessment tool within the Framework has been further developed by West Glamorgan Regional Partnership to support development of a regional approach to volunteering.

Blogs and case studies have been written and relevant research has been supported and shared. These are posted on the Helpforce Cymru web page.

In this way we have contributed to national debate and developed some tools that we hope will help to embed volunteering more firmly within our health and care systems. We have kept volunteering on the agenda in relation to strategic developments in health and social care and celebrated some great examples of where and how volunteering makes a difference.


Next year we will continue to support developments in relation to care homes, workforce strategy (including volunteer to career pathways) and rationalising data sources, amongst other areas.

We are planning to host a couple of sessions at gofod3 on 5 June 2024, to discuss topical issues relating to the voluntary sector and volunteers in relation to health and wellbeing in Wales. It would be good to see you there!

If you would like to know more about Helpforce Cymru or to receive newsletter updates, contact Fiona by emailing fliddell@wcva.cymru.