Established by St Elizabeth Hospice in 2015, Zest is a scheme which sees the independent Suffolk charity work closely with children’s hospices to ensure young adults have a smooth transition into adult care.
Supporting young adults aged 14 and upwards with progressive and life-limiting illnesses, Zest ensures all the young people, under its care, receive specialist support, tailored treatment and services needed to be able to enjoy life to the full.
Currently 36 young people and 124 family members utilise Zest’s services. From its industry unique Short Breaks, which allows young people to take time out from their daily routine and provides vital respite for families, through to its parent support group and monthly X-Change evening social group for patients, Zest enables young adults with challenging conditions to fulfil their aspirations.
More than 1,600 volunteers generously give their time to support Zest and St Elizabeth Hospice. These volunteers provide support in many ways, including working in either of the two Zest retail shops, in Colchester and Ipswich, or by working alongside Zest staff in supporting young adults at X-Change evenings and weekend drop in sessions.
One person who understands first-hand the enjoyment and benefits of volunteering for Zest can bring is 20-year-old Vacha Fadia, who began volunteering for the young adult charity five years ago. An experience which has inspired her to study Medicine at University College London.
“From my first experience of St Elizabeth Hospice as a primary school pupil where we met patients and learnt about the hospice’s work, through to volunteering with Zest, my experiences have opened my eyes to hospices and young adult care and inspired my aim to work in medicine,” explained Vacha.
“Zest enables the community to connect with each other and allows everyone to fulfil their wishes and aspirations no matter their circumstances, as a volunteer to be able to support this service is a real privilege.”
Currently in her second year of university, Vacha has used experience gained while volunteering at Zest to help her with her university studies which have also seen her working at University College London Hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Through volunteering I gained confidence and learnt new skills such as how to communicate with different people, including those who are non-verbal. Being at Zest widens your perspective and teaches you a lot about yourself, and the more I progress into my studies I plan to utilise these important skills further,” explained Vacha.
A typical evening volunteering would see Vacha support the Zest X-Change evening social groups. Arriving at 4.30pm, she would discuss with Zest staff the plan for the evening ahead including the meals the young adults would like and the activities they would be doing.
Vacha said: “The experience was very diverse and I really enjoyed getting to know all the young adults and share their enthusiasm for all the activities organised.
“From sports activities and music therapy to visits from a miniature reptile zoo which saw me hold a snake round my neck! There was always something different and it was rewarding to develop friendships with all the young adults and see their personalities and friendships grow.
“They are all inspiring, making the most of life and living it to the fullest. You could have had a stressful day with studying for your A-levels, like I did many times, but once you were in the Zest environment you can’t help but have your mood lifted.”
As well as assisting the Zest team with organising X-Change groups, Vacha found the ability to contribute to the development of the Zest service especially rewarding and a unique experience she had not been afforded while volunteering for other organisations.
“Knowing your thoughts and opinions mattered really shaped me and gave me a sense of responsibility I had not had before when volunteering,” she said.
“The ever evolving nature of Zest makes you want to be a part of it and to have the chance to offer my suggestions on how we could tailor the service further was fantastic and made me realise I wanted my future career to be in a similar field.
“All the staff are so passionate and dedicated you can’t help but feel motivated to help. Zest is a unique service as there isn’t enough young adult transitioning services like it in the UK. They really are paving a new way for medicine, which is rare to see and is something I’m extremely grateful to have been involved in.
“I would encourage anyone to volunteer for Zest as it’s an opportunity you will not regret. Similar to any new experience it can be daunting at first, but don’t be afraid to ask questions as the Zest team will want to help and you will quickly pick up things as you go along.
“By getting involved you will learn skills you will have for a lifetime and you will be making a difference in a service which is shaping the futures of many young people in your local area.”
To learn more about volunteering opportunities at Zest and St Elizabeth Hospice email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk/support-us/support-us/volunteer-for-us/.
To find out further about Zest visit www.stelizabethhospice.org.uk/about-us/about-us/zest.