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A partnership between Waltham Forest College and youth hostelling charity YHA (England & Wales) has enabled 39 Level 3, first year travel and tourism students to gain vital work experience during Lockdown.

The teenagers have taken their talents online to become website testers, secret shoppers and social media marketers for YHA, completing their 12-week work experience course element virtually.

Under normal circumstances, the students would be working onsite in YHA’s network of youth hostels. However, the pandemic has forced all hostels to close their doors. Determined to find a solution and ensure the students are on track to complete their course, the College and YHA decided on the best option of virtual volunteering.

The students have set up their own YHA-focused Instagram account - @youthwaltham - to raise awareness of YHA amongst their peers. They are also testing out how easy it is for people to navigate YHA’s website and book breaks as part of its customer experience programme.

Stella Takkas, Senior Employability Coach at Waltham Forest College, explained: “Despite the current closure of businesses in the travel and tourism sector it is so important that we maintain links and deliver real experiences to our students and we are grateful to YHA for enabling that.”

“The virtual volunteering is highly effective and very well organised by YHA. It has encouraged independent learning amongst the students and given them a much deeper appreciation of how important digital engagements are to the travel and tourism sector.

Tom Vittles, Head of Service Industries at Waltham Forest College said: “We appreciate the benefit that this project has given the students and, despite the obstacles often encountered with remote working, the results have been very fruitful. We would like to thank YHA for making it possible.”

One of the students, Fatima Saeed (17), who hopes to study Airline and Airport Management at University when she finishes her course, said: “It is a new way of doing work experience, but it has really opened my eyes. I have learned a lot about websites and how they are organised. I’ve really enjoyed it and learnt a lot about YHA as well.”

Throughout the project, the students work with each other via Zoom, sharing information and planning. Student David Turgay said: “It’s a great opportunity to get us all together in a virtual setting outside the college campus. We’ve worked well together and all contributed ideas to the project. It’s great to get other people’s perspectives.”

YHA has worked with Waltham Forest College since 2019 delivering work experience opportunities to students. Jamie Wakefield YHA (England & Wales) Youth Volunteering and Engagement Manager, explained: “Being a charity, YHA is so much more than an accommodation provider. We are committed to providing opportunities for young people, whether that’s providing accommodation so they can access the outdoors and heritage or delivering meaningful work experience or volunteering opportunities. It’s certainly a challenge to continue to deliver these opportunities during the pandemic but thanks to our collaboration with organisations like Waltham Forest College we were able to make it happen. It’s been wonderful to have the students on board with us and introduce them to YHA.”

Prior to the pandemic, more than 1000 young people a year volunteered in YHA hostels in order to learn new skills, boost their CV, give something back and even travel. To support young people to complete their DofE Award in lockdown, during COVID YHA has launched a number of virtual volunteering opportunities with roles in fundraising, videography and social media.

To apply for a virtual volunteering role, please visit https://volunteer.yha.org.uk/vk/volunteers  

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