James Gillespie’s High School Alumni Case Study: Ongoing Engagement 

“As teenagers, we don’t always feel listened to and appreciated that much, but through this programme and especially with the charity we’ve all felt really appreciated and wanted. You can make a difference, even though you’re a teenager.”

Mark Beaumont

Louise Jack, YPI Social Impact Coordinator, with James Gillespie YPI Alumni

When a group of S5 girls at James Gillespie’s High School (Holly, Corrie, Esme, Grace) were introduced to YPI during a PSE (Personal Social Education) lesson back in 2015, they did not imagine the impact they could make to a small Edinburgh based charity or that it would lead on an ongoing relationship.

Finding a Social Issue

After completing a questionnaire to identify which social issues they felt strongly about, the students formed groups with others who were interested in the same issues.  Since the group of girls had a common interest in issues affecting families, they started researching charities that support families in Edinburgh and the Lothians and came across SANDS Lothians.

SANDS Lothians is a small independent charity that offers support, understanding and help, both of a practical and emotional nature, to bereaved parents who have experienced the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or soon after birth.  After emailing Nicola Welsh, the Chief Executive of SANDS Lothians, the girls met with Nicola at the SANDS Lothians office twice to find out about the charity and to discuss the business case for their YPI presentation.

Visiting the Charity 

Holly, Corrie, Esme and Grace felt that visiting the charity and meeting Nicola, the other staff and volunteers was very important.  ‘We didn’t know much about the topic or the charity so we wanted to find out about it first hand, not just through a website.’ 

Understanding the role of Third Sector Organisations 

SANDS Lothians caught the girls’ attention because the charity deals with issues that they had never been told about before and they wanted to be more aware of what was going on in their community.  They explain, ‘We are girls and it does concern us but it’s something that isn’t really discussed so it’s good that SANDS Lothians is raising awareness. We wanted to learn about something new and educate ourselves on the topic as well as helping out.’ 

Despite not getting the opportunity to deliver their presentation in the YPI school final and not winning the YPI grant, all four girls have remained involved with SANDS Lothians since finishing their YPI programme.  

Maintaining a relationship with the Charity 

The girls continued, ‘We didn’t want it to be something we did just for a presentation.  We wanted to do something that we were emotionally invested in and enjoyed being part of.  From our first visit we knew we wanted to stay involved and actually help the charity.  Especially as we didn’t win the grant, we felt that we should help even more.’

The girls returned to meet with Nicola and discuss how they could support SANDS Lothians moving forward.  Holly, Corrie, Esme, Grace now volunteer their time to pack the precious memory bags that SANDS Lothians give to every newly bereaved family and help out with arts and crafts activities at SANDS Lothians’ Mother’s Day family events.   Two of the girls also played the clarsach during SANDS Lothians’ Christmas remembrance service for bereaved families in December 2016 and another has been volunteering for a couple of hours each week to develop and update the charity’s website.  This has allowed her to complete the Volunteering Section of her Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.  On top of their volunteering commitment, the girls succeeded in raising awareness in their school about SANDS Lothians and the issue of baby loss and have continued to raise additional funds for the charity by selling candy canes and charity pin badges at Christmas time.

Volunteering Opportunities

Although it was sometimes hard to find time to work on their YPI presentation while studying for their Highers and to arrange times to meet with Nicola that suited everyone in the group, the girls have really enjoyed getting involved with the charity.  They’ve formed friendships with the staff and volunteers and met parents that the charity helps.  None of the girls had volunteered for a charity before but have they have now learned how charities work and would consider volunteering or working for a charity in the future because it ‘feels like such a friendly environment.  You work for each other, for the cause.  It gives you emotional fulfilment and it’s not just about money.’  

Nicola is full of praise for the James Gillespie’s High School girls and the contribution they have made to SANDS Lothians:

I don’t think I can put into words how valuable they are to me but what’s lovely is that they’ve felt valued too.  They are part of our family.  They’ll always be welcome here no matter what they go on to do.’     

Developing key skills for life, learning and work 

The girls believe that completing their YPI presentation and fundraising for SANDS Lothians has helped them to develop and strengthen transferrable skills they will be able use in the future including initiative, organisational skills and time management.  They had to prioritise tasks as they only had a set amount of time to fundraise in school and couldn’t afford to procrastinate.

Making a difference

Researching SANDS Lothians for their YPI presentation has also allowed the girls to learn about the important and sensitive issue of baby loss and how the charity supports bereaved parents in their community.  The girls say that the most important thing that they have learned is how the charity helps people when it may seem like there is no hope.

‘You don’t always think you can help if something has already happened, if someone has already died.  We get taught a lot about prevention and how to stop something getting worse but if it’s already at its worst, how do you make it better again? We don’t usually get taught about that.’ 

Ongoing Engagement 

In addition to developing their employability skills, learning about charities and learning about an important social issue affecting their community, the girls say that the main benefits of YPI and their ongoing engagement with SANDS Lothians have been the sense of commitment that it has given them, feeling like they’re helping people and contributing to the charity and feeling valued as volunteers.

‘It gives you a sense of commitment to something that you actually care about.  You always learn about charities and helping out and volunteering is encouraged but it’s not until you get involved that you realise, I actually want to help out here.  It encourages you do what everyone is telling you to do.

As teenagers we don’t always feel listened to and appreciated that much, you’re expected to be the stereotypical lazy teenager but with this charity we’ve all felt really appreciated and wanted.  It’s quite a new feeling to get from an organisation.  You can make a difference, even though you’re a teenager.  You can see you’re making a difference and be part of it.’