Young Responders with St John Ambulance

Innovation Unit and St John Ambulance co-designed a new bite-size introduction to physical and mental health with and for young people who face disadvantage.

The new programme – Young Responders – builds confidence in first aid skills and mental health resilience by reflecting young people’s experiences in the content and by running learning flexibly around their other commitments.

The course will be piloted and then launched across multiple regions in England thanks to the generous support of People’s Postcode Lottery with the aim of reaching 28,500 young people by the end of 2022.


Engaging young people who might not usually sign up to a St John Ambulance learning programme meets three needs.

Boosting first aid in our communities

Every year 140,000 people die from injuries and sudden illnesses who could have had a chance of survival if they had experienced immediate and effective first aid. NHS statistics also reveal one in four people and one in 10 children experience mental illness.

First aid can have a big impact on saving lives, preventing further injury or supporting people who are struggling with their mental health – and St John Ambulance wants to equip more people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to respond in an emergency.

Welcoming a diverse range of young people

St John Ambulance trains thousands of people in first aid every year. The new programme is designed to reach cohorts of young people aged 14 to 25 – including care leavers, young carers, those not in employment, education or training and those concerned about street violence.

Creating accessible learning

Currently there is very little opportunity to learn a combination of mental and physical health first aid. What is available often involves long-term commitment that makes it difficult for those who have multiple responsibilities to access it, and the content doesn’t reflect young people’s everyday circumstances. This programme would change all that.


Young Responders was developed in partnership with its target audience over three stages:

  • Participatory research: we recruited 10 young people we hoped would be interested in the new programme to shape the research, take the lead in interviews, and analyse the data.
  • Co-design: over a week, we ran creative workshops along with 11 more young people to develop the programme’s concepts. St John Ambulance staff acted as ‘sponsors’ to ensure the ideas were viable for the organisation.
  • Prototyping before piloting: elements of the programme were tested with potential Young Responders and practitioners familiar with working with the target audience to steer the creation of a fully specified service for piloting.


Based on the research phase and co-design workshops, we created design principles to underpin the Young Responders programme. Whilst the logistics of how the programme is run will likely change as the St John Ambulance team learn more during the pilot, the programme will stay true to the principles to help set priorities and guide good decisions:

  • Relevance: a physical and mental health learning offer that feels relevant to young people’s lives.
  • Relationship-centred: creating moments for nurturing trusted relationships and connecting with peers.
  • Building motivation: creating opportunities to align learning with young people’s personal and professional goals.
  • Responsive: responding to the interests and needs of participants for example prioritising building confidence and having fun over technical accuracy and getting things perfect.
  • Safe: always considering emotional and practical safety.
  • Equitable access: making sure that young people with different physical, mental health, social, cultural or learning needs can participate.
  • Representation: the Young Responders team, speakers, content and brand includes “people like me and people that get me”.
  • Asset-based: empowering young people to recognise, use and build on their existing strengths.
  • Blended delivery: a blended approach to delivery and engagement including options for taking part virtually or in person.
  • Inclusion and respect: never labelling, stereotyping or stigmatising.
  • Flexible: giving choice and flexibility wherever possible.


The programme offers two-hour taster sessions on physical first aid – as well as covering areas relevant to young people’s lives like mental health and street violence. The sessions include speakers and content which reflect “people like me and people that get me” and are delivered in person or virtually, without the need to sign up to weekly attendance or wear a uniform.

There’s also the chance to take part in longer sessions and to be mentored into further learning at St John Ambulance and with partner organisations. ‘On demand’ video training will be made available to individuals, schools and community groups to reach thousands more young people.


As St John Ambulance reported in a blog, for a 140-year-old charity which had a tried-and-tested method of relying on experts to design new services, involving young people from “challenging” backgrounds was a steep learning curve.

“Having expertise from Innovation Unit helped to ease that change and gave us conviction. We had to work hard internally to create confidence and trust in the process.

“The model we have now is very different to one we would have come up with ourselves, and we have a high degree of confidence that it is relevant, sustainable and effective.”

Rachael Parkes is the Young Responders Project Manager at St John Ambulance.