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A volunteering programme for older people

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CSV Coventry talks about the challenges and successes of running its community volunteering programme for older people.

Background

The retired and senior volunteer programme (RSVP) of Community Service Volunteers (CSV) Coventry delivers a volunteer-led project tackling isolation and improving wellbeing among older people in the city. 

In November 2012, the project was awarded a further three years of funding from the National Lottery Community Fund’s Reaching Communities Programme to support older volunteers to design and deliver activities that meet the needs of other older people within their communities.

This project wanted to establish if:

  • older people who become less isolated have improved mental and physical wellbeing
  • older people of Asian origin increase their engagement in the wider community through volunteering.

The issues we faced

  • How do we place people who want to help out but not lead?
  • How do we strengthen a volunteer network?
  • How do we communicate with and encourage the use of English among elderly volunteers from Asian communities, many of whom are unable to speak more than a few words?

The actions we took

For those who wanted to help out but did not want to lead, we encouraged them to join other CSV retired RSVP groups they were interested in.

We also encouraged volunteers to try new things as opportunities arose, such as creating newsletters, running events, presenting to residents of a sheltered housing scheme and applying for local funding.

To strengthen our volunteer network, we encouraged volunteer organisers to train, attend meetings, and bring their members and volunteers to events, where they met other volunteers, learned more about RSVP, and took home information to pass on to volunteers and members.

This created a stronger network because people had something they belonged and felt loyal to. We also visited groups to show appreciation of what they do.

Lastly, volunteers of Asian origin were encouraged to speak English. We did not provide translators as we wanted to encourage them to have a go – although volunteer organisers could translate when necessary.

Volunteers of Asian origin could usually understand the language but lacked confidence in speaking it, so we worked hard to build relationships with our organisers and volunteers, so they could be more comfortable in speaking English.

Positive outcomes

Older volunteers who lead on activities that interested them were more likely to stay engaged with the project because they were passionate about what they do. Some volunteers, who previously may not have wanted to lead, became either joint organisers or set up new groups of their own.

Volunteers are now taking pride in CSV, wanting to visit other groups, and meet more people involved with the organisation.

Finally, as our evaluation report has found, Asian volunteers explained that although the process of learning English had been a gradual one, having had the chance to speak it in the group was helpful.

One volunteer said, "Now I feel happy I can talk to people. I can learn things from them".

Negative outcomes

In an initial pilot we ran with a local sheltered housing scheme provider, we struggled to find people to run activities.

It became clear after a couple of sessions that residents of the scheme we were directed to were running activities until quite recently, that had stopped because those responsible for running them had either died or become too incapacitated to continue.

No one else wanted to take responsibility for running the activity so it stopped. This is turn led to a lack of motivation among residents to start anything new. However the learning from this informed a second piece of work with the same housing provider which did prove successful.

Lessons learnt

Here are some of the things we’ve found through our evaluation. 96 out of 224 volunteers responded.

On improved mental wellbeing:

  • Two thirds of respondents felt that coming to the group helped them to feel better about themselves
  • Over half felt more positive about life
  • Beneficiaries valued having somewhere to go that brought them out of themselves by meeting others. They worried that they would have become depressed otherwise
  • Beneficiaries valued the sense of purpose provided by sharing skills and contributing to charities
  • Beneficiaries appreciated that keeping their brains active was good for their mental wellbeing.

On isolation:

  • During the last year, 211 older people felt less isolated by attending groups on regular social and craft activities, as well as attending interactive recruitment and celebration events organised by the Coventry project
  • The majority of respondents (89 per cent) said that coming to the groups helped them to make new friends
  • Over half (58 per cent) felt that coming to the groups helped them socialise more
  • Two thirds (66 per cent) felt that coming to the groups helped them feel more involved in their community
  • For some, taking part in CSV RSVP activities was one of the only ways they could make new friendships and have social contact.

Engagement of older people from the Asian community through volunteering

  • The groups were helped volunteers from Asian communities feel more involved in the community.
  • CSV projects encouraged volunteer development to the point where volunteers within groups became confident enough to become new organisers and start new groups. Three of the Asian volunteers became organisers this year.
  • CSV projects allowed people from different ethnic groups to mix, communicate with each other, and build up confidence and friendships that normally would not have happened.
  • Informed by the insight that older people of Asian origin were hindered from speaking English by their lack of confidence, CSV RSVP was able to encourage volunteers to talk to each other in English, when necessary, and to work hard in building good relationships across the volunteer network so people feel more comfortable with each other.  

 

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Page last edited Oct 09, 2019

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