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Establishing a successful volunteer peer support scheme

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Voluntary Action Oldham shares how it responded to the emerging needs of volunteers by establishing a peer support mechanism at the volunteer induction stage and, in so doing, improved the volunteer retention rate.

Background

The induction is crucial to volunteer recruitment and can impact on whether a volunteer commits to volunteering on a long term basis. In order to ensure volunteers were placed in a supportive environment we looked at developing peer support opportunities for volunteers as part of the induction process.

The issues we faced

We faced a number of challenges and felt the need to respond to these. Issues we faced included:

  • Potential volunteers were waiting for DBS checks to come back; once the DBS arrived they were no longer interested or were engaged in another activity.
  • Volunteers had many questions initially around what to do when volunteering, especially if faced with challenging situations. The lack of time available from care home staff and lack of confidence from volunteers to approach staff initially meant that volunteers were not getting the answers to their questions. Responding to queries was taking up a lot of the volunteer co-ordinator’s time
  • A number of the volunteers had additional needs and so they required support to pursue their volunteering role. We had to consider how we best support individuals to have a lasting valuable volunteering experience.

Going into a care home can be daunting if you have never been in one before so it was important to make volunteers feel comfortable with their volunteering environment.

The actions we took

We felt that peer support could be the answer to creating a productive volunteer environment. We looked at our recruitment process and assessed how we could improve the retention of volunteers through the induction.

 We began to deliver group inductions in the care home after the training sessions and as part of this started to invite already existing volunteers to the induction so they could share their own experiences of volunteering. Volunteers were also inducted with individuals who had gone through training with them so they could continue to get to know each other. 

Whilst volunteers were waiting for their DBS checks to come back they were invited to participate in a group volunteer session encouraging them to develop networks to support each other through the volunteer process.

Individuals with additional support needs were provided with a buddy who was usually an existing volunteer to support them into volunteering. Young volunteers aged 16 - 25 were specifically inducted into volunteering in group sessions and this also meant that they were able to support each other through other commitments such as studying etc.

Positive outcomes

The group inductions after the training went particularly well as individuals had got to know each other thorough the training and then were able to attend the induction together.

We recognised that volunteering has benefits not just for the resident but also the volunteers. Those with additional support needs were able to get to know volunteers in the home and were reassured to have people to ask when volunteering if they had any queries.

Young people were able to be around peers and volunteering also became an additional social activity for them.

Already existing volunteers were invited to attend inductions to talk to new volunteers about their experiences and introduce themselves as peer mentors to support newly recruited individuals.

Negative outcomes

Initially if I had arranged the volunteer inductions to take place after the training this would have meant individuals would have been engaged in that peer support activity, reducing the number of volunteer resignations or those not taking up volunteer activity post training.

We did have a couple of occasions where volunteers with additional support needs were left to volunteer independently with little support and so ended up leaving. From our experience it would have proved beneficial to have invited previous volunteers to talk to new volunteers and act as peer mentors at the induction stage.

Lessons learnt

Volunteers are less dependent on the care home staff to offer them support which makes the scheme more sustainable on a longer term basis as they are able to ask their peers for advice and guidance whilst volunteering.

Volunteers are able to make friends and then this encourages them to continue to volunteer on a long term basis creating a care home volunteer community.

Through good experiences with the peer support model we have found that volunteers have been recruited through word of mouth. Existing volunteers have recommended it as a valuable activity not only for the experience of sharing time with an older person but to develop skills and confidence for employment or further education.

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Page last edited Aug 14, 2017

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