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Establishing an alternative volunteer support model for care homes

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Blackburn with Darwen Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) share its response to the challenges of establishing a sustainable volunteer support structure that meets the needs of care home staff, residents and volunteers.


Throughout the Volunteering in Care Homes pilot project, it has become apparent that due to time and other resource pressures on care home staff, the volunteer support structure needed to be adapted, to fit with the care home environment whilst providing continuity of support to volunteers.

The issues we faced

The current project model is reliant on a specific staffing structure, in that a dedicated member of staff is identified with whom volunteers can identify and build a strong working relationship, developing trust and good lines of communication. If no member of staff is available or tasked with the responsibility there is effectively no base within the organisation for the volunteers to adhere to and feel they belong to. Also when members of staff leave or move on to other jobs volunteers have experienced a gap or a change in their support mechanism. This can be destabilising and cause the volunteer placement to break down. Not all care homes are able to afford the necessary dedicated staff to take on this role and here in lies the issue. 

The actions we took

To personalise the project model to individual care home’s needs, the Project Officer has prolonged their involvement with the volunteers beyond their hand over to the care homes, in some cases offering external management of volunteers and activity development. This approach takes pressure of the care home and offers a consistent and focused support for volunteers.

To offer support and develop structure within the care home volunteers have been formed into small groups working together to support each other and the activity calendar of the care home. Over time the groups have been working towards being able to deliver the activity sessions unaided. 

Positive outcomes

Although it has taken a greater investment of time to cultivate successful alternative working practices, establishing volunteering practice for care homes that do not possess the organisational structure that is ideal for the project model to function, it is showing signs of great success.


The groups of volunteers have established good relationships with the care home staff through being committed, empathic and enthusiastic and have been able to offer resident activities gleaned from volunteering in other homes, share good ideas and good practice.


Being able to set their own activity agenda, they have been able to be impartial and independent advocates for residents and have time to explore different communication strategies to meet individual needs. The group interactions can visibly be seen to inject energy into the home which helps to engage residents and helps the volunteers to be more resilient.

After being supported intensively by the Project Officer in the introductory stages, the group have formed a strong partnership with different strengths and abilities supporting each other and have become an integral part of the care home being accepted by everyone in the care home, staff, residents and relatives.

They are also still able to offer sessions when staff are busy and now other new volunteers are being introduced into the group as it matures and grows.

Recently we have discussed with one care home how we can help them link more with the local community by holding a Summer Fete /Open Day, taking residents to Friendship Groups and linking with local older people’s forums.

Negative outcomes

Before this operational model was adopted, volunteers were very transient and didn’t volunteer for long. They were deployed into care homes singularly and this left them feeling isolated and without direction. This as a first impression of volunteers created disappointment at the unreliability and non-committal nature of volunteers with negative connotation of their role within care homes. This has been difficult to overcome and necessitated a greater input of the Project Officer resulting in an alternative way of working.

Lessons learnt

The outcomes have been very positive and have generated great impact on the residents and the care homes, where there otherwise may have been none.

It has taken time to develop a good reputation and build confidence but now that it has happened, the project has built its own momentum. The working practice started with small numbers of volunteers to test the strategy and it has involved a greater time investment which has impacted on the number of hours dedicated to the project but it has succeeded where the original project model was failing.

Volunteers who are independent of the care home can volunteer in multiple care homes and take what they have learned from one care home into another. They can offer an alternative perspective

As volunteers develop good practice and are offered a wide range of training, they are up skilled. They become more confident and this is reflected in their practice.

Volunteering in group situations offers inbuilt support for the volunteers and as a group it is resilient to volunteer resignations, therefore providing continuity of support to residents.

Devising volunteer management models that are suited to individual care homes will ensure that volunteering is sustained.  The key to a successful model is being aware of everyone’s needs and limitations and ensuring everyone’s expectations are realistic.



Page last edited Aug 11, 2015

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