Encouraging older people to volunteer and get involved in their communities
Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, blogs about her experience of chairing our recent Community Contributions in Later Life roundtable.
Juliet also outlines how best to encourage older people living with disability and long-term conditions to contribute to volunteering and active communities.
How do we change public attitudes and take a social marketing approach to creating a movement for volunteering across the life course?
As part of the ongoing review of Community Contributions in Later Life, I was delighted to chair a lively roundtable on 28 March 2018 to discuss how best to encourage people living with disability and long-term conditions in later life to contribute to volunteering and active communities.
This is an important agenda for me, as I know, from the work we do at the Stroke Association, how vital getting involved can be in helping people to recover their sense of purpose and their connections following a stroke.
It was a productive meeting, with lots of positive engagement and energy around the table from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. For me, there were four key takeaways...
1. Volunteering matters
Being a volunteer brings enormous personal satisfaction as well as making a difference to individuals and society at large. It helps people with long-term conditions, particularly those that result in sudden disability like stroke, to regain their sense of purpose and self-esteem and strongly contributes to people’s wellbeing and recovery.
2. We need to tell a more positive story about volunteering
The group felt that we need to create a social movement that influences more people to get involved. Barriers to involvement, including discrimination and a lack of inclusivity for people from certain communities and disabilities needs to be actively addressed. This includes unconscious bias training for staff working in voluntary organisations.
3. We need to invest in volunteering
This includes making funding available to charities so that they can create the required infrastructure, investing in training and support for volunteering, and pushing for community transport to be available. The group also felt it was important to make volunteering a level playing field for everyone regardless of financial background, so initiatives like pre-paid travel and expenses cards and volunteer passports were recommended. Volunteering is not free, and the NHS in particular needs to avoid seeing volunteering as an easy solution to the current workforce crisis.
4. We need proportionate processes
The group talked extensively about the need to safeguard our volunteers and the people that they are supporting, but not to put people off with excessive paperwork and bureaucracy. The group talked about the importance of welcoming all volunteers, making the registration and induction process as easy and friendly and human as possible.
The questions remaining?
I was struck by the number of ideas we generated, but also by how many volunteering initiatives have been started in the past but not sustained.
So, the questions now will be:
- How do we avoid reinventing the wheel?
- How do we make our recommendations stick?
- How do we change public attitudes and take a social marketing approach to creating a movement for volunteering across the life course?
- How do we get other organisations, including the public sector, to embrace volunteering with the same enthusiasm as the voluntary sector?
- And how do we get funders and commissioners to pay for the required infrastructure and recognise the added value of volunteers when charities are bidding for service contracts?
These are all big questions that still need more thought.
However, the reality of our ageing society, and the growing numbers living longer with multiple conditions, mean that we cannot shy away from grappling with them.