Nurturing and supporting people to do more in their community means doing more on inclusion
The review of community contributions in later life finds that some people can be shut out of ‘formal’ volunteer roles.
Mick Ward, Chief Officer, Transformation and Innovation, Adults and Health at Leeds City Council, tells us how over more than 20 years of running its ‘Neighbourhood Networks’ scheme, Leeds City Council has learnt a lot about what it takes to enable people from all backgrounds to get involved in their communities .
One of the key takeaways from ‘Age-friendly and inclusive volunteering’, the review of community contributions in later life published by the Centre for Ageing Better, is the need for community and voluntary organisations to support everyone to get involved – including working harder and differently to remove the barriers some people face to involvement and engagement.
Worryingly, the review finds that some people, including people on lower incomes, in poor health or from some BAME communities, can seem to be shut out of more formal volunteer roles within large Third Sector organisations, and within public bodies such as schools and hospitals.
Whether this is due to structural barriers, such as too much bureaucracy or a lack of flexibility in the opportunities available, or more personal, emotional issues such as a fear of encountering ageist attitudes, or a lack of confidence or acknowledgement in people’s own strengths and skills, it’s clear that more can be done to make people feel more included and welcomed.
The review draws on research undertaken in Leeds with people from the city’s South Asian communities, targeted in parts of South Leeds. It shows that many people within these communities were delivering huge amounts of unpaid support for friends and neighbours. However, despite their interest in getting involved in the wider community, not everyone felt welcome.
Age-friendly and inclusive volunteering: Review of community contributions in later life
In Leeds, our 37 Neighbourhood Networks rely on the contributions of nearly 2,000 volunteers, many of them in later life. The help we receive allows us to further support and sustain activities and services that enable older people to maintain their independence and wellbeing in the community.
Enabling everyone to be involved
Over more than 20 years of Neighbourhood Networks, we have learnt a lot about what it takes to enable people to get involved in their communities and let the people who want to get involved decide just how they will participate. Our knowledge has rapidly expanded as we use Asset Based Community Development – really focusing on ‘What’s strong’ not ‘What’s wrong’ – and moving from a reliance on formal volunteering to much more supporting friendships and neighbourliness in communities.
The review recognises that approaches like ours in Leeds – creating opportunities for people to contribute within their own communities and in which people are not forced to decide whether they want to be a 'helper' or to be 'helped' – but looking much more at mutual benefits can be very effective in breaking down barriers to getting involved and staying connected in later life.
By developing more age-friendly and inclusive approaches to community contributions, we can make sure everyone has the chance to contribute.
We’re not complacent that we’ve got everything right. We still need to do more to ensure that everyone is able to get involved in their communities and that there are opportunities for people to move between involvement in different types of activity – whether they are within faith communities, sporting associations or as part of Neighbourhood Networks and other third sector organisations. We also want to make sure this is applied for those with care and support needs, be that older people, or those with other support needs, such as learning disability, long-term health conditions, physically impaired people, or those with mental health needs.
As we move forward with this work, we’ll be working on breaking down those barriers and making sure Leeds can benefit from the huge talents, skills and experience of all of its older people.
By developing more age-friendly and inclusive approaches to community contributions, we can make sure everyone has the chance to contribute, sustaining these vital roles in times of transition and right throughout the life course, whilst challenging those barriers many people face.