Let's call him Jo. Jo would come into the home every day. He would visit all the residents – whether up and about or bed-bound, having little cheering chats and the occasional joke with them. He would deliver the daily paper to those that wanted it and, in my mum's case, sit with them and read it or look at it together, with the occasional, "Oh that's not very good, is it?" or "Blimey, just look at that outfit, eh?!" etc etc.
He'd help out with and eat lunch with the residents, staying on for any afternoon activity and after a cuppa and a biscuit, return home. It was a fantastic scheme, helping him through his personal bereavement, giving him a sense of belonging, security, purpose, achievement, significance and continuity in his life – and a proper meal once a day. Meanwhile, his regular presence made life in the home seem a lot more normalised and less institutional for residents and their families – and provided some much-appreciated support for the staff too.
I believe that volunteers are an essential ingredient in improving quality of life in care homes for residents, families and care staff alike. Care homes with volunteer programmes are likely to be less stressed, less stigmatised, more connected to the community and more able to improve life for all stakeholders, in many different ways.
So I'm really pleased that for the last year or so, I've been part of the Volunteering in Care Homes strategic advisory board for NCVO. Volunteering in Care Homes is a national three-year pilot project, funded by the Department of Health to provide opportunities for care homes and their local communities to work together to help enhance people's quality of life, build more cohesive communities and enable more active engagement.
The project has been operating in five pilot sites, volunteers being recruited and supported through their local Volunteer Centre to share their time and skills with older care home residents in bespoke activities. These might include supporting a resident to lead a group activity such as a reading group; providing companionship around shared interests such as knitting, walking, playing board games and home background.
By sharing the project's developments with those who have experience of working in care homes and engaging volunteers, NCVO plans to identify a national standard of good practice in volunteering in this sector.
The Institute for Volunteering Research is evaluating the impact of the work and will continue to conduct biannual interim evaluations, the findings of which will form the focus of the learn and share events.
An expert panel made up of representatives of Methodist Homes, Jewish Care and Abbeyfield which all have experience of engaging volunteers in their care homes provides operational support and guidance. The Strategic Advisory Group includes representatives from the care home sector; residents and relatives; volunteering, older people; health and social care research; voluntary sector and workforce development – and me.
I'll be sharing further progress later in the year. Latest information here.
Image: Bjarki Reyr Asmundsson