Sally Campton, Volunteer and Placements Coordinator at Abbeyfield and Wesley, recently hosted a visit for the NI Housing Associations Charitable Trust (NIHACT) to their supported sheltered house at Barnagh Close in Donaghadee. The visit was aimed at highlighting the benefits and challenges of volunteers and housing associations working together.
Abbeyfield and Wesley has a long history of volunteer involvement and currently has over fifty active volunteers. With sixty-plus years of experience between them, Tom Johnston and Marian Thompson still enjoy helping out at Barnagh Close. Tom explains, “I have been involved in various roles since the days of the old Abbeyfield Society here which was a local, voluntary movement. Even though the association is more centralised now, volunteering is still very much in the DNA at grassroots level – it’s part of who we are”.
Tom and Marian come alongside elderly residents which greatly assists in combating isolation and loneliness whilst other volunteers across Abbeyfield & Wesley’s houses, schemes and care homes arrange outings, organise activities or help less-mobile residents to build IT skills for online shopping. This work with residents has a far-reaching impact, it helps elderly people to build capacity, to reminisce and to stay connected with their local community.
Marian Thompson and Tom Johnson (volunteers) pictured with Sally Campton (centre)
According to Sally Campton, services like these would not be possible on the same scale without the volunteer network; “Making time for older people is key to the ethos of Abbeyfield, shared by staff and volunteers alike. We are so grateful to people like Tom and Marian who enhance the work of our staff, getting involved in activities and outings or simply through chatting with our residents. All this allows us to make more time for our residents and bring the community in to our houses and homes”.
Sally continued, “We know, however, that our volunteers benefit greatly from working with us too. At present, we have volunteers aged from 15 or 16 to those enjoying later life. By engaging with us they help to build their CVs and skills as well as sharing their interests, developing confidence and making friends. Some are building towards Duke of Edinburgh points or into paid work”.
Case study: Abbie Vance
One such volunteer, Abbie Vance, is currently studying for a degree in Psychology at Ulster University and has used her time with Abbeyfield and Wesley to learn more about dealing with elderly people, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“My interest in psychology, and concern for mental health, encouraged me to commence my current role as volunteer at Abbeyfield. Loneliness and depression are major problems amongst the elderly population and I really wanted to do something that would benefit the elderly in our society”.
Abbie believes that her voluntary work is beneficial for both herself and the residents she works with; “the activities I arrange, like afternoon tea, flower arranging or board games, get the residents busy and give a sense of purpose to their day which can often be difficult for elderly people living in sheltered accommodation”.
“I feel so welcome at Abbeyfield and I feel confident that I chose the right volunteering opportunity for me – not only will it be beneficial in my future career and for building my CV but it also benefits the residents, putting a smile on their face and mine”.
Abbie Vance with Abbeyfield and Wesley residents
Tips from Sally Campton
As an experienced volunteer co-ordinator, Sally Campton believes that fellow housing associations should not underestimate the level of commitment needed to properly recruit and manage volunteers. She also gives some recommendations for those considering moving into this area;
- Organisations need to be ‘volunteer ready’ before recruiting. This means having a volunteer policy, strategy, and volunteer role descriptions in place, as well as identifying who is responsible for recruitment, support and review.
- It is then paramount that recruitment is done in the right way; whilst a formal ‘interview’ might not be needed, a less formal chat is highly recommended. It is also vital to carry out proper reference and access checks. Local community networks, Volunteer Now or Business in the Community are useful when advertising positions.
- Post-recruitment, it is really important to give new volunteers a proper induction and settling-in period to make sure the arrangement is working for all parties. Training is also needed in the early stages and can help to identify areas of interest.
- The landscape around volunteering has changed over the years with increased regulation and monitoring. Much of this is useful as it helps to protect both the volunteer and recruiter, as well as making it easier to record the time and impact which goes into volunteering, but it can be challenging to make sure all boxes are ticked; seeking assistance from partners like Volunteer Now is a good idea.
- For one-off projects, Business in the Community are a great partner to utilise. Associations could register one of their community investment projects to the ‘Be a Site’ scheme where BIC will conduct risk assessments, agree parameters and match the association with a set of volunteers from a business.
- Even when other housing associations cannot recruit a dedicated staff member, they should consider training for housing officers around managing volunteers and understanding the language – this can then become part of their job or shared with colleagues.