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Why age should be no barrier to volunteering

16 November 2015

Today we have announced a £264,944 grant to care and housing support charity The Abbeyfield Society to develop volunteering opportunities for people over 75. Head of Volunteering Tracey Avison tells us about the wealth of benefits this can bring and that age is no barrier to making a positive difference to your local community.

Volunteer Archie

Volunteer Archie

How will this funding support Abbeyfield’s work?

Abbeyfield is a charity that provides housing and care for older people, but we are committed to doing so much more than this. Our four key values of openness, honesty, caring and respect are central to everything we do. We are determined to tackle loneliness amongst older people, foster a friendly, family atmosphere and, above all, increase quality of life for the people who live with us.

Volunteering is deep rooted at Abbeyfield. In fact, we were founded by our first ever volunteer, Richard Carr-Gomm in 1956. We are now supported by over 4000 volunteers. We want to combine our legacy of volunteering with our beliefs in active ageing to support our residents to volunteer. Some already do, like Archie who at 104 still regularly volunteers at his local church or our ‘knit and natter’ group in Nottingham who have been busy sending blankets to Syria. But this is ad hoc and we’d like more older people to reap the positive health and well being aspects of volunteering. This grant will enable us to learn about and share the types of volunteering opportunities that those aged 75 and above can, and want, to be involved in.

Why are you focusing on volunteering opportunities for the over 75s and what are the benefits?

Volunteering is good for the individual and the communities they live in. It gives people a sense of purpose and a feeling of giving something back. Between the ages of 65-74 years a third of people are likely to volunteer, but unfortunately this number declines to 21 per cent for those 75 and over, and declines further amongst the over 80s.

The Citizenship Survey 2008-09 (the last survey that published such data) showed the barriers to volunteering are quite different for the 75-plus age group than other groups. 45 per cent said they “have an illness or disability that prevents me” (compared to 8 per cent for all age groups) but surprisingly, 57 per cent said simply that “I am too old” (compared to 3 per cent for all age groups).

We’d like to use this project to overcome some of these hurdles. Where does this age limit on volunteering come from? What volunteer roles are stopping people with an illness or disability from feeling included? We think any instance of ‘making time’ for others should be seen as volunteering, from something as small as laying the table or reading to friends, and our project aims to provide our residents with these sorts of opportunities. We can’t wait to work with the Institute for Volunteering Research to discuss this further.

How do you involve beneficiaries to ensure the volunteering opportunities are most relevant to them?

No resident will be excluded from the project. We will use our vast experience of working with older people to ensure that volunteering opportunities are both available and achievable.

The project will involve training what we call ‘inspiration volunteers’, recruited from the local community, to work within our homes to help develop action plans, supporting residents to volunteer in the local community or the supported living or residential home setting. We’ll use buddying and mentoring to ensure volunteering plans can be tailored to each person, including the most vulnerable or those with high complex needs.

What are the biggest challenges facing older people today?

Loneliness is a major one – our doors are always open to those on their own, be it through our Sharing Sundays scheme, where we offer Sunday lunches, or our annual Coping at Christmas campaign, where we run free activities, meals and even overnight stays to those who find themselves alone during the festive period.

Another big challenge is the mistakenly held view that older people are burdens or are unable to give anything back to their communities. This simply isn’t true and our project will challenge these negative stereotypes. Volunteering is, after all, for everyone.

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