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Giving it away
This week has been Volunteers’ Week, and for many of us running care services, the tireless support of people who give up time to help others cannot be valued highly enough.
Margo used to be a librarian until local government cuts saw her having to compete with five colleagues for two jobs. Inevitably, someone else won, so stuck for something to do with her time and happily not in need of a regular salary, Margo opted to volunteer for my organisation. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, she assists the young people to access swimming at the city pool. She drives the minibus, sings along with the radio and dons her bathers to support the kids in the water.
Without Margo, and her fellow volunteers Rashid, Arthur and Sue, the kids would often not get to the pool at all. We generally have enough staff, but drivers are a rare commodity. It would be ridiculous to employ someone merely to drive the minibus in a service as small as ours; who would want that job? So it lends itself perfectly to the option of volunteer help.
Heroes in our midst
Volunteers’ Week highlights the unsung heroes who give up their time and energy and enthusiasm to help others. In a survey designed to coincide with this week of celebrating their contribution, more than a third of British adults said they would be willing to volunteer for the NHS. The study, for the Royal Volunteer Service (RVS), found people were most interested in volunteering in shops or cafes, with 40 per cent saying they would consider such work.
Some 39 per cent said they could carry out practical service in the community – such as taking patients out on social visits – while more than a third (35 per cent) expressed interest in carrying out hospital visits, and 31 per cent in helping on wards.
If you translate this into the areas of work in your service you find hard to commit staff resource to, but still feel would be valuable, the idea of willing helpers starts to look attractive. Take community access, for example. In lots of cases for adults with learning disability , their access to activities in the community is governed by the shift patterns of staff. Few managers can afford to pay overtime to enable service users to attend gigs, football matches or parties. Few staff are keen to commit further time to late night or weekend activity after a long day.
Bringing in volunteer befrienders can help service users get out and about with support to enjoy social time. They also provide an independent view from the service’s paid staff, so lend themselves very well to the role of advocate. Of course, service providers need to ensure that all of the risks of using unpaid volunteers have been managed. DBS checks need to be as stringent as for employed staff, also robust induction and training in the specific needs of service users. This would represent an investment, though, as the benefits of willing, enthusiastic volunteer labour far outweigh the costs.
There are lots of people out there who, for a number of reasons, have time and energy to dedicate to good work with others. Perhaps you already benefit from this army of helpers, but if you don’t, maybe its time you gave it some thought.
volunteersweek.org has blog posts about successful volunteer schemes. Do yourself a favour and check it out!
Ginny Tyler – QCS Learning Disability Expert Contributor