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22nd March 2017

Are we offering group activities that cater for different interests, skills and abilities?

Activity Planning is a popular topic on our training days. We often have healthy discussions about getting the balance right between large group, small group and 1 to 1 work. I believe that how you plan must be founded on what the 'consumer' wants and what it is achievable to offer. The starting point must always be the interests and abilities of the group of people you are supporting. If I'm told that lots of activities have been laid on but nobody goes I try to gently point out that maybe they are not offering the things that people want. This does not differ if you are working in residential care, day centres, sheltered housing or a small group home.

The only way to encourage and motivate people to join a group session is to make sure the content appeals to them. It must be provided at the right time in the right venue and the group leader must be enthused about the topic and know how to engage with people.

It is a useful and worthwhile exercise to spend a few hours going through care plans and other records to assess your 'consumers' and try and group them into sets under headings. You are likely to arrive at 5 or 6 lists. Possible headings and descriptors might be:

  • Capacity full capacity and happy to socialise full capacity and happier in small group of 4;
  • Less moderate capacity and happy to socialise moderate capacity and happier in small group of 4;
  • Less limited capacity and happy to socialise limited capacity and happy in a small group.


Fully mobile and independent

Limited mobility supported by walking aid. Wheelchair user who can self-propel. Wheelchair user needing assistance to move but can transfer. Wheelchair user requiring hoist to transfer. Recliner chair dependent.

Skills / Attributes

Independent self starter

Independent requiring guidance or motivating to engage. Can copy others or follow short clear instructions. Needs reminders due to limited short term memory. Needs time to appreciate what is being offered or asked of them. Unlikely to engage with a planned group activity.


This could be a very long list but some topics lend themselves to group work more than others. I would suggest that you are likely to find at least 2 or 3 people in any setting that share a liking for:

  • Gardening;
  • Sports;
  • News and current affairs;
  • The arts;
  • Reading and poetry;
  • Music;
  • Singing;
  • Exercise;
  • Film and TV;
  • The outdoors and nature;
  • Handicrafts;
  • Local history;
  • Cards and table games;
  • Skittles and floor games;
  • Quizzes and word games.

There are bound to be other areas of interest that your consumers will identify if given the chance. Having gathered all this knowledge the skilled activity specialist can set about developing a programme of group activities to support their 'consumers'.

The first step is to mark up those with a common interest. For some people, you might have to use a bit of guesswork based on their life story and perhaps talking to families and friends. The staff team can help too as they will have picked up information when chatting to people they support. Once you have discovered the potential, sports fans for example, you need to look at their mobility, capability and skills. Can you spot commonalities? Are there 3 wheelchair dependent folk with similar capacity and attributes? If so, you have the foundations of a regular Sports Club made up of a small group who meet up at a regular time to share the Sports Headlines in the newspaper, or watch the TV together when the golf championships are on. You may need to run a second Sports Group for the more mobile as they could possibly meet at a local sports venue. Many communities have sports-based clubhouses and social clubs that are likely to welcome new members.

It can sometimes take a bit of lateral thinking to devise a core programme that meets everyone's needs. As long as the programme covers large groups or events, small groups or clubs and planned one-to-one work you have a fighting chance of meeting all needs most of the time. We can then throw in spontaneous activity but that is another story for another day.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Sylvie Silver

Activities Specialist

Sylvie is the Executive Director of NAPA responsible for all aspects of the charities work. NAPA is recognised as the ‘thought leader’ around Activity Provision and Sylvie is the key influencer in achieving this. Sylvie‘s hands on experience was gained working in a nursing home for older people and prior to that with Adults with Learning Disabilities. Since then she has worked with, and trained, hundreds of care staff from senior management to grassroots workers to raise the profile of the importance of meaningful engagement and a life full of love and laughter. Read more

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