Top tips on volunteering in the health and ageing space

The alternative title for this blog could be "How to maximise people's goodwill in the New Year"... With 2015 upon us, and New Year resolutions rife, many people are looking for opportunities to do something new. Whether it’s giving something back to their communities, improving their own health, or getting to know more people in their area – many New Year resolutions may lead people to volunteering projects related to health or ageing.

So, as food for thought, we’ve been reflecting on our learning from the ventures and projects we know and work with. We’ve distilled this down to our top tips for what we’ve seen work well in effective social action: whether that’s engaging volunteers, or designing effective and impactful efforts.

  1. Make it easy to incorporate. Things which people can fit easily into their day-to-day life have good traction. Like relocating post work drinks from the pub to a care home and involving some residents in the conversation through cocktails in care homes. Or simply cooking an extra meal at dinner time, and dropping it off to an older neighbour through Casserole Club.
  2. Help people use their skills and passions for good. We’re most motivated by the things we’re passionate about. Why not base volunteering opportunity around these? Take, Good Gym, for example, who are creating a movement of runners dedicated to taking their training out of the gym and instead channelling their energy into achieving social good.
  3. Minimise the bureaucracy: It’s easy for people to become disenchanted by complicated registration processes – particularly for younger volunteers. Making sign-up as simple as possible is a quick win. Like North (or South) London Care’s social clubs, where you can sign up at lunchtime and be taking part that evening.
  4. Don’t pigeonhole who’s helping and who’s being helped. The Silver Line found early on that many of their older callers were more willing to act as a ‘friend’ to another lonely person, than to put up their hand and admit they were lonely themselves. Signing up as a telephone befriender for someone else helps both people in the relationship. Or TCV’s Green Gym movement, which brings together a group of volunteers on a weekly basis to improve their local area, getting a workout at the same time. The local community and environment benefit as a result, but so does the fitness and wellbeing of volunteers. Or indeed, Nana café where older ladies volunteer to create a cosy, crafty café – with cakes like your Granny would make.
  5. Learn from elsewhere. Many of our best innovations are borrowed not new. For example, The Silver Line , who use the idea of a 24 hour free telephone line (as we see for The Samaritans or Child Line) but have repurposed and adapted it for a new audience and need. Or Shared Lives Plus, whose model is simply designed to recreate a family environment. They support people to open up their homes to adults who may need a little extra support to live independently. This powerful example of volunteering creates an appealing alternative to residential care for many.
  6. Look for the untapped potential in communities. For example, North London Cares successfully recognised many young Londoners are well-connected to their peers, yet often quite isolated in their immediate communities, and without family nearby. Amongst them are older neighbours, often isolated but typically very rooted in their area. They successfully made the link between the two groups, and now have a packed schedule of social clubs and 1:1 matches bringing together younger and older neighbours across North (and now also South) London. This is just one example. What other groups might have the appetite to volunteer in our communities, but haven’t yet found the right opportunity that speaks to them?
  7. Recognise that simply connecting people can create a sum greater than their parts. Frail older people may often have many people around them providing support, both paid and unpaid. However, we know that the stress falls disproportionately on primary carers. Apps such as Jointly help to facilitate a more networked approach to care, linking up the key people providing support around an individual. No more work for the individuals, but better communication and coordination – and thus helping to share the load more evenly.
  8. Recognising the value of people. For example, for those diagnosed with long term conditions, there’s proven value in support from peers as well as doctors. In other words, connecting people to others with a similar diagnosis helps them to self-manage and live well with their condition. For example Diabetes UK’s Type2Together, British Lung Foundation’s Breath Easy groups or some of the other peer support groups we’re funding through the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund.
  9. And to end, it can’t just be a “nice to have”. We’re seeing some excellent examples across the country of where social action is being incorporated into mainstream delivery, such as Age UK’s Integrated Care Programme which invites volunteers into core statutory service provision for frail older people, or Stockport’s ambitious redesign of their local care system to hardwire volunteers into the model. [What this requires is a clear business case that can generate new and sustained sources of income.] We’re beginning to see a proliferation of business models emerge, from corporate partnerships, to direct commissioning from statutory services, to volunteer run fundraising campaigns.

Want to know more?

Happy New Year!


Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell

Deputy Director, People Powered Results

Catherine's work focuses on People Powered Results - a partnership approach to complex service transformation in health and care settings.

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