Report Briefing: Taking an Inclusive Approach to Engaging Older Volunteers
by Michelle Clarke
Project Co-ordinator, Connecting Communities in Wales
Volunteers make an invaluable contribution to community transport schemes across the UK as volunteer drivers, passenger assistants, journey co-ordinators, administrative workers and as trustees. Whether organisations are entirely volunteer led, or have a mixture of paid employees and volunteers, everyone in the sector enormously appreciates the key role volunteers play in supporting community transport.
While volunteers of all ages get involved in community transport, a significant number of volunteers are in the older age range. Covid-19 shone a light on the importance of older volunteers to community transport as many people had to take a step back from their roles during lockdown. The Centre for Ageing Better has worked on age friendly and inclusive volunteering over the past few years, and recently published a simple guide to engaging older volunteers.
You can find some of the key takeaways from their report below. We also know that this is an area of expertise amongst many who work in community transport, so if you want to share your views and ideas, you can do so in the comments below!
Barriers to engagement. The report suggests that many people face practical, structural and emotional barriers to volunteering, and that these barriers can worsen for people as they age and their personal circumstances change – for example developing a health condition or taking on caring responsibilities. Practical barriers include: cost; transport needs, physical access, and language. Structural barriers include: inflexible offers, lack of neutral spaces, bureaucracy, lack of resources, and the digital divide. Emotional barriers include: lack of confidence, stigma / stereotypes, lack of welcome, fear of over-commitment, and not feeling valued. It can be useful to think about such barriers when engaging with potential volunteers.
Volunteering is a spectrum of activity and there are lots of ways for people to get involved. Volunteering can range from neighbourliness (activities done as an individual, such as helping with shopping) to informal or semi-formal volunteering (tasks done with others, in a more regular way, such as organising a community event), to formal volunteering (as part of an established scheme or organisation, such as volunteering for a helpline or as a trustee) to civic volunteering (a formal role as part of a public body, for example, school governor).
Keep a focus on what matters to people. Talk about and explore the idea of ‘helping out’, ‘being a good neighbour’, or ‘giving time’, as well as using the term volunteering which can sometimes be off-putting to some people. Find ways of talking about taking part or helping out that people might respond to.
Different ways to connect. In some cases, consider guided conversations rather than formal applications to bring people on board – discuss issues, and explore interests, skills, and expectations. These conversations are strengths-based and help build positive relationships.
Focus more on mutuality and reciprocity. Consider ways for beneficiaries to volunteer. The shift from ‘being helped’ to ‘becoming a helper’ builds their confidence and adds value to your scheme. This may involve designing activities to dip in and out of, and supporting people to be co-creators in the tasks and activities that they want to get involved in.
Overcoming barriers to participation. Focus on the person and the support they might need as an individual. Often emotional barriers to volunteering are overlooked, such as lack of confidence or self-esteem. This could be addressed through mentoring, buddying up with experienced volunteers, or the provision of training opportunities.
Peer support.People often volunteer in order to meet others and make new friendships, so providing opportunities for peer support is important. Do you offer regular opportunities for volunteers to meet, whether that’s having a coffee and catch up over Zoom, or a socially distanced get-together where appropriate?
Flexibility and taster sessions. Can you develop taster or micro-volunteering sessions or activities to suit different circumstances, interests, abilities, and availability? As well as ongoing volunteering roles which require a long-term commitment, think about flexible, task-based activities.
Supporting volunteers during life transitions. Creating clear routes out is just as important as routes into volunteering. People need to be able to change their commitment as their personal circumstances change. How can you keep the door open to a return later, if that’s what the individual wants? One way is through welfare phone calls and invitations to peer support activities, but it’s best to simply ask the person what level of contact (if any) works for them.
Big Questions, Big Ideas: how do we continue to build our volunteer base and inspire new volunteering opportunities?
If continuing to build your volunteer base and engage with new volunteers is a topic you’re interested in, make sure you join us at our next ‘Big Questions, Big Ideas’ session where we’ll be looking at the topic of volunteering. This free online webinar is taking place on Thursday 26 November from 12.30 – 13.15 pm. You can find out more and book your place here.
Community Transport Association UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Registered in Cardiff no. 1985361 Registered office: 12 Hilton Street M1 1JF. Registered as a charity in England and Wales no. 1002222. Charity Registered in Scotland No. SC038518.