Professional Comment

Unlocking the Benefits of Volunteering for Older People

By Shirley Hall, Head of Care and Wellbeing, Retirement Villages Group (RVG)

In June, the Government announced the expansion of the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme to include social care. This means care providers can now ask volunteers to help people in their local areas across a range of care settings. Volunteers can provide support to people receiving care from local services in the community through chat services and delivery roles. While volunteers can’t help healthcare assistants and nurses with the delivery of care, there is no doubt they reap the benefits of their support and gives them more time to focus on patients. This, in turn, leads to improved physical health, reducing the need for medical intervention, which eases workload pressure on care staff.

You can start volunteering at any age, and in fact, with more freedom and time, retirement can be an incredible opportunity to give back. We’ve seen that volunteering can bring immense benefits, not just to individuals but to society as a whole. Research from Retirement Villages Group (RVG) has found that volunteering by over 65s contributes a staggering £48bn to the economy every year – the equivalent of 2% of UK GDP! In fact, close to one million retired people over 65 are acting as informal carers to loved ones, whether that’s looking after the grandchildren or caring for relatives, and this equates to an economic value of £15.3bn.

Connection matters
The National Innovation Centre for Ageing has found that over 65s specifically are motivated to volunteer due to the social interaction it brings. It also provides them with a sense of purpose once they leave the working world and allows them to recognise the importance of engaging actively in society for the benefit of their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

At RVG, we recognise the contribution over 65s can make in society and have recently launched a new volunteering programme, designed to enhance life within our communities and create a stronger sense of togetherness. The new initiative will see residents volunteering on projects across all our communities, offering purpose and fulfilment and allowing them to make a positive difference. From participating in resident representative groups, supporting the community reception or shop, or organising activities, events and classes, we want this initiative to become a cornerstone of our commitment to support residents in leading fulfilling lives and embracing retirement.

The initiative kicked off at our Elmbridge Village, which has seen volunteers come together to create a sensory garden, a self-sustaining garden that will support those with sensory impairments, and build a playground, which can be used by our residents’ grand or great grandchildren. These projects were driven by residents, allowing them to feel connected and fulfilled by a rewarding project and saw them enjoy the benefits of working together out in nature.

Creating the right environment
The volunteering programme is part of our wider health and wellbeing strategy, where we’re building on our supportive communities to create more choice and opportunity and align with how our residents perceive wellbeing. The strategy revolves around promoting enabling environments, stress-free living, resilience, and a sense of purpose. As part of this, it acknowledges that wellbeing goes way beyond just the physical and that social interaction and feeling like part of a community can also be key. This is why volunteering has become a key pillar of RVG as it allows our residents to build relationships and be active members of their communities, while also letting them be part of an environment which allows them to pursue their passions, develop skills and build their confidence.

As integrated retirement living operators, it’s vital we provide the right environment that gives residents the opportunity to give back and make a positive difference. By allowing our residents to contribute to RVG’s wellbeing strategy through resident representative groups and offering activities or classes, it means they get to create the life they want in retirement and meet likeminded people as well.

In summary, over 65s that volunteer are fundamental to society as our research has evidenced, therefore it’s important to provide them with the right opportunities in a way that makes it easy for them. By launching our volunteering initiative, it creates an environment residents know they can go to and find ways to develop skills and create new connections, whilst offering them purpose and improving their own community.