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Volunteering for wellbeing in Monmouthshire

26th September 2019

Fiona Liddell, Helpforce Manager for Wales, describes how volunteering is being integrated into health and social care delivery in Monmouthshire communities.

People become isolated and may feel lonely for a range of reasons; having little or no supportive family nearby, for example, adjusting to mobility or sensory loss, recovering from illness, bereavement or other life changes.

What began in Monmouthshire as a fairly typical community volunteer scheme, with volunteers driving people to and from essential appointments and local errands, providing companionship and practical help, has evolved into the Volunteering for Wellbeing programme, supported by and integrated with statutory, as well as other voluntary service provision.

No longer is there such a clear distinction between the ‘givers’ and receivers’ of care, as it is recognised that volunteering itself brings personal benefit – sometimes the gain of the volunteer is greater than that of the beneficiary!

A wider vision

Conversations began some years ago between local social value organisations and public service organisations, to talk about how to best support individuals to stay well in their communities and how to collaborate in order to enable this.

Nicki Needle who is the Changing Practice Changing Lives Lead, Monmouthshire Social Care and Health said:

“It had become clear to us that we needed to be more accessible, so that people can have direct conversations about what matters to them and can expect a timely and joined up response. It was also clear that our local communities are a rich resource of activity, knowledge and services, which can benefit individuals. We felt that our priority should be to tap into and connect what already exists rather to introduce anything new.”

Everyone needs a purpose

A key realisation from initial pilot projects was that people often need a purpose they can contribute to, more than they need a referral to a service that can ‘help them’.

“We have worked together to explore and articulate what we mean by wellbeing, and we have also developed a clear understanding of how different partners contribute to the wider vision.

Having a common vision helps us to work in a fluid and effective way, drawing on different partners’ strengths and maintaining a joined up approach, despite different funding streams, governance and reporting requirements. Essentially we are all operating in the same space.” Nicki Needle

Partners meet on a regular basis in geographically based ‘hubs’. Honest conversations are important in developing robust relationships and collaborative approaches.

“The skill set of many third sector partners is phenomenal. Working together has liberated us [the local authority and health board] to let go and to let things be done safely, by others, without bureaucracy getting in the way.” Nicki Needle

Volunteering has a whole new meaning

In the context of these developments, volunteering has taken on a whole new meaning. Not only does it provide a means of addressing the significant needs of older members of the community, and others who require some support, through the car scheme and befriending activities for example, but also it is a way of giving individuals a purpose, identity, and meaningful involvement with their community.

The range of activities undertaken has enlarged, including helping out at Monnow Vale hospital, in the day centre, gardens and on the wards. The hospital provides day to day supervision and the Volunteering for Wellbeing co-ordinator provides ongoing support and training.

Other volunteering placements in the community can be tailor made, depending on people’s particular interests and motivations.

Volunteering is helping people to stay independent, active and well in their communities. It helps to avoid crises and the premature involvement of statutory services.

“Our wellbeing and support services are now well established and very much an integral element of local service provision.” Miranda Thomason, Volunteering for Wellbeing Project Lead.