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Volunteers helping the homeless and vulnerable in Brighton

12th November 2020

Homeless Gemma and vols

Submitted by David Slade, Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

Sussex Community Foundation Trust (SCFT) Occupational Therapists (OTs) had been working with Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) to support a variety of service users with substance misuse issues at both day and residential support services. The OTs were able to work successfully with a variety of these service users but identified that additional resources would be useful to allow the service an opportunity to engage with a wider range of BHT service users, especially in a client focused informal manner, as many of the service users have complex needs, including substance misuse. The OTs met with Voluntary Services to identify how volunteer involvement could be implemented to support them in developing a client focused programme which would support the OTs in being able to engage with some of the most challenging BHT service users. It was decided that a weekly creative drop in session at a local mixed hostel; Phase One in Brighton would be a good way to try and engage with a variety of service users with complex needs, many who were actively using substances. Residents at this hostel were all previously officially homeless, and many had a history of sleeping rough in Brighton & Hove, and were living at Phase One on a temporary basis.

To progress the idea into a volunteering opportunity an appropriate role request and risk assessment was designed and reviewed. This allowed for the development of a volunteering placement which offered genuine added value to BHT residents at the hostel, allowed the OTs to be supported in the workplace and offered the opportunity for individuals to gain a wide range of transferable skills and experience by becoming a volunteer in this setting.

The health and safety of all parties was at the centre of the development of this role as there were a variety of risks to be considered. For example it was agreed that volunteers would always work in a pair to offer support to one another, and also meet with both organisation’s lone working policies. Also to maximise participation, enjoyment and benefit to the hostel’s residences at each session it was decided that it was fine for them to “drop in and out” as they wished, and not have a prescribed start and end time. Once the role had been agreed by all parties, and followed SCFT’s signing off process to ensure that it was SMART and Health & Safety compliant, Voluntary Services started to recruit a volunteer team.

In order to recruit the most appropriate volunteers, the interview paperwork was adapted to really emphasise that applicants would need to be able to demonstrate a genuine commitment to inclusion and diversity, particularly in working with a vulnerable client group with complex needs. Through comprehensive volunteer recruitment a team of three volunteers were successfully recruited to start volunteering at Phase One on Friday mornings in December 2019.

From the first volunteering session the team of volunteers supported by the OTs promoted inclusion and diversity by continuously promoting to any BHT service users who dropped into the session that it was fine for them to do this, and stay for as long as they wanted, as long as they behaved in an appropriate manner. Posters and flyers were designed and distributed to convey this message. It was also promoted that the volunteers would work jointly with the service users to design sessions which they would enjoy and benefit from. As the group started in December the first session involved designing Christmas decorations. Feedback was very positive; many residents said that they hadn’t done this for a long time, and really appreciated being able to promote the Christmas spirit to others and themselves.

Initially attendance for the group was quite low, but as more residents attended and passed on positive feedback numbers increased which shows that this voluntary team clearly demonstrated excellence and made a difference to many individuals.

As the group progressed, a good number of residents participated in a variety of creative activities; calligraphy, making mood collages, painting nails, playing word games and designing and participating in quizzes. However sometimes it was just being there to give a listening ear to somebody which was greatly appreciated.

Inclusion and diversity were continuously promoted and supported. A good number of residents attended and participated and took a lot from the sessions and provided a good level of feedback to highlight this. Unfortunately once the Covid-19 pandemic escalated in March 20, the group had to stop, especially as many of the participants were classified in high risk. However all parties are committed to reactivating this volunteering opportunity either later this year or next when appropriate. As well as providing an excellent experience to the participants as detailed above, the volunteers themselves found their volunteering experience very positive and took a lot from it. One of the volunteers, Suzan said;

“I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at the hostel because I really liked helping the residents and it was very satisfying to get regular positive feedback from them when a session had gone well. I also really enjoyed using my creative skills to deliver engaging sessions to individuals who could be challenging on occasions. I felt that as sessions progressed my volunteering colleagues and I created a ‘Safe Space’ which allowed residents to express themselves creatively, and for us to gain their trust. Over the 4 months we were there I thought that the sessions were progressing nicely, and it was a shame that these had to stop due to the Covid19 outbreak but I look forward to when we can resume in the future to help them again.”

Everything is in place for volunteers to return in this placement when safe to do so and to continue to provide a high level of inclusion and diversity to a section of homeless vulnerable SCFT service users.


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