Volunteering in a care home

Volunteering in a care home is rewarding, fulfilling and greatly appreciated by both care home residents and staff alike. Volunteering is always time well spent, it can help people to connect with their local community in a flexible and enjoyable way that is meaningful to them.

What does it involve?

Volunteers help out in lots of different roles from serving in cafes, helping in the garden, arts and crafts activities and going on day trips. Mainly you will be interacting with residents, talking to people and helping with activities around the home. Most jobs in care homes are full time roles, so you won’t be required to take on this kind of work but there may be elements you can assist with. Mainly you will be interacting with residents, talking to people and helping keep people happy, stimulated and entertained. It’s a great way to keep active and sociable!

Who can do it?

Anyone can volunteer, you need to enjoy being around older people, have plenty of patience and kindness. A sense of humour and willingness to get involved helps too!

Are there any age barriers?

No, volunteers of all ages are very welcome. Sometimes volunteers have had relatives living at the home and have continued to visit and be involved in life at the home after their loved one has passed away. Others are retired people who live locally to the home and are looking to utilise their hobbies and interests in a benevolent way. Other volunteers will be adults with learning difficulties or teenagers looking for work experience, the range of people and backgrounds is huge! 

Children are also welcome, those under 16 will need to be accompanied by an adult but are still able to help out, entertain or simply chat with residents. Care homes will always welcome young people who can play a musical instrument to come and entertain residents, they don’t need to be concert performance standard and can come and play one or two songs. Music can be a great diversion for people and has been proven to have many beneficial effects on people living with dementia.

What will I be doing?

You don’t need to have any special skills but if you have hobbies or interests that you can share with people then that will be welcome. In the summer months, residents often enjoy gardening so helping with planting, watering and sowing seeds is a common request. An extra pair of hands to help out on a day trip is always very welcome, you may get to visit local places of interest too, many places offer free entry to care staff and volunteers. At other times you may simply be asked to chat to residents who don’t receive many visitors, providing company and companionship is just as valuable as a specific activity.

Why volunteer?

Cherry Tingle has been volunteering at The Grove Care Home in Waltham for 25 years, she explains how she got started and why she’s continued to visit the care home.

“I was asked to visit a resident at The Grove in 1994 by the then Rector of Waltham parish church. The lady had been the village midwife and I’d take her for a walk around the village in her wheelchair. Everyone used to stop and say hello, she’d joke that she’d delivered every baby in Waltham.”

Cherry went to see her every day for nearly four years until she passed away. During this time Cherry got to know the staff at the care home well and became involved in events and fundraising for the Resident’s Comfort Fund which pays for extra special trips out and entertainment. Cherry now regards The Grove as her second home and she visits every day without fail to chat to residents, take the chair-based exercise sessions or tend to the garden.

“I love seeing the faces in the lounge light up when I come in,” said Cherry “the residents know I’ve come to do activities, and everyone enjoys that”.

How much time will I need to commit?

It’s up to you, volunteers at our care homes may come once a week for a few weeks and we have others who have been coming every day for many years.  Care homes often hold one off events such as Summer Fairs, BBQs or Christmas events so you can bake a cake or help out on a stall as a one-off if that suits you too. You can choose the commitment that fits in best for you, but rest assured that any help and support will be very welcome.

How do I cope with residents who are living with dementia, how will I know what to say?

Care staff will guide you and give you advice on how to interact with specific residents, especially those that may be exhibiting challenging or distressed behaviour. You won’t be left to deal with any situation alone so always ask staff if you’re not sure about anything.

Patience is the key when interacting with anyone who is living with dementia, be prepared for someone who you had a long chat with on your first visit to not recognise you again on your second, or to have the exact same conversation all over again. As you get to know people, you’ll find out what they like to talk about, go with the flow and let them lead the conversation. If you’re not sure what to say comment on the weather or items around the home, you’ll find something to chat about quite quickly. It’s also fine to be quiet and just sit and provide companionship, some people feel comforted by the presence of someone sitting close to them, especially if their sight or hearing is impaired.

When you approach someone with dementia, stand a few feet away and say hello and what your name is before getting too close, it’s easy to startle people if you approach quickly. Approaching people slowly from the side is better than head-on. Extend your hand and let them take it if they wish to, it helps to establish a link between the two of you. If they respond positively, go to their eye level, speak to them clearly and take things at their pace.

Do I need DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks?

All health and social care providers registered with CQC are responsible for checking their staff and should carry out DBS checks on volunteers who are eligible. At Country Court volunteers are required to complete an online check which includes the last 5 years’ worth of employment history. They also need to provide three types of ID documents to process the DBS check. If there is no previous employment history character references will be required.

Do I need any care qualifications?

No, you don’t need to have any care qualifications if you’re doing non-care related tasks such as gardening, crafts or accompanying people on day trips. If you are studying for a care qualification then you may be able to carry out some care tasks, the home manager or care coordinator will be able to advise on your specific situation. Volunteering can be a great way to find out whether working in health and social care is the right career path for you and will give you first-hand insight into what different job roles in care involve.

How do I start?

If you’d like to get involved contact the Home Manager of your nearest care home to discuss your options, see a full list of Country Court care homes here.

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