We were all delighted to learn recently that WRVS has been awarded Investing in Volunteers (IiV) status. It’s particularly satisfying as we are the largest and most complex organisation to gain the award both in terms of number of volunteers and geographical spread.
The award means that we are recognised as an organisation that appreciates and values its volunteers and is committed to ensuring that we offer meaningful volunteering roles. And of course that people have fun when they are working with us.
We are working towards growing our services so that we can help even more older people live the life they want to and that means we are going to need more volunteers, lots more. So having this award will send a message that WRVS is good at volunteering and it’s a great way to contribute to local communities by getting involved.
Of course IiV status does not mean we are perfect. We don’t always get it right. But there is a commitment across the organisation to be fair and open and to deal with issues that crop up quickly and effectively.
We have spent the last two years producing practical guides for managers on all aspects of volunteering and then working alongside them to make sure they feel confident. This was reflected in the IiV report when assessors visited many of our services to meet with volunteers and staff. Their feedback was brilliant; it’s clear that our people did us proud.
But this is just the start. It’s great to be recognised in this way but we will be continuing to look for ways to improve our volunteering offer and we are already thinking ahead to three years’ time when we will be going for reaccreditation. We have taken on board the points in the final report on areas where we could improve and have put plans in place to address these.
We want to be known as experts in the field of volunteering so that our stakeholders and partners have confidence in what we do. Volunteers are at the heart of what we do and so we will always strive to cherish them and encourage new people to get involved.
Why not volunteer for WRVS?!
I was privileged yesterday to attend the launch of a new report by Age Alliance Wales on whether or not Wales is a good place to grow old.
Age Alliance Wales is an umbrella organisation, of which WRVS is a member, helping charities and service providers to speak to the Welsh Government with a clear voice on issues affecting older people. The new report, co-authored with the Bevan Foundation, makes for interesting reading.
As some of the media reports have already noted, it reveals glaring inconsistencies in how much Welsh local authorities are spending on older people. Furthermore, support for older people when they leave hospital was often shown to be patchy.
Yesterday’s launch was both encouraging and unsettling in equal measure. Excellent speeches from BBC Wales’ Roy Noble and the new Older People’s Commissioner, Sarah Rochira, managed inspire a sense of optimism about what we could do in Wales if the resources allowed. Yet underlying that – and key to the report – is a sense that there so much work which needs to be done if we are to make things better. In addition to the challenges mentioned above, the report is clear that older people in Wales are often in poor physical health, are often lonely, and often experience difficulty in accessing services. With Wales’ older population rising faster than any other part of the UK, this is a problem which is set to increase unless action is taken.
The line which hit me hardest yesterday was the testimony of an older person who met with the new Older People’s Commissioner, and told her that all she needed to make her happy were three things – something to love, something to do and something to look forward to. For all the public policy strategies, jargon and frameworks, that ambition underlines what really matters – providing older people with what they think makes for a happy and healthy life.
If we can help older people to have those three things, then we truly will have made Wales a good place to grow old.
WRVS’ recent report, Ageing Across Europe, produced by Demos, paints a stark picture of growing old in this country. Our older people are proven to be the loneliest, poorest and the most worried that they are discriminated against because of their age, of the countries examined.
But is it all doom and gloom? The whole point of looking at the countries that we did: Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the UK, was that these are countries that are in many ways – particularly in terms of wealth – similar to us. So we should be able to learn from the good things that Sweden and the Netherlands are doing (who came first and second on the experience of ageing, compared to our third) and replicate them in this country.
In Sweden, for example, there is a much greater focus on spending money on preventing health problems which get significantly worse later in life, by tackling the issues that cause them. So obesity, which we know can lead to diabetes in later life, is tackled earlier through public health programmes, as is smoking and drinking.
We do a lot of talking about “prevention” in this country, but given that this study shows that in the UK we have the highest prevalence of what is euphemistically called “life limiting illness” amongst older people, surely this is an indication that the public health messages to do with healthy eating and less drinking are not getting through? Or, at least, not as effectively as in those other countries. As David McCullough, WRVS chief executive, commented on the publication of the report – surely it should be a wake-up call for all of us?
So plenty of food for thought for local and central government, but what about for us as individuals? Well one interesting finding from the report, particularly from WRVS’ point of view, is that in Sweden and the Netherlands, there are much higher rates of volunteering. In Sweden - 55% of people volunteer, it’s 50% in the Netherlands , 45% of Germans volunteer and we lag behind at 26%. Separate WRVS research found that older people that volunteer actually improve their sense of wellbeing simply through helping others. People also get a sense of personal satisfaction from seeing their voluntary work is appreciated. Take note voluntary organisations – a pat on the back helps!
It’s common sense really that by giving back to your community, you are not only improving your own sense of worth, but you are also meeting people and staying active and so helping prevent the issues we so often, sadly, see amongst older people whereby they are housebound seeing few people, if any, from day to day. So, by volunteering, you help others but also help yourself. If encouraging more volunteering can help tackle the parlous state of ageing in this country, then that should be the positive that we can take from this shocking report.
Posted by Sarah Farndale, WRVS at 00:00
Wednesday, 06 June 2012.