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Exploring approaches to age friendly inclusive volunteering

Susannah Hodge, training and regional support manager at the Third Age Trust, shares learning and reflections from NCVO's age inclusive volunteering project.

NCVO’s age friendly inclusive volunteering project brought together volunteer leaders from across the UK. We’ve shared learning and connected with others who involve people aged 50+ in their volunteering opportunities.

From September we met for a monthly action learning set facilitated by NCVO and discussed some of our key challenges in engaging with older volunteers. The project was funded by the Centre for Ageing Better and incorporated learning from their age friendly and inclusive volunteering guide.

Key principles for age friendly inclusive volunteering

The latest NCVO Almanac reported that in 2020/21 people aged 65-74 were the most likely age group to formally volunteer. 22% volunteered at least once a month and 32% at least once a year. This was down from 31% and 40% respectively from the previous year, prior to the pandemic.

In less than 20 years one in four people in England will be over 65, and older people’s lives will be increasingly complex.

From these findings, NCVO has identified five key principles for age friendly inclusive volunteering.

  • Connect and listen
  • Focus on what matters to people
  • Play to people’s strengths
  • Remove barriers
  • Be flexible

What did we do?

At each action learning set, two of us shared a challenge we were dealing with and explored it in more detail with the group. Not only did this provide protected time to focus on the challenge, it also allowed us to share ideas and suggestions across organisations and sectors.

We came from a diverse range of organisations with different experiences, which enhanced each action learning set. Being asked open-ended questions in a supportive, confidential space enables you to see the challenge in a completely different way. We were able to think of different solutions that we hadn’t considered before.

We discussed challenges around re-engaging with older volunteers since covid, the struggle to recruit older people as trustees, building communities of volunteers across ages, and navigating tensions between staff and volunteers.

What did we learn?

I work for the Third Age Trust, the umbrella organisation that supports u3as. u3as are local charities formed entirely of volunteers, and nearly all volunteers are over the age of 50.

The action learning set allowed me to explore challenges faced by some of our u3as when recruiting trustees. We discussed whether roles could be shared, if opportunities could be provided to shadow someone in an existing role, and whether training and support can be offered to new trustees.

As an umbrella organisation, we offer much of this support already, although it perhaps isn’t always known about. As a result of taking part in this project, we are now exploring ways to further promote our training and support, and share stories from trustees across the UK to encourage others to step forward.

We hope this work will help tackle some of the practical, structural and emotional barriers identified in Centre for Aging Better’s age friendly and inclusive volunteering research.

Practical, structural and emotional barriers to age friendly and inclusive volunteering. Identified by the Centre for Aging Better.

The action learning sets helped bring this research to life in practical ways for each of our organisations. I hope we will be able to keep in touch and continue to share our learning.

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