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Volunteers’ Week 2023: Making volunteering accessible with the Alternative Futures Group

NCVO Volunteering Consultant, Helen Tourle, and Ian Pritchard, Chief Officer at Alternative Futures Group, discuss making volunteering accessible for the people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions.

Promoting and facilitating volunteering has always been high on our agenda at AFG - as well as the chance to give back to local communities and be active participants within them. It helps us support people to achieve their aspirations in creative ways that are best suited to them.

We've always offered opportunities for the people we support in our learning disability and mental health divisions.

To further this work and expand our knowledge around accessible volunteering we're working jointly with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

Why is volunteer accessibility important?

NCVO’s recent Time Well Spent (2023) shows the positive impact volunteering has for the individual taking part, with 75% of respondents in 2023 agreeing their volunteering improved their mental health and wellbeing.

Volunteers also report they feel like they’re making a difference, they gain a sense of personal achievement, and it gives them a chance to meet new people, through an enjoyable activity.

72% also agree that volunteering gives them new skills and experience.

We know it's key to facilitate these opportunities for the people we support in our mental health and learning disability divisions - so what are the best ways to approach this?

Improving approaches for volunteers

Make it easy to get involved

Working with local organisations to understand their volunteer recruitment processes and how these might be made more accessible. This can include things such as:

  • information or application forms being provided in other formats such as Easy Read
  • support workers attending interviews with the person they support.

By having conversations with local volunteer-involving organisations we can help them identify these barriers in the volunteer recruitment experience, and offer our expertise to help them make adjustments.

Make it flexible

Across the sector, and backed up by NCVO's original Time Well Spent research, we've seen a rise in preference for informal volunteering opportunities.

This includes flexibility around the time given, how they spend that time, and not needing an ongoing commitment.

We should be mindful of signposting to volunteering opportunities which provide this flexibility in time commitment.

This means making sure we're opportunities can work around variable medical or multi-disciplinary appointments, fluctuations in medication, and recognising that an individual’s ability to volunteer may vary over time.

Use people’s skills

In the most recent Time Well Spent findings, volunteers with a disability are more likely to report lower levels of satisfaction with their current volunteering, with ‘a lot’ agreeing with the statement that they have skills and knowledge to offer which is not being used.

Our teams make sure the opportunities they're signposting should be matched to an individual’s skills, interests and abilities.

We’ll be continuing this work by offering a dedicated guidance session for our support workers, led by NCVO, giving more practical tips and advice on how they can source, shape, and signpost to accessible volunteering for the people they work with.

Case studies of people we support and their volunteering journeys

Ian's volunteering journey with The A World

I've really enjoyed having a laugh with the staff, with customers, meeting new people.

Ian, volunteer at The A world

Ian has been supported by AFG for two years and has a learning disability. Ian lives in one of our supported living services in Wirral which is commissioned by Wirral Council.

Ian has volunteered at local community charity shop The A World for two years. which supports the autistic community.

Volunteering has helped Ian to grow his confidence, from tidying the shop to now working on the till and serving customers, as well as making a difference in the local community.

Liam's volunteering journey with Carnforth Station Heritage Centre

Liam is autistic and was very shy with new people, but loved to visit the railway and watch trains with his Support Worker Shelley. 

Shelley saw an opportunity to volunteer at Carnforth Station Heritage Centre and Liam now goes once a week, and won't miss it for anything.

Volunteering at Carnforth Heritage Centre has given Liam a huge confidence boost, which has been noticed by everyone around him.

He has gone from feeling very nervous talking to new people, to greeting guests at the museum and discussing the exhibitions, making friends with fellow volunteers and getting great feedback from team at the museum. They have all commented on how he has come out of his shell and what a help he is with his amazing memory. It's been amazing to see the change in him and his mum is so pleased.

Shelly, Liam's support worker

Learn more about the Alternative Futures Group's work

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