Michelle works to develop Circles with older people living in the community in Doncaster. Part of her role involves matching volunteers with opportunities to get involved. In her most recent blog she talks about the challenges of matching volunteers and how to alleviate the frustration they may feel when waiting for a match.

Circles in Doncaster is set in the community with older people who live in their own homes and want to get out and about more as they have become socially isolated or feel lonely.

Our colleagues Hannah and Mary did an amazing job setting this project up and we don’t want to move away from the ethos they introduced.  We want to maintain the quality of the relationships we build but still make some changes to ensure the project is sustainable as it continues to grow and volunteer numbers increase.

With this in mind, we held a focus group of volunteers, some who had been with the project at the beginning and a new volunteer. The purpose of the group was to involve Project volunteers in deciding our future direction.

We learnt that some volunteers were willing to do more to support the project to make the changes it requires to continue to grow.We know that it is frustrating to wait for a match, so we are now having discussions with volunteers about what they may like to do whilst waiting.

We found that some volunteers may benefit from a break from the one to one volunteer role as their Focus Person may be in hospital or respite. Some volunteers wanted an additional role, including mentoring new volunteer, driving, helping out at events, telephone support, promotion, admin or even contributing to our newsletter.

We are forging links with Doncaster college and WEA which gives us exciting opportunities to do different activities and bring like-minded focus people and volunteers together. This also enables volunteers to do things side by side with their focus person so they are seen as equals in their relationships.

In recognition that the project is growing, we need to consider the sustainability of the project and look at ways that volunteers can support one another. We are hoping to do buddy ups with other volunteers and focus people in area groups in the hope that they can build a network of support and friendships.

Feedback from our ‘School’s Out For Summer’ event

We are looking at other ways of matching volunteers and one of the ways we are doing this is to invite unmatched focus people and volunteers to our get together social events which we are having on a monthly basis. We recently did this and found that a volunteer, who was adamant about the area she wanted to volunteer, actually changed her mind after meeting someone at our event. We have since matched these individuals and believe it will make a good match. This also gives us an opportunity to observe interactions and potentially change our minds if it becomes clear that it may not work.

We have a new building that we can use for these events which is called the Silver Link Centre and we are trying different things including having a drop in afternoon for volunteers and potential matches to pop in for a cuppa. We hope to develop these to also provide taster sessions for activities that people may want to explore further.

This weekend we held a “Schools out for Summer” theme get together, which was very successful with lots of reminiscing of school days and fun playing cats cradle, tiddly winks etc. We had old photos of local schools and pictures of children praying, drinking milk, doing P.E and school dinners for example as talking points. We also had nursery rhymes and poems they may have learnt and took school photos. We heard stories of being in a workhouse, being a war child as well as finding out about nursery rhymes that are no longer told. Everyone was laughing and joining in and some of the older people who we had observed previously as being quiet, guarded, or shy were really animated and chatting and getting involved with others which was great!