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Facing up to a rising need
Working with volunteers

The adult social care sector needs to think outside the box when it comes to staffing. Vacancy rates are rising and the pool of candidates is not. Sanctuary Care has developed an effective system using volunteers to plug some of this gap. Here, Sarah Clarke-Kuehn shares their learning.

Attention to volunteering is on the up. In April, the Royal Voluntary Service marked 80 years since the biggest call for volunteers – World War II – by launching a major volunteering drive ‘in the wake of unprecedented pressure on public services’.

The positive effects of volunteering on those who give up their time is among the key messages featured in the campaign, with a report from the organisation finding many experiencing improved wellbeing as a result of their efforts. This included 34% of respondents feeling less stressed, 42% saying it had a positive effect on physical health and 65% on happiness levels. Volunteering was even shown to help address the growing issue of social isolation, with 37% of first-time volunteers saying the experience made them feel less lonely.

Four in ten Britons volunteer, a YouGov survey conducted on behalf of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) found in January. The vast majority of respondents told researchers it benefits their mental health and acts as a deterrent to loneliness.

The good news about the benefits of volunteering couldn’t be more timely, as the importance of taking volunteers on is ramping up across the country, with the NHS in the process of doubling its number of volunteers from 78,000 to 156,000. A survey of NHS staff by The King’s Fund found 90% of respondents thought volunteering added value for patients, with 74% replying that it added value for staff.

It’s not hard to see how the same reasoning can apply to care. Across the adult social care sector, there is a rising staffing shortage, with more than 110,000 vacancies in 2017/18 and one in 11 care worker roles unfilled, according to figures from Skills for Care in its report on the State of the adult social care sector and workforce in England.

Projections from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggest that the UK will need to have recruited and trained 1.6 million health and social care workers by 2022 in order to replace those leaving the profession, while also meeting increased demand. This figure is equivalent to two-thirds of the current health and social care workforce, and larger than the equivalent statistic for any other occupation in the UK.

Addressing the need

Two years ago, Sanctuary Care embarked on a mission of its own to co-ordinate and build upon its volunteer and work experience placements.

When we first piloted our Care Volunteering and Work Experience Placement Programme in January 2017, we saw a way to bring many more benefits, from the extra resources afforded to our residents to the experience and skills acquired by those on the placements. It was also an opportunity to combat poor staff retention rates in the sector, as the Skills for Care report found an average staff turnover rate of more than 30%.

With over 100 care homes across England and Scotland, providing care and support to more than 5,000 residents, we recruit and train staff who share our passion for delivering care with a kind, friendly and helpful attitude.

With this in mind, we took the decision to create a structured, co-ordinated approach to volunteering. We felt this would benefit our residents, the homes they live in and those taking the placements, providing opportunities to develop skills which could lead to paid employment. We realised there was a perfect gap for the ‘softer’ elements of the caring role, activities that are vital to providing rounded care.

Making it work

We created a process map when we were putting the programme together. This lays out the process from start to finish and takes the organisation with the volunteer on their journey.

Having a flexible approach to volunteering meant our placements were wide-ranging to suit volunteers’ availability, skills and interests. By ensuring our care homes had fully bought in to the volunteer programme, we were able to communicate far more effectively with them and allow them to embrace the programme at their own pace.

Volunteers can offer one-to-one time and stimulation for our residents that helps them stay connected with their local communities.

Activities like sitting to chat, playing board games, going through crossword puzzles and providing social interaction are a vital element of delivering care, and by making our volunteer programme person-centred to the needs of our residents, we are able to ensure the best fit between volunteer and placement. Residents can complete a ‘request a volunteer’ form to find someone suitable, while a skills checklist by volunteers helps us ensure a good match.

Having volunteer support in these areas of ‘softer’ care helps free-up our staff to concentrate on the more intensive, core elements of the care package.

Naturally, there were some areas where we learned lessons on how we could improve. Our initial method of placing adverts within local papers to attract volunteers, while it did result in placements, proved not to be good value for money. We therefore changed our approach to instead work with local volunteers’ centres near each home and advertised through free online volunteering platforms, which has since proved successful.

A role for work experience placements

Separate to our volunteering opportunities, a programme of work experience placements provides mutual benefits for our residents and students at the local academic institutions we work in partnership with across the country.

Through these placements, we are able to offer students and jobseekers the chance to gain hands-on experience of delivering key elements of a care role, developing their confidence and gaining skills while under expert supervision in a real care home working environment.

Volunteers from the Uni of Worcester

Volunteers from the University of Worcester taking part in a set of work experience placements at Sanctuary Care homes across the Midlands

The placements have seen the majority of those taking part staying on after completion as bank staff, providing part-time care with hours that can accommodate their studies.

This follow-through on both our volunteers and our work placements is excellent for residents as it provides a sense of stability, with people they are already familiar and comfortable with joining the staff of the home.

Looking ahead

Thankfully, the enthusiasm of volunteers across the country means there are plenty of people willing to step forward and offer their time for a worthwhile cause. A campaign in the Daily Mail backing the NHS’s funding drive saw 33,000 readers pledge nearly 1.9 million hours of support.

While our targets at Sanctuary may be more modest, we have already exceeded our target to have 400 volunteers active across our care homes by more than 50%, with the latest figure in excess of 600. As popularity has grown, we have adjusted our methods of taking on volunteers. By using the Do-it Trust’s online volunteering platform, we were able to receive 1,324 applications over two years. That, combined with a dedicated volunteering portal on our Sanctuary Care website and other channels, has allowed us to keep meeting and exceeding our volunteer targets.

However, the benefits of volunteering can go far beyond issues of resource. Placements not only benefit the wellbeing of volunteers and those they support, but also help to build an environment conducive to attracting staff in the longer term.

This is something that will only become more important as the sector looks to the future and more sustainable recruitment and retention practices.

Top five tips for setting up a volunteer programme
  1. Building partnerships with local, national and even international organisations is key to long-term viability – this ensures a steady flow of candidates so that when existing volunteers leave they can easily be replaced. We have worked with large providers such as Mencap and the National Citizen Service, as well as international partners like Erasmus, which sees overseas students taking placements with us.
  2. Communicate with staff, volunteers and residents – ensure they all understand volunteers are there to complement the work of permanent staff and why they are volunteering so you can find relevant placements for them to utilise and develop their skills.
  3. Consider establishing a volunteer charter – this will set out the key principles of how volunteers are organised and supported, as well as ensuring good relations.
  4. Diversify your volunteering pool – a diverse pool of volunteers brings a range of benefits, such as having the experience of older volunteers and intergenerational benefits of placing younger volunteers.
  5. Create your own volunteering page on your website – this saves you from relying solely on external platforms to promote your programme.

Sarah Clarke-Kuehn is Director for Care at Sanctuary Group. Twitter: @SanctuaryPR

Have you used volunteers in your service? What methods have you found to be effective? What has been the impact on the people using your services? Share your experiences and leave feedback on this article below.


How one bank worker moved from volunteer to paid employee

Our bank worker Fasheun Anuoluwapo, is an example of how one such placement can provide mutual benefits for all involved – but also result in a dedicated carer who wishes to remain with the organisation.

Fasheun had just started a Level Three access course in health education at New City College, Redbridge in December 2017, when she saw an advert for volunteers at a local Sanctuary Care home, Chadwell House.

With the home being nearby, she saw a great opportunity to learn more about the sector and started volunteering that same month once a week.

The placement saw Fasheun support the activities manager by chatting with residents, keeping them company, having lunches with them and delivering activities like pedicures and nail polishing.

Fasheun’s access course finished in June last year, and by September she had started a degree in Public Health at University of East London, Stratford. Determined to build on her volunteering experiences, Fasheun decided to apply for a paid role as a bank care assistant.

This saw her undergo a number of training sessions and a required DBS check, as we carry out for all volunteers, before her start in December.

Her role now sees Fasheun delivering personal care, such as waking residents, helping them get dressed and supporting them around the home.

She said, ‘The placement was an opportunity to learn more about how a care home works, as well as enriching the lives of residents by providing a sense of variety in the activities they enjoy.

‘In the future I’d like to work in the community, but my experience at Chadwell House has been rewarding so I’m keeping that open as an option too.’

To find out more about Sanctuary Care’s volunteering and work experience programmes visit

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