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Increasing the involvement of the community in care

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We have just completed our latest round of volunteer recruitment and are very pleased to welcome 8 new team members to Growing Support.

The new volunteers will work across 16 care homes to support people with dementia to participate in social and therapeutic gardening activities held in their own garden. They contribute half a day each week to provide practical support and encouragement to residents who may struggle to complete tasks by themselves or lack the confidence to join in.

Many care homes, particularly those specialising in dementia care, only have sporadic support from volunteers. The reasons for this are varied: some have been put off by poor experiences in the past; care homes can appear ‘closed-off’ from the community making it hard for willing volunteers to know how to get involved; often care staff are simply too busy to be able to provide the support required to enable volunteers to make a meaningful contribution.

We have found that acting as the bridge between local volunteers and care providers is an effective means of increasing the involvement of the community in care.

So far we have trained 50 community volunteers to engage people with dementia in therapeutic gardening activities. I’m always amazed by the impressive range of volunteers who donate their time and skills. We have a large number of young people, at the start of their careers, who bring an energy and enthusiasm to the gardening sessions to which residents respond very positively. At the other end of the spectrum our team of experienced health and social care professionals often know more about how best to support people living with dementia than we do!

Studies show that involving the community improves the quality of care and we can certainly see this in practice.  Individual support from volunteers means that every resident is able to participant regardless of any health issue or cognitive impairment they have.  The volunteers are also able to spend more time with residents, connecting on a more human level and developing richer, personal relationships.

Volunteers often feel rather daunted about working with people with dementia for the first time and it may take a week or two to build up their confidence. Quite quickly though, we then find volunteers describing a deep sense of satisfaction and enjoyment from belonging to the group.  Many report that they too find the gardening sessions therapeutic, providing a welcome break from the pressures of every day life.

So, I hope our new volunteers aren’t too nervous as they join gardening groups for the first time this week and I’m looking forward to hearing all their stories when we next catch up.

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