New report finds local volunteers key to reducing social isolation of older people

Written by Andrew Holt

Older people volunteering in their local communities could be a key way to support the needs of an ageing population, according to new research published by the Community Development Foundation (CDF).

The new report looks at the outcomes of the Active at 60 Community Agent programme, funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, which aimed to reduce social isolation.

It found that many older people have been helped through participation in locally run activities that enabled them to socially interact and meet new people.

The report has found that local community groups are well placed to reduce the social isolation of older people, by using small amounts of funding to provide a variety of activities, which are then championed by older volunteers called Community Agents.

The important role that these groups play is clear. A total of 92% of the funded community groups responding to the survey felt that they successfully involved many older people who may not have otherwise been involved in social activities.

Most said that they had introduced an average of ten new people to the group.

This included people at risk of social isolation as 74% of groups responding to the survey had engaged with older people who lived alone.

Particular value has been placed on the role of the volunteers, who took a lead role in engaging and encouraging older people to participate in the activities in their local community.

The Community Agents, who lived in the local community, were uniquely placed to proactively engage with older people and motivate them to attend group activities and support them when they first attended.

The value of local contacts is clear as 88% of volunteers who responded to the survey reached out to older people through word of mouth.

Older people valued the support as the majority of groups responding to the survey said they had more opportunity to socialise (94%) and to get out of the house (89%).

Alison Seabrooke, chief executive of CDF, said: “This report confirms that creating opportunities for older people to socialise and build new friendships can reduce social isolation and maintain an independent life.

“The success of funding local community groups, combined with the key role of the volunteer Community Agents to engage the target group, demonstrates a model that can be utilised by future projects looking to support older people.”

Minister for Pensions Steve Webb said: "With more of us living longer, tackling loneliness among older people is something we can all play a part in. What this initiative shows is that staying active in your local community in the lead up to and after retirement can also have lasting positive effects on the welfare of older people."

The groups developed a variety of activities to keep older people mentally and physically active.

Physical or healthy living activities, such as walks, dances or health eating workshops were offered by two-thirds of the groups surveyed.

Social activities, including coffee mornings, quizzes and day trips were also important and were offered by 60% of groups responding to the survey.

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