As the unsung heroes of the working world, thousands of volunteers play a huge part in driving North East businesses. To mark Volunteer’s Week, retired nurse Paddy Porter tells us about the volunteer committee at Abbeyfield, which has two care homes in Newcastle.
Volunteers make up nearly half of its workforce, not only visiting residents weekly for cups of tea and a chat but also taking on more administrative tasks, such as overseeing the maintenance and the upkeep of the home to making new staff appointments.
They also provide an extra set of eyes over the safe running of the home, which given the recent reports of terrible treatment at some homes provides huge reassurance to residents and their families.
Paddy Porter, who leads the volunteer committee at Abbeyfield The Grove, tells us why she gives her time for free.
People often ask me why I volunteer and whether I mind giving up so much of my time for free. But for me it’s not for free, I get so much back in return for volunteering that it’s certainly not a one way street.
However, when I set out volunteering I had no idea that it would be so rewarding and that I would get so much out of it in terms of meeting new people, developing new skills and an increased sense of satisfaction.
I sit on the volunteer executive committee at Abbeyfield Newcastle – we have two care homes and two sheltered supported homes in Gosforth and Jesmond – and I support the care home manager in the day-to-day running of our care home at The Grove in Gosforth, acting as chair of the House Committee.
I’m a retired physiotherapist and began volunteering at Abbeyfield nine years ago as selfishly I was looking to create some form of structure to my routine.
I started by visiting residents a couple of hours each week, taking time to share a cup of tea and listen to their stories but before long I had taken on additional roles and now form part of the committee.
Whilst I still visit residents on a regular basis, I work hand in hand with the paid employees to ensure that the home runs smoothly and that residents and staff are happy and well cared for.
In practical terms, I conduct monthly property inspections to ensure that the home is in a good state of repair, and host regular staff and family meetings.
I even sit on the marketing and PR steering group, so find myself in my retirement years learning a host of news skills – from organising a garden party to celebrating receiving a gold star care home status, to talking to web developers about search engine optimisation and working with residents on projects to help them engage with iPad technology.
There is an army of volunteers at Abbeyfield. Indeed I think it is the volunteers who make it such a special place; whilst the staff are hugely committed and care deeply about the residents, there is no doubt that the volunteers bring an entirely different element to the houses.
We are here because we want to be and we can bring a neutral voice and an extra pair or eyes and ears in to the homes.
Given the horrific events that have taken place in some care homes across the UK, volunteers coming in and out of the homes each day provides an extra level of reassurance that residents are being well cared for.
There is much talk about installing CCTV in to care homes – well Abbeyfield offers its own in the form of its volunteers.
And we come in all shapes, sizes and ages - from students at Newcastle School for Boys, entertaining residents with musical concerts, to lawyers who bring their professional expertise, everyone has something to offer, even if their time is tight or their experience limited.
Our Trustees are all volunteers and provide a crucial role in running the charity.
According to research by the Northern Rock Foundation, if those already volunteering in the North-East were paid the minimum wage, the annual bill would be more than £66m – so volunteers are certainly not unique to Abbeyfield, but can be found all over the region.
I joined Abbeyfield because I had friends whose parents had been residents in the homes so knew that they were always on the lookout for new volunteers – which we still are so please if you are interested contact us at abbeyfieldnewcastle.org.uk/contact-us/
However, there are a whole host of organisations and charities which need the support of volunteers.
If you are interested in volunteering, Vonne , the support body for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in the North East of England, is a great place to start.
It is supporting National Volunteers Week 2014 – which runs this week - and has a full list of volunteering opportunities across the north east on its website.
Or you could contact your local Volunteer Centre, which acts like dating agency, matching your skills and interests with charities looking for volunteers.
You can also visit websites such as do-It.org.uk which is a national database of volunteering opportunities, and search for those in the North East.
So if you have ever thought about volunteering, whatever your skills or your time, this is the week when you could decide to make a difference – I am pretty sure you will be amazed by how much you will benefit as well as the organisation you are helping.