Hospice UK launches new resource for community-based volunteering

Categories: Care, Education, and Featured.

Dr Ros Scott, Volunteering Researcher and Consultant, writes about the launch of Hospice UKs new online resource hub to support community-based volunteering in hospice and palliative care.

The new resource from Hospice UK offers inspiration and guidance to everyone interested in community-based volunteering in hospice and palliative care. It has been developed using data gathered from a Hospice UK survey and converted into practical information with examples from a range of settings.

Hospice and palliative care volunteering has evolved significantly in recent years with more and more volunteers offering community-based support to people with palliative and end of life care needs and their families. Much of this has been inspired by the Neighbourhood Network in Palliative Care in Kerala in India or by Compassionate Communities.

It was this recognition that inspired Hospice UK to explore the extent and nature of this type of volunteering across the UK. How many hospices were involving volunteers in this way? Were these led by the community as in Compassionate Neighbours and Hospice Neighbours, or led by staff? Why had hospices gone down this route? How are these projects structured and what are the costs? What training and support was provided for volunteers? What were the benefits, barriers and challenges? These and many other questions formed part of a national survey, one aim of which was to gather evidence for the resource hub.

Just after the launch of the report on the survey and online resource hub, I had the great privilege of hearing Dr RM Rajagopal speak at the International Hospice and Palliative Care Volunteering Symposium at the EAPC 16th World Congress in Berlin. Considered by many to be the ‘father’ of palliative care in India, he highlighted the importance of community volunteers to palliative care in Kerala.

I was struck throughout his talk by the similarities with the findings from Hospice UK’s survey. He described the volunteers’ role as being central to ‘engaging communities in health’ and helping to improve awareness of and access to palliative care. Emphasising the importance of training, Dr Rajagopal highlighted the volunteers’ role in spending time with people with palliative and end of life care needs and in offering them practical, psychological and social support too.

However community volunteering in Kerala is not without its challenges. It was striking to note how similar the challenges are to those which emerged in Hospice UK’s survey. These included ‘professionals giving up power’, volunteers’ willingness to train and learn, ongoing support and the ‘vested interests’ of community groups. Whilst the UK’s culture and society may differ from that of India, it is surprising how many similarities we share.

The Community Volunteering hub aims to address some of the questions and challenges which the survey identified. It is easy to navigate and is constructed in such a way that it is easy to dip in and out of individual sections. Packed with guidance from those with experience, the hub offers opportunities to learn more about the benefits of community volunteering, on starting out planning and delivering a programme, training and support for those involved, and  the importance of monitoring and evaluation. You can also read a range of real life experiences in case studies from across the UK.

There is something for everyone and for those already experienced in this field, it provides an opportunity to explore other projects, approaches and ideas.  The hub also enables connections with others to compare and share experiences.

It is clear that there is a growing move towards community-based volunteering. The sharing of knowledge and experience has been an important part of this initiative to date, and the online resource hub is well placed to support the future development and richness of this growing approach to hospice volunteering.

Hospices that would like case studies to be included in the Community Volunteering hub should contact Jean Hindmarch