Contact the Elderly Volunteering, Scotland-wide project

Overview
Contact the Elderly volunteer drivers take one or two older people, living alone, to enjoy afternoon tea in another volunteer's home, one Sunday every month. Over time on-going support and friendships grow, demonstrating valuable community involvement and providing informal monitoring of well-being. Contact the Elderly is a small UK-wide charity founded in 1965. (Click here to find out if there is a group near your town.)The free service is currently funded by the Scottish Government, the Robertson Trust and several smaller trusts, ‘Choose Life' Fife, Highland Council and individual donations.

The service is open to those:
• over 75
• living socially isolated lives
• unable to get out without some assistance
• living in their own home, rather than residential/nursing homes
• mobile enough to travel and negotiate a few steps with help.

Volunteers' ages span several generations - the majority are over 50 although around 11% are less than 40 years old. Families of volunteer hostesses also benefit greatly from involvement with Contact groups as relatives often live at a distance, and children may rarely see their own grandparents or mix with older people. The children and grandchildren attending the tea parties have an opportunity to appreciate what they have in common with the older visitors! They, in their turn, love mixing with younger people - something they may not do very often, if at all.

Children can provide musical entertainment and help serve the tea, thus developing their social and practical skills. In some of the long-standing groups (Glasgow 1 group has been running for almost 40 years) people who were children when their parents began hosting tea parties now come back for the tea party, often bringing their children or grandchildren. A true intergenerational experience!

Partners
Through its Regional Development Officers CtE actively seek out and develop relationships with a broad network of other providers of services for older people nationally and locally to build effective working relationships with statutory and other charitable organisations that are working in other ways to support older people.

Current and future plans
In 2011 the organisation will celebrate 40 years of Contact the Elderly in Scotland, through a series of special events recognising the achievements of our volunteers, raising awareness of the service we provide and recruiting new volunteers of all ages in order to expand our groups.

Learning
Isolation has been shown to have a tremendous negative impact on mental and physical health, and housebound older people feel the impact most keenly. Involvement in a group improves the quality of life, provides opportunities for participation and relieves isolation and loneliness, contributing to retaining independence. Contact the Elderly groups are recognised as a model of "good practice" in meeting the needs of isolated older people.

Benefits
• provides an intergenerational group activity for very elderly people - 50% of our guests are in their 80s and 25% are over 90 - a sector frequently excluded from mainstream provision
• brings together all sections of society for a social occasion (no religious affiliation or illness/disability aspects)
• takes place on a Sunday when most services for elderly people are unavailable - traditionally remembered as the family day by older generations, and now often experienced as a 'lonely day'
• kept small so everyone feels part of an intimate group. This is especially important to those with poor hearing or poor sight
• takes place once a month and provides something wonderful to anticipate and often leads to genuine, long-term friendships

Outcomes and benefits as guests
• renewed links with the active community, reducing social isolation
• a short drive in a private car, away from the four walls and the TV
• improved physical and mental health due to greater feeling of personhood
• pleasure of private hospitality within a family environment
• intergenerational and continuing relationships between visitors and volunteers
• invisible support network facilitating additional, informal monitoring of welfare through vital personal links with caring volunteers

Volunteers also gain benefits from becoming more involved in the local community, developing skills and confidence, extending their circle of friends, appreciating a greater and more worthwhile involvement in society and gaining an insight into the lives of others whose lives have spanned 75-100 years of change. Our service often provides welcome relief and reassurance for concerned family members who live too far away to provide regular support.

Challenges:
• securing long-term, sustainable funding. Many funders only fund project-based and time-bound work. CTE needs funding for a proven service, the need for which will expand with the growing ageing population.
• finding volunteer drivers, hosts and co-ordinators and referrals of people who would benefit from our service.

Visitors Quotes
"I felt that I had come out of a dark tunnel into the light. Before I joined Contact group I thought my life had ended - and now it's started again!" Edith, 85.
"I'm on my own 24 hours a day except for the milkman! It's no exaggeration - the Contact gatherings are the one bright light in my life - it's fantastic. The volunteers are lovely personalities and you are welcomed into people's homes and we sometimes sit in a nice garden. You meet other elderly people, have a chat and a laugh. It's heaven." Bill, 89.
"My husband died, so after 25 years I had no-one - I stood alone except for a distant relative. Many people feel lonely and shut themselves away. Contact the Elderly helped me - I appreciate it from my heart." Maggie, 87.

Group Coordinators Quotes
"Many in the group go for days without seeing a single person. This trip makes a huge difference. Everybody has a lovely time and the older guests, see it as a highlight on their calendar." Pam.
"I don't think people realise how lonely and isolated older people can feel and just a few hours one Sunday a month makes a tremendous difference. The gatherings are tremendous fun and I can feel excitement in the air each month when I ring around my members, hosts and drivers." Christine.

Email: Valerie Crookston, Scotland Executive Officer, Contact the Elderly.     Tel:01505 874412    Contact the Elderly Website