Sue Denman, Together for Change Programme Lead and Partner

People volunteer because they want to make a difference, to do  good, and  for  feelings of satisfaction. We know rather less about how and why they get into it in the first place: how did the opportunity arise and how did they choose which project  to commit their time to? My own ‘journey’ in volunteering started with a knock on the door. Soon after I retired, or more correctly, semi –retired, to  Solva in West Wales, Community Councillor Mollie Roach  called on me  and asked if I could help her undertake  a survey of social support  in the village.

Solva is a small seaside village with some 800 residents – 24% of whom are in the older, 65 plus age category. Many of those were  living alone,  with multiple health conditions  and far away from their families. Most were isolated and had increasing difficulty getting out of the house and  undertaking  day to day tasks such as shopping, picking up a prescription from  the local surgery and taking their dog for a walk. Mollie’s idea was to survey all the households in the parish in order to see what type of support people were receiving, how they were paying for it and whether a day to day  social support scheme provided by volunteers would be welcomed and used. Importantly, the survey questionnaire would also ask whether people would be willing to volunteer immediately or in the future.

My involvement in that survey was the start of my voluntary work. The response from the community was incredible with 85%  returning the questionnaire and expressing overwhelming support for the idea of a ‘voluntary service’ which became Solva Care. Now a grant funded charity, the volunteers signed up with Solva Care provide day to day support for older people to enable them to stay living in their own homes, feel as well as they can be and to be discharged from  hospital in a timely way. Some 35 volunteers  are trained and DBS checked and deployed by a part time paid coordinator.

In addition to the support provided for individuals, Solva Care also organises group  events so that older people can leave their homes to meet and socialise. Friday Club includes sessions on music, arts and movement. We run projects,  such as ‘Stay Safe and Stay Connected ‘ which helped  people to avoid scams; art classes to decorate less attractive parts  of the village with colourful mosaics; and Magic to teach people the fun of  magic tricks . The volunteers provide transport to the venues. We encourage the generations to come to together and welcome people with dementia to all events to ensure that they are fully integrated into village life.

From  the early stages, through to the establishment of Solva Care as a formal  organisation, we have worked with public and third sector organisations to ensure that whatever we do fits with health and social care policies of Wales and allows us to draw  on the knowledge and expertise of others. In turn we have shared our learning with other communities (the Solva Care model as it is often referred to has been found, by evaluations,  to be highly successful).   The considerable assets of the community have helped to achieve success. There is a strong community spirit and  willingness to volunteer. We have a village hall, two churches, playing fields and four pubs. Many groups and clubs existed before the creation of Solva Care, so there was much to build on. Another factor in our success is our small size. Our Coordinator knows everyone, strong connections can be built locally and emergencies dealt with quickly and effectively.

Five years on our Board of Trustees has broadened our aims to include prevention by targeting the younger, fifty plus, age range – the challenge being to keep people healthy and independent for as long as possible, and by stopping  them becoming ill in the first place. To this end we have also extended our influence and involvement into other aspects of village  life – affordable housing to keep young people and young families in the village; food production to shorten the food supply chain; and the creation of an easy access path  so that all can enjoy the areas of outstanding natural beauty in the environs of the village. We are doing this to address the wider determinants of wellbeing, not just social factors but economic and environmental ones too.