Volunteering is ‘highly beneficial’ for older people in rural communities, finds new research

26/11/2010
26 November 2010Plunkett Foundation Logo
 
Volunteering to help others might be the best way for older people to improve their health, social life and sense of belonging to their community.

An overwhelming 91% of older people reported volunteering to be ‘highly beneficial’. This is the outcome of new research undertaken by the Plunkett Foundation for Hastoe which looked at the impacts on older people of volunteering in community-owned village shops in the South West of England.

Despite the cosy image of older people living a comfortable life in the country many older people, particularly those living alone and those on low incomes, are at risk of isolation and social exclusion in rural areas. In an effort to explore how best to address these issues, Hastoe commissioned the Plunkett Foundation to conduct research across Somerset and Dorset.

The research focused on over 50s who were involved in some way with community-owned shops, as a prime example of a service both used and actively developed and run by older people. In their work to support older people, a key group in many rural communities, Hastoe wanted to know more about what role volunteering can have in supporting older people at risk of social exclusion to have an independent and meaningful focus and a sense of belonging in their community.

Not only did 91% of respondents report volunteering to be highly beneficial in terms of social contact, 77% felt it had a highly beneficial impact on their sense of belonging to their community. 91% also saw at least ‘some benefit’ to their sense of self-worth. The research also found that volunteering has a more significant role in addressing complex health and social care needs for older people in rural communities than previously thought.

Peter Couchman, Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation, said: “The message was clear from the research – volunteering is good for you. It found this to be particularly so when individuals felt that they have ownership of and part responsibility for running community-owned shops which are so prevalent in the South West of England. The community-owned shops, with its myriad of tasks and roles, gives enough flexibility for an individual to find a role that best suits them.”

Sue Chalkley, Chief Executive of Hastoe said “This research is invaluable as it backs up our belief that focussed action can make a significant difference to older people in rural areas who can often become isolated from community life. Hastoe is committed to whole community development and these findings will help us build on existing and new initiatives.”

There are 75 community-owned village shops in the South West of England, 30% of the total number across the UK. There are 17 in Somerset alone with 6 shops currently open in Dorset.
 
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For further information about the Plunkett Foundation, please contact Katherine Darling, Media & Communications Officer on 01993 810730 or katherine.darling@plunkett.co.uk.
 
For further information about Hastoe, please contact Rebecca Beaumont on 020 8973 0437 or rbeaumont@hastoe.com.
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