Personal responsibility13 May 2015
'So our new government believes that we should each take more personal responsibility - if a relative needs caring for, we should step in, if a neighbourhood needs clearing up we should pull together, and as a society big companies should give their staff three days to volunteer and give something back. All sounds laudable but how will this work in practice?
Having just spent some time in hospital makes me think that if we really want a society that is more giving we need in the first instance to be more understanding of families and their commitments and then we need to be far more creative than arbitrary rules for the family and tokenism of volunteering for the corporates.
Don't get me wrong our corporate partnerships are invaluable to us and our relationships matter to both but this is thanks to the hard work and creativity of those who organise our corporate volunteering to ensure that the events they take part in make an impact on the corporate employees whilst those who use our services gain added value. Believe me, talking to employees of some big companies, many corporate volunteering opportunities turn into away days for the participants who leave with no understanding of the charity and its impact.
Working at Jewish Care we are blessed by our volunteers, especially in our care homes where hours can pass for some without a family visit, and many residents cannot manage their food unaided.
So, having spent time as a patient gave me time to reflect how creative we are and the impact our volunteers make, and I take the liberty of offering some suggestions to the NHS on what our volunteering approach could offer other patients.
Our volunteers could teach the NHS how giving time to those whose families cannot visit because of distance, work or family commitments, by chatting or playing a game or discussing the news, can make the time pass faster and help with someone's emotional wellbeing. Our volunteers could teach the NHS how offering to do some shopping for someone, getting a coffee, a sandwich or some fruit to supplement the hospital offerings of breakfast, lunch and dinner can help with nutrition and make someone feel so much better. Our volunteers could teach the NHS how helping a vulnerable person to eat their meal In a relaxed way will help them not only with their nutrition but with their self-esteem.
Don't get me wrong, the staff from medical to cleaning staff, are fantastic and supportive but with so many patients to care for, if you have no need of a medical intervention, hours could go by, and for many do, with no human interaction.
Where, I can see people asking, would these volunteers come from? The first thought leads me to being more creative with corporate volunteers. How much more satisfying to spend even half an hour with someone and doing something small and meaningful for them is this than painting a mural as a team and having no interaction with the beneficiaries? By breaking the three days down into micro volunteering a whole army, especially in inner cities, could support patients in a meaningful way and, at the same time, something that should please this government, cut down on waste (especially around food) and contribute man hours that cost little.
I say cost little because the volunteers will need coordinating and managing, but the added value will be immeasurable.
I am lucky because I have a family who did all this and more for me but others are not so lucky - with a bit of imagination, and perhaps a visit to Jewish Care, the NHS could ensure everyone is equally blessed. Of course, if the NHS don’t like the idea, we at Jewish Care would love to hear from you!
Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 3,000 people.