The Solva Care Toolkit

3 – Solva Care: the Coordinator’s story

Can I do this?

My name is Lena, and I started as Solva Care’s Project Coordinator in June 2015. I had experience of chairing the committee for the village cinema, which was run by volunteers, but I was hesitant to apply for the Coordinator position at first. It seemed a daunting prospect to set up a care and wellbeing initiative completely from scratch, but I thought that Solva Care was such an innovative idea that I really wanted the project to take off.

My background is in insurance, but I knew I had some of the skills that were needed. I am a good organiser and administrator, and I enjoy meeting and dealing with people. Also, I had lived in the village for quite some time and knew many of the residents. I liked the fact that Solva Care would be part of the Community Council, which I felt would give the project extra credibility. There was a good strategy and a supportive, hands-on management committee – so I applied for the job, and dived straight in when I started!

Setting it all up

Mollie Roach – who was the Project Leader, and is now Chair of Solva Care’s Trustees – provided introductions to several organisations, and I started by meeting with representatives from the Alzheimer’s Society, Paul Sartori, Crossroads, Pembrokeshire’s Good Neighbour scheme and PAVS (the Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services). They were all encouraging and helpful in sharing their knowledge as well as experience, and gave me some ideas for how to set up policies[1] and procedures.[2] The Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) website was another valuable resource, as that organisation has a great deal of information about volunteering and most of the model policies that we needed.[3] I devised forms and created a folder for volunteers with useful information, phone numbers, etc.[4] I set up a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what the volunteers do and how much time they give.[5]

Recruiting volunteers

Fortunately, I had a head start with recruiting volunteers. The village questionnaire that the working group had distributed around Solva in 2013 included a question on whether people would be prepared to volunteer should the project take off. About 25 people had said yes. I organised an information meeting, inviting them and anyone else interested through posters and the village newsletter. Most of them attended the meeting and signed up. I then arranged DBS checks for them, and induction training via Volunteering Matters, the leading UK volunteering charity. I also made sure that they were insured (for third-party liability and personal injury).

We have volunteer meet-ups once or twice a year, to get together and have a chat. Most of the volunteers ‘work’ individually, and may not see much of each other. Sometimes, therefore, we use these events for feedback and evaluation.

Official launch

We launched the project officially in October 2015, by organising a community afternoon tea party in the village hall. Apart from posters around Solva and a note in the village newsletter, we targeted our older residents with individual invitations and offered transport. Still, we were not sure how many would turn up and only used the smaller front room to avoid ‘rattling around’ in the bigger hall. In the end, the space was packed with 50+ people, some of whom had not been seen out and about for years. Apart from picking up residents who couldn’t get here by themselves, the volunteers mingled and helped by making sandwiches, baking cakes and serving. The event was so successful that we repeated it the following year.

The people we support

We cover Solva Parish and – at the time of writing this, in mid-2018 – we support about 50 people. We started providing the voluntary service in August 2015, as and when people approached us. In addition we visited all the Solva residents who already received care in order to see if we could enhance, in any way, the care they already received. The people whom we support are mostly, but not only, the older people in the village, and include those living with dementia and their carers.

Apart from people contacting us directly, we get referrals from relatives, concerned neighbours, the local council’s social services department, district nurses, hospitals and the village health centre, where I have a room on Friday mornings so that people can drop in and see me.

What we do

I keep detailed records of all that we do, as a tool for my own use and to help me to report to the management/Board of Trustees and to funders. Below is a graph covering the first year of operations, when we undertook 1,430 hours of work – 120 hours per month, on average. It shows the proportion of hours per area of Solva Care’s work.

Statistics aside, here are a few pictures showing some of what we do. From the top, Keith is bringing a lady to the surgery; Bryony has popped in to visit one of our oldest residents for tea and a chat; Naomi is taking a lady with severe dementia on a walk; Robin is dog walking; and Maureen is helping at an outing.

Other things that we can do include helping with shopping, picking up prescriptions and providing short-term respite for family carers. We also ‘signpost’ to other available services, as we don’t want to duplicate or take business from others.

Other activities

We also link in with existing events in the village and surrounding area: we bring people to coffee mornings, the luncheon club, the memory café in St Davids, and theatre & cinema evenings in Solva Memorial Hall.

In November 2016, we started a new activity together with the Alzheimer’s Society – ‘Try Something New’, aimed at people living with dementia and their carers. Initially it was held twice a month, but within a year it had turned into a weekly event – now called Friday Club – and is open to anyone who would like to come. Friday Club is held for two hours in the afternoon at the village hall, and we have music, craft, storytelling, games and dancing. The Reach Project at Pembrokeshire College has also supported us. Over the last year, we have arranged outings to a nearby garden, the cinema in Fishguard and other places.

Networking, collaboration and evaluation

From the start, we have been networking with other organisations in Wales and further afield – for example, Ageing Well in Wales and Somerset Community Catalysts. Research and evaluation were built in to the process from early on, and we are also collaborating with several universities in Wales.

Spread the word

We designed a website and had a leaflet printed, have a Twitter and Facebook account, and a page in the monthly village newsletter. Our project has attracted quite a bit of interest from local newspapers, BBC Wales and organisations around Wales. This all helps to spread the word about what we are doing and to make new connections. It also helps when applying for funding. Here are some links:

BBC Wales News – Pilot project to ‘keep care local’ in Pembrokeshire village – 23 October 2015

Welsh Government video – Care and support in Wales is changing – 4 April 2016

The County Echo – Village hosts conference on community and home care – 30 September 2016

BBC News – Funding fears over Solva Care project in Pembrokeshire – 23 November 2016

British Society of Gerontology – Solva Care – Innovative Community Initiative (social care) 2 October 2017

Connecting our community

This is our tag line, and it expresses exactly what Solva Care is about. We had a good community before we started the initiative, but we are doing our best to make sure that people don’t ‘fall through the cracks’. There have been – for me, anyway – some unexpected effects in setting up a voluntary service. It is not just a one-way system with a volunteer helping a person. It is good for the volunteers too: making them feel useful, happier, less lonely and more active – and providing them with opportunities to make new friends. As for me, I am very pleased that I took on this challenge. It is the best job satisfaction that I have ever had.

We are really making a difference to people’s lives; here is some of the feedback that we have received:

“once again thank you for this amazing service that you provide to the elderly in Solva”.

“I strongly believe this service to be invaluable to my mother and me. Life would certainly be more difficult without it! I am also of the opinion that the service is invaluable to Solva. It helps foster community spirit, makes those in need feel cared about and less alone”.

I would like to finish by saying to anyone thinking of setting up a community project – do it! It may be scary and daunting at times, and not always easy, but very worthwhile. You will most likely find that there are many helpful people around, and that one thing leads to another and it all tends to fall into place. I am always happy to share information with anyone who would like to contact me and copies of many of the resources mentioned in the footnotes are available to download.

Some things I have learned along the way:

There are contacts and resources out there that can give you a head start with your activities, and your planning and paperwork too.
People are willing to volunteer, and they give their time consistently.
If you start a new project, one thing naturally leads to another – in a good way.
Funders all have very different requirements for reporting – negotiate with them the simplest format for doing this, and what works for you.
Networking takes time, and you need to prioritise – but is a good way to share, pick up new ideas, learn from others and get some extra moral support.
Try not to put people in ‘boxes’ – someone who is a volunteer one minute can be at the receiving end the next. People are just people!
[1] Policies include the following and are based on WCVA templates: Handling of DBS Certificate Information, Recruitment of People with a Criminal Record, Volunteer Complaints, Bullying and Harassment, Grievance, Disciplinary, Equal Opportunities and Safeguarding.

[2] Procedures include: Volunteer Agreement, Confidentiality Agreement, Safety Guidance for Home Visits, Risk Assessment Form, Code of Conduct and Outdoor Mobility Assessment.

[3] Other helpful organisations: your local voluntary organisation for information, support and training – ours is PAVS; WCVA for setting up and running your organisation, including policies and procedures; your local county council; Volunteering Matters – our local branch supplied induction training for our volunteers; Powys County Council, who do reasonably priced DBS checks; the Disclosure & Barring Service who have an annual update service; and Alzheimer’s Society, who provide information and dementia-awareness training.

[4] Forms include: volunteer form, timesheet, mileage claim, expenses and consumables claim, useful information and contact numbers, service-user forms and draft letter to motor insurers.

[5] The volunteer spreadsheet includes the following information: date, person helped, volunteer, help provided, time from/to, total time and columns for the different types of support that we give, so that I can produce breakdowns and analyses if necessary.

Lena Dixon, Solva Care Coordinator

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Registered Charity Number 1172878

Registered Charity Number 1172878