Bendigo U3A’s Wellbeing Teams project involved recruiting and training volunteers within the U3A network to engage with socially isolated and vulnerable seniors in the Bendigo community. The project also focused on cultural change within the organisation, which meant that providing friendly and welcoming environments became an organic part of how things were done.
The project was developed as part of the Strengthening Seniors Inclusion and Participation initiative in the City of Greater Bendigo.
The project stemmed from a growing awareness of the needs of socially isolated older people in the community.
For example, if someone has lost a partner after being a full-time carer for many years, they may struggle to rekindle community connections. Other people may have stopped doing things due to ill health, and thus have lost the confidence to access groups and activities.
The Wellbeing Teams consist of trained volunteers who work one-on-one with vulnerable people to reconnect them with opportunities for social interaction.
Although it is a grassroots community project that deliberately takes an informal approach, it has also worked to strengthen local connections and referral pathways by building community capacity and partnerships between different agencies.
- The project was driven by U3A Bendigo.
- It grew organically to meet an identified need to assist socially isolated older people in the community.
- The initial team of volunteers was hand-picked to ensure they were right for the role. Key attributes were empathy and having enough spare time to take on the responsibilities of the role.
- Volunteers received training in how to communicate effectively with vulnerable people.
- The project developed referral pathways for government and community support agencies so that people could access additional support if they needed it.
- The process drew on U3A risk management processes, but it consciously tried to remain informal.
- The aim was to gradually move participants towards independence.
- A movie morning was established to provide an easily accessible event for people who may not be able to attend commercial cinemas.
- The Wellbeing Team also tackled nutrition by hosting lunch after the movie morning.
- The project is promoted in GP offices, aged care agencies and other community organisations.
Selecting the right volunteers is crucial. They need to be empathetic and able to communicate effectively. They also need to be supported to undertake their role.
Another challenge is making sure volunteers do not burn out. It was important to keep recruiting new volunteers through the U3A network so there was always someone available to assist.
- The movie morning started with three attendees, and has grown to 25–30 people.
- It has helped to embed a culture of caring within U3A Bendigo, so that being welcoming and focused on wellbeing is now just a part of the way things operate.
- Volunteers have gained important new skills in how to communicate and deal with vulnerable people.
U3A Bendigo is continuing to develop its capacity to support isolated people. A strategic plan for the next five years addresses the issue of how to continue to grow.
Reviewed 19 July 2022