Our Connected Neighbourhoods has been running for more than 12 months now. It has been a year of organising, doing and – most importantly – learning.
This series of blog posts looks at the first year, what we have learned along the way and where we are heading. Here we find out what OCN has meant to the wonderful posse of volunteers involved in the project.
At the core of Our Connected Neighbourhoods(OCN) is a team of dedicated volunteers. From undertaking community surveys to supporting workshops and project evaluation, the volunteer resources are key to both the operation and success of OCN.
We have run two volunteer training events as part of our volunteer induction, training a total of 13 volunteers. The training took place in the conference suite of the Iris Murdoch Centre at the University of Stirling.
Each day consisted of interactive sessions covering different elements of the volunteer role. Following an introduction to the project, volunteers participated in an ice breaker to get to know each other and discussed the things that connect them to their neighbourhoods. The second session of the day involved training on types of dementia, and inclusive communication skills delivered by Susan Rendell from Alzheimer Scotland.
The afternoon consisted of training on research methods, ethics and evaluation delivered by Kainde Manji, Evaluation Lead for the project. As well as learning about these things, volunteers had the opportunity to give feedback on the community survey, as well as input into the design of the evaluation. This was followed by a session on volunteer roles and responsibilities delivered again by Dave Budd.
We opened the second event up to some of our partners who sent volunteers interested in learning more about dementia with the result that both of these volunteers have since signed up as OCN volunteers based on how much they enjoyed the training.
We had the following feedback on the workshops:
It was very interactive and enjoyable, felt very welcomed and it made me feel even more excited about getting started. Thank you for this opportunity.
The volunteer experience
Angelica Setterington is one of the OCN volunteers. Here she discusses her experiences of the project.
I am currently studying psychology at University of Stirling and as such have had an introduction to Dementia through my modules. Together with this introduction, I have contact with individuals, friends and acquaintances, who are at various stages of memory loss and have had various conversations with them and their unpaid carers about their daily lives and mental attitudes. Which is why I have often thought how fantastic it would be if there were more activities or facilities local to their home address for them and their carers to frequent. Which is why I applied to be a volunteer with this project, Our Connected Neighbourhoods, after reviewing it in my emails, as it is precisely what I have been thinking about and heard others, who are experiencing dementia, asking about.
I am involved in the community and evaluation strand, but might also help with the environment strand. The surveys are now underway and I feel, from those we have spoken with, that we will have a diverse selection of people to complete these surveys to enable us to truly appreciate and record what it is that would make life and living more enjoyable for those living with dementia and their unpaid carer’s.
The conversations that we have had with those who have memory loss or their carer have been uplifting and full of suggestions and requests which often tie in with the survey questions thereby making the delivery of the survey much easier and more comfortable for all. The struggle, though, is to find suitable times and days to complete the survey with the applicants due to their own schedule of doctor’s appointments etc., however, they are usually very keen and a day and time is often found.
What we have learned
Without doubt, a strong volunteer core is essential to the success of any community-focused project and Our Connected Neighbourhoods is no exception.
Apart from undertaking a considerable amount of the project legwork over the first 12 months, the volunteer team has highlighted the importance of connecting enthusiastic people with neighbourhood groups. The value of building a diverse and inclusive community, involving people from all backgrounds and demographics, should not be underestimated. Harnessing, as is does, collective skills and person-power to push for positive change.
OCN’s volunteer army will continue to support across all strands of the project. From enabling us to run workshops and events to engaging with groups across Stirling and the Forth Valley, the experience of our volunteers will continue to inform how OCN develops its model for more inclusive and sustainable neighbourhoods.