Just pop in

Older people living in their own homes often need some extra human contact. ‘Just pop in’ volunteers  visit people at home and enjoy a chat, a cup of coffee, a walk or a little trip out together.

In 2012, the number of branches participating in the ‘Just pop in’ scheme grew to 42. The 222 volunteers, who give up their spare time, visited 3,470 people..

Operational review

In 2012, we carried out a review of how the ‘Just pop in’ scheme currently operates. We found that there was no clear and consistent approach within the various branches. The volunteers’ remit was not clearly defined and left too much scope for interpretation.  The target group of ‘lonely, sick and disabled people’ was very broad and this demanded a high level of flexibility and expertise from the volunteers. Many social activities that did not contribute directly to the scheme’s objective, such as trips using the disabled transportation service, were being recorded under ‘Just pop in’.

An adapted, clear procedure was needed to ensure operational structure and continuity and to guarantee a safe and known domestic environment for volunteers.

New evidence-based procedure

The Centre for Evidence-Based Practice (CEBaP) performed a systematic search for scientific studies into the effect of volunteer visits on lonely older people. In order to discuss the collated research and exchange views and opinions, we submitted it to a panel of experts familiar with the issue of loneliness. The panel included academics and practical experts from the University of  Antwerp, Ziekenzorg CM and the Mechelen public social welfare center (OCMW), a volunteer from St-Egidius and a ‘Just pop in’ volunteer. With their assistance we developed a set of practical guidelines on combating loneliness among older people based on the principles of evidence-based practice.

New practical guidelines

  • Defined target group: lonely older people
    The previously rather broad target group was narrowed down to ‘lonely older people’. This reflects the needs that exist: our population is ageing and most older people want to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, while residential care centers are gradually reaching full capacity.
  • Defined remit
    Volunteers can visit people for a chat, take them out to a café or go for a walk, depending on the preferences and interests of the older person. Their remit does not include doing housework or assisting during meals.
  • Known (and safe) environment – collaboration with external partner organization
    It is important that we send our volunteers to safe and known domestic environments. We therefore decided that branches must always work with a professional partner organization. OCMWs, local service centers and homecare organizations are professionals in this field, used to working with the target group, and are therefore able to accurately assess domestic situations. The partner organization also examines whether the visits are having a positive impact on the older person.
  • ‘Just pop in’ coordinator
    Under the new procedure, we introduced the position of ‘Just pop in’ coordinator. The coordinator is a volunteer with a very important role, not only providing organizational support but also looking after his or her fellow volunteers. He or she accompanies volunteers on their first home visit and tries to gauge how well matched the older person and volunteer are. Encouraging volunteers to complete basic training is another of the coordinator’s tasks.
  • Peer consultation sessions
    Peer consultation sessions are held at least four times a year. These are an opportunity for ‘Just pop in’ volunteers to recount and share their experiences. They can be combined with training if necessary, with support from Headquarters or the provincial manager.

Operational roll-out

Once we had developed the new practical guidelines, we put together a step-by-step plan for rolling out the system to all of the relevant branches. All branches participating in the ‘Just pop in’ scheme were visited in person by the ‘Just pop in’ officer, who explained the new guidelines to them.

We also produced new promotional material (brochure, flyers and posters) to raise the scheme’s profile among volunteers, branches, partner organizations and the target group.

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