Senior volunteering shows elderly have plenty to offer in Baltic region project
The ‘Let us be active!’ project gave older people the opportunity to become involved in society through volunteering activities in the cities of Pärnu, Riga and Turku. The project fought social exclusion and loneliness through creating services for the elderly, raising awareness of volunteering opportunities and informing professionals of elderly needs. Cooperative relationships were formed between city administrators and other bodies.
" Let us be active” created an enthusiasm around the theme of senior volunteering in the three cities. Even if some professionals and seniors themselves might have been sceptical in the beginning, the project managed to convince them that older people are a precious resource and senior volunteering is an activity the cities should invest into. "
Over 800 seniors were impacted by the project through participating in surveys, workshops and events; 340 professionals and seniors in partnering cities also became involved. Other cities are eager to learn from the success of the project. Participants are now more socially active after retirement and are experimenting with new activities, such as working in a call centre in Riga.
The project received extensive coverage in the local media of the participating cities. The Central Baltic Programme, World Health Organisation and others helped spread the project's key message - elderly people are an asset to society. ‘Let us be active’ created daily activities for participants. Many of these have continued after the end of the project. Partnerships between city administrators, NGOs, local libraries and other institutions were formed or strengthened by the project.
Research and forming new partnerships
Before 2015, volunteering opportunities for the elderly was limited in the participating cities — Pärnu in Estonia, Riga in Latvia and Turku in Estonia. Information on elderly activities was dispersed and difficult to find. Cities had no means to promote senior volunteering or to cooperate on activities with NGOs and other organisations. The potential benefits of senior and professional involvement in senior volunteering were unexplored.
The project began by mapping existing volunteering opportunities available to and suitable for seniors. This research was used to highlight volunteering options, develop cooperation with organisations and promote senior volunteering. Surveys were conducted among seniors and professionals. The aim of the surveys was to understand attitudes towards senior volunteering and learn the best strategies to develop and promote initiatives in cities.
The next step was to establish cooperation with NGOs, city administrators, local libraries and day centres in order to reach seniors and promote the volunteering services available. Meetings and events were organised for seniors. Consultations were also provided for families of the elderly.
Involving professionals and life beyond the project
The participation of professionals was crucial to the success of the project. Workshops and international seminars were organised for professionals in the participating cities. These workshops and seminars give them a platform to share their experiences, develop activities and find ways to expand the role of city administrators.
The project was involved in a diverse range of activities, many of which continue today. Among the highlights was the call centre in Riga, where elderly volunteers provide an information point for other elderly members of the community. The call centre offers information on senior-friendly events happening around the city. It also serves as a place where the elderly can talk about issues which are important to them.
Tripfinder is an ongoing service offered to the elderly who can no longer move on their own in Turku. Every Wednesday volunteers and participants meet in a local residence center. The volunteers take participants for a walk in the park. In Pärnu physical activity and handicraft workshops were promoted to the elderly during a city festival. No one had thought to promote the activities to the elderly until the project. A website which provides information on elderly activities in the city is also maintained and updated for Pärnu; it has a regular flow of new users.
Total investment and EU funding
Total investment for the project “Let us be active! - Social inclusion of older people through volunteering in Estonia, Latvia and Finland” is EUR 79 994 700, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 67 995 500 through the “Interreg V-A - Finland-Estonia-Latvia-Sweden (Central Baltic)” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period.