Volunteering activities gave volunteers meaning and purpose and was intrinsic to the ‘feel-good’ factor of ‘giving something back’, which was also linked to the process and impact of social interaction. So much so, that one volunteer described the happy feeling as a ‘fix’. The importance of social interaction for volunteers was heightened in regards to the connection with dementia. Some of the volunteers framed this as an activity they are fulfilling as those living with dementia and their carers had lost social connections – or “making a connection where others have given up” (Volunteer, Cumbria). Events, such as coffee mornings, dancing, art groups and singing, brought together volunteers, those living with dementia and carers. These were where the networks they discussed with us mainly overlapped. It was a shared space that was perceived to be a large part of the motivation to volunteer.
Volunteers saw a major part of their role as standing in for lost friendships, building upon normal routines (such as taking them to café’s and shops). This was sometimes framed as a ‘privilege’ to be able to interact with people with so much experience. In this way, volunteers themselves felt they had gained friendship circles and enjoyed the social interactions connected to their volunteering activities. These connections were so strong they were often described as ‘like family’, where their volunteering commitments had become an integral part of their own social calendars.
What volunteers did and the activities they engaged in did matter in regards to the shaping and positivity of the social interaction they were engaged in. Motivation was connected to the interactions they were having. When talking to people living with dementia about their networks, the influence of events and the role of facilitating social interaction was clear, even if the role of the volunteer was not clearly visible from their perspective (for those living with dementia, staff and volunteers were often simply interchangeable).
… but when you are dancing with a group of people I think you do get a lot of…I don’t know what the word for it is, but you do get something out of it. I think it connects you more to the group and you leave feeling a lot happier. (Female volunteer, Cumbria).
I think…definitely the first thing…from a purely needs-based thing is that I knew the minute I walked in the door that I was, kind of, needed. You know, that there would something for me to do. I would have a purpose. Something that I enjoyed…. Ninety-nine per cent of the time they were happy for you to be there. And they wanted you. So there must have been something for me personally that was about that. About being wanted and being needed. And being appreciated. Yeah. That was important. That’s quite emotional for me. I’m feeling that. (Female volunteer, Cumbria).
You get to know people. We’re like an extended family. I used to say that when I worked. I said, you’re like a family to them and you become part of them, really. (Female Volunteer, Cumbria)