This is a guest post by Billy Farrell, Assistant Director of Retail at Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland
Tackling isolation and loneliness is key to building stronger social connection and healthier communities. The Scottish Government recognises this in it’s “A connected Scotland” framework that resonates with the work of Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS) and it’s No Life Half Lived strategy.
Paul Okroj, CHSS’s Director of People Driven Development, is sitting on the advisory panel to link in the work of the charity and volunteering more generally with the government’s plans. Volunteering provides people with the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships regardless of age, status or identity and CHSS believes it plays an essential role in this agenda.
Volunteering in charity shops is a wonderful example of this as we see time and time again that it is a rewarding experience for the volunteers themselves over and above the benefit to the charity and the wider community. From speaking to our volunteers we realise the increasingly role that volunteering in a CHSS shop is playing in reducing loneliness and isolation.
Understanding the problem
Isolation can happen for a variety of reasons, including geographical location, health issues, family breakdown, work or financial stress, and discrimination. At CHSS we have 40 shops from Hawick in the Scottish Borders to Forres in the Highlands, and people come to volunteer with us for all these reasons. Older adults who live in rural areas may be isolated due to limited transportation options or a lack of access to community resources. Similarly, individuals who suffer from chronic illness or disabilities may feel isolated due to mobility issues or the stigma associated with their condition.
Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide. It can also lead to physical health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and a weakened immune system – conditions that are central to the work of Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland. We often see through the services that we provide to people with our conditions the negative affect of loneliness on quality of life, including social withdrawal, loss of motivation to engage and worsening physical health.
That’s why we are always delighted when people who are recovering from a stroke or managing a long-term heart or chest condition, come to volunteer in one of our shops. Volunteering in a CHSS shop can provide a sense of community and belonging, which can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. By interacting with other volunteers and customers, individuals build meaningful connections and friendships.
How Volunteering can help
People who have lost a partner or loved one to one of our conditions are also often struggling with loneliness and isolation. They tell us that volunteering in a CHSS shop can provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment, they feel like they are contributing something to a cause that helped their loved one, and that in turn helps to improve their mental health and overall wellbeing.
Volunteering in a CHSS shop can help to break down social barriers and promote understanding and acceptance among a diverse range of people. Over the last year or so, we’ve welcomed Ukranian refugees into our shops as volunteers. Some of them have arrived here alone, isolated from their families. By working together towards a common goal in our shops, they have developed positive relationships and a sense of connection, and for some improved their English language skills too.
Is Volunteering right for you?
There are all sorts of people who experience loneliness and isolation. Volunteering in a CHSS shop not only helps us to raise vital funds for services that help people with our conditions, but also provides an important service to people who are seeking company and community. Loneliness can have negative impacts on both physical health as well as mental health, so we see it is a preventative health measure that ties in with our charity No Life Half Lived mission.
To read more about A connected Scotland, click here
To sign up to be a volunteer at CHSS, here is the link
Many thanks to Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland and their fantastic volunteers for the images used throughout
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