The series of lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures had a devastating impact on care homes with many residents feeling isolated and lonely. In this blog, Stacy Young and Katy Goodliffe from BT Care Home Companions share how the project set-up by a group of BT employees in 2020 to help tackle loneliness in the UK.  

Who are the volunteers? 

The original pilot saw 100 volunteers call local care homes in the Northeast and have a chat to residents to lift their spirits and create wonderful friendships. The project was an excellent way to bring joy to a resident’s day but also make use of our colleagues three days a year volunteering time. The last few years have taught us the importance of human connections, no matter the age or situation, and our volunteers have expressed the positive impact this campaign has had on both their mental and emotional health during this challenging time.

The pilot was a huge success, and we now have over 400 volunteers based across all 27 contact centre sites, calling over 60 care homes and using around 75 hours of volunteering leave weekly. Our volunteers use social media channels to share their experiences and encourage others to take part. They use their personal and local communication skills they have learned as customer service advisors to chat with residents who might not have anyone else to talk to on a regular basis. Our volunteers come from different departments and backgrounds, but they share a common desire to make a difference in the elderly residents’ lives. 

How do they get involved? 

Employees interested in volunteering can sign up through their site lead, who are assigned care homes local to their contact centre site. They complete a short training course to support their conversations. The volunteers are then scheduled a time to call the home. The calls usually last between 15 -30 minutes, this gives plenty of opportunity for a lovely conversation. 

What is their feedback? 

The feedback from the volunteers has been overwhelmingly positive. They have found the experience to be rewarding and fulfilling, and many have expressed a deep sense of connection with the residents they have spoken to. Some volunteers have even developed friendships with the residents and their families. More recently, we have extended their volunteering time from calls to visiting their local care homes, some popping in for a cup of tea, some arranging games afternoons. Volunteers often tell us this level of connection with residents has helped boost their self-confidence and support more meaningful conversations with customers.  

Nick Lane, MD of service, BT’s Consumer division said: “Giving back to local communities is so important, so when we heard there was a group of people who would appreciate a chat, our volunteers jumped at the chance to help. I could not be prouder of them. Being local and personal is such a big part of who we are now, meaning that we are uniquely placed to be making these calls to those in our communities who need it most. The feedback from the residents, carers and care homes has just been overwhelmingly positive and our people love it too.”  

How does this align to our 2023 roadmap for wellbeing? 

We recognise the importance of colleague wellbeing and are developing strategies to promote this through volunteering. One of the key measures we look at is our engagement score. It is based on things like how colleagues feel about our future, the pride they feel in our service, and whether they would recommend us as a brand or place to work. We maintained a high engagement across BT Consumer in the last year and saw an increase specifically across our contact centres.  

We are continuously looking for ways to widen our approach whilst still providing a meaningful way for employees to engage with their community and contribute to a greater cause. In 2023 we are looking more into teaching the residents, and their families and carers, about using digital technology. This will support our new digital inclusion goals for 2023. 

Workplace volunteering is a powerful tool for enhancing colleague engagement and well-being. The contact centre’s care home companion program is an excellent example of how this can be achieved. By providing a meaningful way for individuals to give back to their community and engage with their colleagues, the program is helping to foster a sense of purpose and connection. Furthermore, the positive impact on the care home residents cannot be overstated, as they benefit from the human connection and conversation the program provides. Overall, this is a win-win situation for all involved.

Jay Routledge, a volunteer from North Tyneside said: “You can see the difference that the Care Home Companions scheme has made to people’s lives. And helping older people learn the skills to connect digitally will go even further in tackling the isolation and loneliness that the programme was introduced to remove.”