Volunteering Matters Norfolk

Volunteering Matters Norfolk EVS participants

Supporting adults with learning disabilities to make a difference in their community

Young volunteers from Europe have been helping adults with learning disabilities in East Anglia benefit from their own volunteering experience - thanks to Erasmus+ funding.

The Supported Volunteering project helped adults to engage with their local communities and boost their confidence through volunteering with the help of European Voluntary Service (EVS) participants.

Whether it was assisting with public transport or processing a sale in a shop, the young Europeans helped more than 40 adults during the project, run by Volunteering Matters Norfolk.

Nationwide Volunteering Matters has been delivering volunteer-led solutions to the challenges faced by individuals and communities since 1962, engaging over 23,000 volunteers and helping 115,000 people every year.

The organisation's Norfolk operation has more than 15 years’ experience hosting EVS and Erasmus+ volunteers - putting inclusion at the heart of its placements. 

“Our volunteers provide our beneficiaries with a consistent and valuable source of support and are an integral part of our projects’ engine,” said project manager, Helen Cooper. 

“All the volunteers come with their own skills and experiences to share, and all have made a difference to both our beneficiaries and our projects.” 

Volunteer experiences

Jan Dieken from Germany, is a typical example. During his EVS placement Jan helped a local man volunteer in a residential care home, supporting him to clean wheelchairs, prepare tables for lunch, clean up, and socialise with the residents. This brought benefits not only to the volunteer assisted by Jan, but to the home’s residents as well. 

Jan’s support was instrumental in giving the volunteer the confidence to perform these tasks alone - making it possible for him to attend the voluntary placement, where he was able to give back to the community while building his own self-esteem.

Compatriot Katja Bittner also made a real difference to someone’s life. She helped a young man with autism to help out at a charity shop every week. He had one-to-one support from Katja during this placement, unlike others that he attended, with both volunteering side-by-side. 

Our volunteers provide our beneficiaries with a consistent and valuable source of support.

“This gave him an opportunity to have ownership of his tasks and to engage in social inclusion, as much as his autism would allow," said Helen. "He also got the chance to talk and to be listened to.

"This was so very important for him, as he has siblings who also have learning disabilities, so life at home can be somewhat chaotic.

"The benefits that Katja brought to this young man cannot be measured or put into statistics, they needed to be seen and appreciated for their full impact.”

With Katja, the young man was able to focus and manage his timetable, which enabled him to maintain the voluntary placement.

Once a month EVS volunteers Giulia Savoia, from Italy, and Florine Gabant, from France, supported three young men in going out locally during the evening.

Although going out may sound usual for young people, Helen pointed out that many of those Volunteering Matters work with have had very limited social lives and often only venture out with their parents and families. 

The volunteers offered an opportunity for these three young men to enjoy an evening out with people of their own age and to experience an evening without feeling vulnerable or afraid. They provided a safety net for those moments where they may have been unsure or unable to find the words when ordering a drink. Both volunteers gave support for these young men to have an enjoyable evening out in the community which otherwise they would not have been able to experience.

Community impact

“Without our EVS volunteers, many of our beneficiaries would be far more isolated and not have positive and focused placements where they are able to increase their skill base, confidence, self-esteem and become the best person they can be,” said Helen.

Volunteering activities across Europe are now be supported by the European Solidarity Corps, which funds opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects, in their own country or abroad, benefiting communities and people around Europe.

Find out more about hosting volunteers through the European Solidarity Corps by visiting the dedicated page!