The brainchild of lead librarian in Falkirk, Tanya Milligan, Care Words has been funded to the tune of £91,530 by the National Lottery Community Fund.
Launched in November, the three-year project actually started in May last year when Claire Davis was appointed co-ordinator.
With a background in youth work, Claire initially attended a training course at Stirling University to find out more about working with people with dementia.
That enabled her to design a training pack for volunteers and start the recruitment process.
A small pilot project at the Maples Day Care Centre in Stenhousemuir and the Haining Nursing Home in Maddiston proved to be successful so both were happy to continue with the Care Words programme when it officially launched in November.
And a further eight quickly signed up for the free service – Bankview in Banknock, Newcarron Court in Carron, Caledonian Court in Larbert, Burnbrae and Burnbrae Day Care at Dollar Park, Grahamston House in Bainsford, St Margaret’s in Polmont and Torwoodhall in Larbert.
Care Words now has 23 local volunteers who give up 90 minutes of their time once a month to deliver sessions in their local areas.
Claire said: “We try to ensure that volunteers work in or around the area in which they live so it’s easy for them to attend sessions.
“Most buddy up so there are two volunteers at every session, although some have been happy to fly solo too.
“I’m also on hand to cover any holidays or absences and should volunteers need support or additional training.”
The Care Words formula is already reaping results, helping day and residential care residents cement new friendships.
Claire explained: “Since launching in November, our volunteers have chatted with 130 older people.
“The aim of our shared reading and reminiscence sessions is to reduce the isolation and loneliness sometimes experienced by older people in day and residential care.
“Our volunteers do that by encouraging conversations and reminiscence about a plethora of topics, from holidays to springtime, Rabbie Burns to the movies.
“We support residents to share their own memories and help them engage with people around them.”
Volunteers use themed reminiscence bags, books, texts, lyrics, music, tactile and sensory objects, photographs and newspapers to stimulate memories.
Claire said: “Themes help to jog memories and start conversations.
“In February, we had a movie theme for the Oscars and did a quiz using pictures of actors in their prime and how they look today.
“We’ve also targeted men with a football theme and this month it’s gardening.
“We’re trying to cover a variety of topics to encourage different people to attend the sessions every month.”
It has been such a success that more organisations are now eager to sign up.
To enable that, though, Claire needs to recruit even more volunteers.
She said: “We only ask for a small commitment of their time every month – 90 minutes to lead one session.
“The volunteers get a great deal from it too.
“Many are retired and have experience in teaching or nursing; others are trying to develop their skillls.
“One of our youngest volunteers wasn’t sure which career path to follow. He’s now going to university to do mental health nursing.
“As word is spreading about Care Words, so too is demand but we need more volunteers to get on board so we don’t spread ourselves too thin.
“We’d be delighted to hear from anyone who would be interested in volunteering.
“A love of reading and being able to communicate well are essential; ongoing training is also provided.”
Audrey Westwater, the activities co-ordinator at Bankview Care Home, is delighted with the service.
She said: “One of our gents used to play for Celtic so he loved the football theme. The sessions encourage residents to talk about what they used to do.
“We’ve turned it into a coffee afternoon so it’s a social event too.
“Next week, for the gardening theme, we’ll be setting up a gazebo in the garden and potting plants.
“The residents are really enjoying it and, thanks to the themes, different people take part every month.”
For further information or to volunteer call Claire Davis on 01324 503614 or email [email protected]