Volunteers are sought to help bridge the social interaction gap for older people who have frail health, are unable to drive, live alone or do not have family locally.

Age Concern Whanganui's Accredited Visiting Service has vacancies for both visiting volunteers and older people in need of weekly social connection.

Clare Fearnley, social connections and health promotion manager for Age Concern Whanganui, said the service was for people who may have lost a loved one and are struggling and those who, over time, may have lost social connections with others.

"It's really just saying 'have you lost some social connection and is it worth having a positive, kind, gentle person come and see you every week, would it make a difference'."


Often family members or health workers make referrals to Fearnley, with half the referrals in the past 18 months coming from the Whanganui District Health Board.

Fearnley meets with the older person to get a sense of what they need and matches them with a visiting volunteer who can befriend them.

The volunteer then spends one hour every week with the older person, doing an activity of mutual interest.

"I cannot thank our volunteer visitors enough," Fearnley said.

"Some go beyond one hour a week and do it with such a heart and awareness. The main thing is consistency - they're always there, happy to see someone and really listen to them."

In Fearnley's recent report on the service, she found an increase in independence and physical, mental and emotional health of those using the service.

Participants had, amongst other things, got involved with a music group, made plans for the garden, renewed their driver's licence, joined Riding for the Disabled and had a hearing test.

One volunteer said the woman she visited was initially depressed and in pain but after their visits she began to laugh a lot more and was cheered up.


"When we were out for a walk, I noticed that the focus of her talk, which before this was unhappy reflections on her family, it has changed for the better."

The report also found quality friendships, and social connections with other services were formed.

Fearnley said it was motivating for older people to have social interaction in the community or use other services.

"Visitors are not there to replace social connection but there to enhance social connection."

Volunteers are provided with initial training. Accreditation takes six months of visiting and taking part in additional training.

Anyone is welcome to volunteer, with 80 per cent of volunteers being over 65 and the oldest a 95-year-old ex-nurse.

To volunteer, or apply or refer to the service, contact Clare Fearnley on 06 345 1799.