The benefits of giving: a study of learning in the fourth age and the role of volunteer learning mentors

Conference item

Hafford-Letchfield, T. and Lavender, P. 2014. The benefits of giving: a study of learning in the fourth age and the role of volunteer learning mentors. Paulo Freire and Transformative Education: Changing Lives and Transforming Communities. UCLAN 28 Apr - 01 May 2014
TitleThe benefits of giving: a study of learning in the fourth age and the role of volunteer learning mentors
AuthorsHafford-Letchfield, T. and Lavender, P.

Learning for the Fourth Age (L4A) is a social enterprise which recruits, trains, places and matches volunteers (‘learning mentors’) to older people living in care settings or domiciliary settings. Older people and volunteers form partnerships which develop around a focus for learning and areas of interest identified by the older person. L4A promotes the value of education as a tool for increasing wellbeing in later life and its vision is to improve quality of life through mental, social and emotional stimulation tailored towards vulnerable older people.
We report on the findings of an independent evaluation, drawing on funding from the Big Lottery Silver Dreams programme. Over 12 months, using an agreed protocol, qualitative interviews with 69 people focused on five key areas determined by the organisation. Interviews included older people; learning mentors (the volunteers); L4A staff and directors; staff from care homes; and other stakeholders. Key records and documents relevant to the evaluation were examined.
Our presentation focuses on key findings from the generative aspects of L4A’s work by highlighting the rich experiences of learning mentors who were unexpected mutual beneficiaries of L4A’s work. Learning mentors offer a unique contribution distinct from traditional befriending and through their relationships with older people demonstrated the importance of learning interventions in achieving more transformational outcomes. The extent of reciprocity and generativity identified further challenged stereotypes of older people’s contribution to social relationships. Further, for those learning mentors still studying, the experience had unexpected benefits – encouraging some to change their future career intentions, life choices and courses as well as employability. We encountered changes in career intentions, course intentions, changed family behaviours, changed work behaviours, and reflective comments on end of life experiences that were clearly life changing. Increased opportunities for networking became a demand from mentors, who recognised their own learning and the links between altruism and reciprocity. This paper aims to stimulate further debate about the complexity of the landscape in which members of the community interact with opportunities to volunteer and the challenge to capitalise on their contributions to transgress more traditional notions about volunteering embedded in policy. The audience will be encouraged to consider the implications for both training and supporting volunteers to capitalise on their contributions and to reconsider

KeywordsLifelong learning: Fourth Age; Ageing; Transformative education; Freireian Pedagogy; Volunteers; Reciprocity
ConferencePaulo Freire and Transformative Education: Changing Lives and Transforming Communities
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Deposited12 Sep 2014
Output statusPublished
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