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Volunteers' Week: Sarah - volunteering in Thanet

My name is Sarah Johnson and I am the GOGA Coordinator for Your Leisure in Thanet in Kent. Through GOGA, we aim to improve the way we engage with inactive older disabled and non-disabled people by supporting them with opportunities to be active in Thanet. It is going from strength to strength in our local communities.

There are many activities on offer, such as toning tables in the Feelgood Factory to chair based exercise, boccia, 50+ festivals and family rounders sessions at the local community and leisure centres. Our hard work, commitment, community role models and volunteers are key to the success of GOGA in Thanet.

Volunteers are crucial and are key to the programme in Thanet. Without their support and dedication, we could not have achieved what we have so far in the project. We currently have three active volunteers within the programme and this is set to increase over the coming months. This is through running the Peer Mentor Scheme, where we will look to recruit mentors to provide one-to-one support to individuals and access the local opportunities. To increase our reach and need for volunteers, we utilise many trusted channels in Thanet. This includes advertising with key groups such as the Disability Drop-In Centre and Kent County Council Adult support.

To date, one of our greatest success stories has been with Vanessa. She has been running a supportive swimming group aimed at giving people the confidence to go to the swimming pool. Her sessions are not swimming lessons - they are about breaking down the barriers people face in terms of confidence and anxiety when going to the pool. Her sessions have had a huge impact on many individuals especially Angela.

Here is Angela’s story:

Angela is 66 years old, overweight and has mild Asthma. Her aim for the last two years has been to lose weight and get as healthy and as fit as possible for her 70th birthday. Since being involved in GOGA, Angela has lost just over three stone in weight and tried various activities but has now settled on three types of exercise - her favourite being swimming.

Angela had always wanted to take part in swimming but she had a couple of concerns around taking part in the sessions. She heard about GOGA and decided to contact Vanessa (a volunteer GOGA activator) for support with a couple of concerns. Her main concerns were around accessing the session on her own. She is not a great or strong swimmer, and so not particularly confident.

Through GOGA Angela was aware that GOGA is not concerned about age, size or ability, the programme just wants to help people get back to being active and get back to enjoying some form of exercise. 

Angela began meeting up with Vanessa (GOGA Activator) on a weekly basis in the hope to improve her swimming and strength in the water and have the confidence swim on her own on a weekly basis. Her first week, Vanessa swam with Angela and another woman and gave encouragement along the way.

At the end of each session, we set goals for the following week and she was always encouraged to be realistic. Angela  can now complete 20 lengths in the pool and has found an exercise that will keep her fit and mobile for years to come. All the concerns she had about going to a pool, on her own has diminished.

Angela added:

I would highly recommend to anyone whatever age, if you can swim, but maybe not done it for a few years or maybe like me - a self-taught swimmer at a latter age in life. If you want to get back to swimming but have no confidence walking into the pool on your own, contact GOGA. Spend a few weeks with Vanessa, build up your confidence and see how easy it can be and just how much you improve over time.

Thank you volunteers in Thanet!