Introduction to day centre staff and volunteer roles

Day centres may be operated by paid staff, a combination of paid staff and volunteers, or by volunteers. As day centres vary hugely, so do the roles of their staff and volunteers.

Day centre staff

Day centre staff have described their roles as a mixed care and social role. Their work is likely to involve personal care; planning, running and supporting activities, playing games with people attending the centre, organising occasional events; providing emotional support; monitoring attenders’ wellbeing and health, often by chatting on arrival or during the day, and acting on information given where necessary; making/serving refreshments; practical support; attending to logistical requirements, acting as a key worker for named attenders and maintaining paperwork. Both staff and volunteers might set and clear tables and serve meals, and perhaps even wash up or load a dishwasher.


Volunteers tend not to undertake personal care. Instead, their roles are likely to involve taking initiative in supporting attenders to enjoy themselves, thinking of stimulating activities, supporting attenders during activities, reassuring anxious attenders, making and serving refreshments, serving lunch, helping people walk to the toilet, moving furniture, chatting with attenders, collecting money and "troubleshooting" (e.g. sewing on a button, popping out to buy something locally). This could be considered as an ‘assisting/filling gaps’ role when volunteers work alongside paid care workers; but, sometimes, day centres are reliant on them to open - even day centres employing staff. 

Training (or qualifications) may have already been undertaken or may be undertaken in-house, externally delivered and online once in their roles.

To find out more about typical day centre staff and volunteers, see King’s College London’s 2023 report What happens in English generalist day centres for older people? Findings from case study research (see Chapter 6: Formal and informal care and support) and Making My Day. Volunteering or Working at a Day Centre for Older People: Findings of Exploratory Research in English Day Centres.

What helps recruitment and retention?

Skills for Care asked social care employers with low turnover rates what they did that they felt helped recruitment and retention. They said the following:

Recruiting the right people

  • Finding staff with the right values and behaviours is more important than finding staff who are already qualified; skills can be taught but personal attributes cannot (e.g. kindness, compassion, reliability, honesty, etc.)
  • Life experience and a willingness to learn can be more desirable than previous work experience (reflecting the principles of values-based recruitment)
  • Inviting candidates for ‘taster shifts’ and involving people who need care and support and their families (or friends and advocates) in the recruitment process helps you to establish whether candidates ‘walk the talk’
  • Asking candidate to complete a pre-interview assessment is very useful.

Openly invite all applicants to a meet and greet before any shortlisting as we found some younger and older people do not have the skills to complete the application and were excellent workers being missed. We also had excellent applications where people proved they were not right for the role at interview.

Day care provider

Once employed

  • Respecting and valuing staff, investing in learning and development, embedding the organisation’s values and celebrating achievements all go a long way to improving staff retention. Continuity of staff is crucial in delivering high quality care to people who need care and support.
  • Involving staff in decision making and paying above the local minimum (paying competitively) also ensure that staff feel valued for the work that they do which can have a positive impact on retention rates.
  • Measuring staff satisfaction can be useful in identifying ways to further develop the culture of the organisation but whether this is done formally or informally, the crucial part is to be seen to listen to and act upon what staff tell you (see the section Understanding outcomes and impact - Some 'tools' (questionnaires) or approaches to gathering data that could be used by day centres - 'Monitoring job satisfaction')
  • The importance of good leadership and management cannot be underestimated. “We have focused a lot on leadership and management with a programme running to support the managers at all levels to enhance their skill set to lead their local teams.” (Independence Matters, Day care provider)
  • Monitoring reasons for leaving can feed into the business planning process and inform how the organisation responds to staff concerns.

Resources to support recruitment

This section covers values-based recruitment, role descriptions and advertisements, and the value of testimonials.

Values-based recruitment 

Values-based recruitment is an approach that contrasts with the traditional approach that focuses more on qualifications and experience. It aims to attract people whose values, attitudes and aspirations are suitable for working in a certain care environment, in this case, a day centre. 

Skills for Care’s evaluations of a values-based recruitment toolkit (VBRT), suggests that values-based approaches might lead to lower recruitment costs, positive return on investment, lower staff turnover and better staff performance. 

IMPACT (IMProving Adult Care Together) separates using a values-based approach to recruitment into stages. After identifying the organisation’s values, the recruitment stage includes advertising appropriately to attract the right people, and the process of application and selection. After recruitment, After recruitment, things that matter are feeling welcome, an induction that sets out expectations, goals and aims, consistency, regular managerial contact and supervision and ongoing support and development.

Examples and resources

  • Curious about Care is a free, evidence-based values-based recruitment tool. It helps employers make a decision about care worker candidates by putting applicants in the shoes of care workers facing dilemmas (based on real life scenarios) that stretch people’s values. Their responses inform interview discussions and induction training. See the two-page infographic introduction, 'how to' guide and overview of scenarios and the video introducing the tool.
  • IMPACT (IMProving Adult Care Together) has produced a video explaining values-based recruitment (2 mins 19 seconds),
  • Helen Sanderson Associates explains the process they went through to start using a values-based approach to recruit the right people for new wellbeing teams.
  • Skills for Care’s webpages offers guides and tips around attracting different types of people with the right values and behaviours and tips and platforms to use when recruiting through social media. The widen your talent pool webpage focuses on how to remove unfair and unnecessary barriers that could unintentionally prevent certain people applying for roles.  Guides cover employing men, people with criminal records, people with disabilities and young people. 

Role descriptions and advertisements 

The Department for Health and Social Care’s Every Day is Different campaign aims to highlight the benefits and positives of social care. The website includes role descriptions (activity support worker and care worker), various videos and resource materials for advertisements about social care careers (e.g. pictures to use on social media)

Social care employers with low turnover rates (see Skills for Care report) offered the following tips with respect to role descriptions and advertising. 

Role descriptions and person specifications should be checked to ensure they: 

  • use neutral language and do not discriminate against any group of (potential) staff/volunteers
  • promote a values and behaviours based approach
  • do not include jargon
  • are clear about key elements of the role
  • are clear, concise and easily accessible
  • do not include criteria that aren't relevant to the role (are minimum skill or knowledge requirements necessary).

The most successful methods of advertising job vacancies are:

  • via existing employees referring a friend (49%)
  • adverts posted on the organisation’s website (29%)
  • adverts printed in the local newspaper (20%)
  • posters in the local community (20%)
  • adverts posted on social media (17%) or elsewhere online (25%).
  • word of mouth ‘advertising’ can be a valuable avenue to pursue because as well as being low or no cost there is a greater potential of attracting people with the right values and behaviours because the existing staff/volunteers know the organisation’s core values and can share these with the people they know.

The value of testimonials

Given that word of mouth and individual stories are said to be effective recruitment strategies, there is value in featuring volunteers and staff in short videos that feature on websites.

Example: Staywell’s videos of volunteers 

Staywell’s You Tube channel features a film in which Hilary talks about how she has benefited from volunteering at The Bradbury Centre (3 mins 15 seconds). 

Another film shows an ‘interview’ with Stewart, who is the centre’s volunteer photographer. He talks for almost 5 minutes, answering questions about himself and his association with the day centre. 

Bringing younger people into day centres

Intergenerational activities and relationships can be very beneficial for both older people and younger people. Developing links can lead to low cost activities for day centre attenders.

Day centres can make formal links with local universities, further education colleges and sixth forms so that students can undertake course-related and other activities (e.g. Duke of Edinburgh Award, volunteering, placements) in a planned way for a fixed period. Students may be following courses in health and social care, social work, allied health professions or medicine. Day centres participating in this study suggest doing this at the beginning of the academic year, or at the start of courses, to maximise time for engagement with individuals.

  • Example: University placements and the benefits of these 

    Braid Health and Wellbeing Day Centre hosts placements for allied health professional students at two universities – occupational therapists, paramedics, physiotherapists, podiatrists and nutritional therapists. Links with universities (via students’ supervisors) have led to the introduction of a rolling programme of therapies and interventions which has counteracted lack of payment for student placements. Students have been surprised by the level of complexity faced and the range of experiences they have gained. Students were able to share a new understanding of  the day services provided with a workforce who had low awareness of day services, which has led to increased referrals. Positive feedback on these placements has now led to placements for nursing students. Read - Redesigning for survival - a case study of redesigning a day centre for people with dementia

  • Examples: Secondary school and sixth form volunteers

    A day centre participating in this research provided a Saturday Club for people with dementia and their carers. The club benefited from school and sixth form volunteers who may have been considering medicine or an allied health profession as a career and wanted to gain work experience. This was possible because the club was out of school hours. 

Day centres may also wish to make links with nurseries so that they think of the day centre as a local resource for them and their children. Research has shown that sharing activities with pre-school children (e.g. reading with them, talking to or playing with them, watching dancing/singing) improves wellbeing and physical activity levels among older people. Those choosing not to actively join in benefited from the children presence. Some said it helped them feel connected or needed.

Making links with schools and youth clubs could lead to the development of, for example, occasional days (e.g. one visit per term) during which younger ‘buddies’ visit the day centre to support older people with using tablets, facilitate WhatsApp video calls with family or simply chat to learn empathy.

Two case studies highlighting relationships with schools, developed for the Resources Hub, appear in the Resources Hub downloadable document Case studies and inspiration (Outreach, involving and bringing in the community, and local partnership working).

- Bringing the community into day centres: performances by local theatre groups and a secondary school

- Introducing cycling for day centre clients. Young people from a Pupil Referral Unit support older people living with dementia during bike-riding sessions. They were already volunteering with Wheels for Wellbeing, which provided the bikes.

Bringing in people with support workers and specific skills-sets as volunteers

Meaningful activity is good for wellbeing. People who have Support Workers and who are without paid work could be introduced to day centre volunteering if their skills match those needed. For example, someone may become a ‘conversation volunteer’ and simply chat with older attenders; some day centre staff are too busy to be able to chat for as long as they would like to. This example shows how a day centre benefited from much-needed computer skills; the volunteer benefited from being able to share their skills.

Social media presence with the support of a volunteer 

A voluntary sector day centre receives IT support from a volunteer once a week (2.5 hours). The volunteer loves computers and technology and was introduced to the organisation by their local authority support worker, who accompanies them during volunteering time. The volunteer has been in this role for four years. This has enabled the organisation, which was lacking in IT expertise, to have social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and an improved website.  

Download a PDF of this section on workforce: staff and volunteer recruitment for day centres

Workforce: staff and volunteer recruitment for day centres

This section outlines staff and volunteer roles in day centres, shares recruitment and retention tips and signposts to useful resources about values-based recruitment.
Download Workforce: staff and volunteer recruitment
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