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Mary-Claire Witteman explains why choosing the right Topic was important to help her get started and stay motivated.


Mary-Claire is one of the recent graduates of the Apprenticeship in Community Facilitation (Diversional Therapy). She’s an activities coordinator for Bethsaida Retirement Village in Blenheim. Mary-Claire shares, “My role at the rest home includes planning activities for the residents, encouraging them to take part and supervising the running of the activities. I also gather information from residents to compile personal profiles on them. This includes information about them, their likes and dislikes, and activities they have enjoyed in the past. It also includes information on their families and friends and how much involvement they have with them. This information is private and it is a legal requirement that this information is kept securely.”


As part of the Apprenticeship programme, Mary-Claire had to complete the Exceed module that involves a mini research project. We asked her to share with us her journey into coming up with an ‘excellent output’ as her Apprenticeship Advisor, Eric Kneepkens, puts it. This module asks apprentices to investigate a chosen condition or impairment and social issue or situation that is relevant to their role, their organisation and the people they support.


Here’s what Mary-Claire shared with us:

  1. What was the topic you chose and how did you come up with it?

I have chosen a sensory impairment to investigate. I investigated vision impairments. focusing on vision impairments in elderly people. The social issue I have chosen to investigate is Isolation and loneliness. I also focused on how isolation and loneliness affect the elderly.

I shortlisted a few topics based on the conditions of the people I’m working with. I narrowed it down by thinking about the needs and what the impacts of the conditions are to the people we support. I ran it past my manager and Apprenticeship Advisor and we all agreed.

  1. Why is this topic important to you?

Vision impairment and social isolation or loneliness impacts many elderly people. I see it every day at work. I knew there was a lot of research available and organisations that I could  work with. During the course of the research, I worked with the local Red Cross and the Blind Foundation. The Blind Foundation has a monthly local support group. I met with the organisers and developed connections.

  1. How did you find the research journey?

It was a good journey. We’re supposed to take 3 months to complete and I did just slightly over  that to get everything sent. I found it went quite quickly. I took the online questionnaire option. I found it quite helpful because it’s systematic, it’s my style and that is how I want to work.

In that questionnaire, there was a lot of helpful support, examples and information that if you follow you can’t go wrong. I went one bite at a time, followed it through and got there in the end.

  1. What were the findings and learnings?

The vision impairment technical aspects are pretty black and white. There was a lot of information about it. But because you know more you can put in place specific support for individuals.

I found I learned more about isolation and loneliness through this research. I was surprised at how widespread it is. It gave me more empathy for people and understanding. Again I learned how to put in place specific support and I have learned more strategies on helping them.

As an example, one of the people I support have all three of the conditions I have researched for this assignment. This resident has a vision impairment, suffers from feelings of isolation and loneliness and has depression. I talked to the resident about the service the Red Cross has to provide volunteers to visit people in rest homes. She was keen to try this and to have someone visit her. I contacted our local Red Cross office and met with their volunteers’ coordinator. We arranged for a volunteer to start visiting her so has something to look forward to.

  1. How did your findings and learnings affect the way you do your job now?

I realised that a lot of people try to hide their loneliness because of the stigma. Knowing that, I’ve become more mindful about the people and it made me more aware. Now I’m looking for signs of it, looking for cues and asking why. I’m also able to share my learnings with our team.

  1. What would you say to apprentices who are approaching their own research projects?

In the first instance, take your time to find the right topic and you’ll be fine. Think of something that you can put into place, that is significant to your organisation. Pick a topic that you can learn from and actually use. Follow the steps on the questionnaire if that’s your preferred option. Just get started even if it seems daunting.


There is also an option to deliver your Exceed research project through an oral presentation. Have a chat with your Apprenticeship Advisor or Assessor if this is something you want to explore. There are supports in place to help you succeed so do not hesitate to seek advice and tap into these supports.