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05 February 2018
Despite looking forward to it beforehand, many people who enter retirement soon find themselves missing the structure, routine and sense of purpose that tends to accompany having a full-time job. It may be hard for us to admit, but there is definitely something in our nature which almost depends on the process of getting up and heading out to work in the morning – and we start to get restless once it disappears.
Fortunately, retirement does not have to mean losing that structure and purpose and, in fact, can signal the start of something very special. Whilst most of us go through our working lives simply with a view to paying the bills, entering retirement allows you to really start spending time in a field which is close to your heart.
One of the very best ways to do this – and one of the most straightforward to get into – is by volunteering with a local or national charity. Giving up some of your newfound spare time to support a worthy cause has a huge number of benefits and, in this article, we will introduce you to some of the most important, with the help of several experts who know from experience what a transformative effect volunteering can have.
Hospiscare is an Exeter-based charity which provides dedicated and compassionate end of life care to many people in the surrounding area through an expert team of doctors and nurses. Funded entirely by the generosity of local supporters, Hospiscare is a fantastic example of what can be achieved by the goodwill of a community pulling together to support a truly worthy cause.
There are many ways in which those wishing to get involved can do so, even if they do not have high levels of mobility themselves. From helping with administration or reception duties at their Searle House headquarters to running fundraising coffee mornings or serving behind the counter at one of Hospiscare’s charity shops, there is almost no end to the roles available.
Hospiscare have a useful acronym which lays out the benefits of volunteering and may prove to be something of an inspiration:
“V - Vital link in your community, it connects you to others
O - Opportunity to provide career experience and teach you valuable job skills
L - Learning and experience to increase your social and relationship skills
U - Understanding, it provides you with a sense of purpose
N - New friends and contacts
T - Team work, working with others to deliver a high standard of care to those in our care
E - Enjoy your time as a volunteer, it helps to keep you physically healthy, bringing fun and fulfilment to your life
E - Experience for yourself the difference you can make for others, whilst volunteering makes a difference to you
R - Raise your self-confidence, reap the rewards”
Hospiscare were also able to share some examples of retirement age people who have been through difficult times and found a new lease of life through their volunteering duties. Here’s what just two of the many people to have benefited from volunteering with Hospiscare had to say about their experiences:
“Before I started volunteering with the Shop Online team I was unsure of meeting new people. I shouldn’t have worried, the team I work with are a great bunch. So friendly, driven and grateful for my help. They always thank me at the end of the day and they have become friends. We go out for meals, walks, quiz nights and bowling so my social life has been enhanced as well.
“I know Hospiscare are always in need of more volunteers, so I would really like to say to anyone out there who may have gone through a difficult time – join us! Don’t hesitate. You won’t look back. Come and find out what there is here for you. You don’t have to be an expert. Hospiscare will support and train you in your volunteer role. Don’t think for a minute you won’t be good enough, the organisation needs you.
“My life would be very different if I didn’t volunteer for Hospiscare. I really thank Hospiscare for giving me this opportunity. It has dug me out of depression and I have met a lot of new friends. After a day’s volunteering when I walk home I have a sense of wellbeing, like I have done something today, and it feels really good.”
“I had my own mega experience with grief when my daughter Rachael died…I have learnt so much over the years, from my own life and from volunteering with the fantastic and dedicated bereavement team at Hospiscare. People can be so closed about expressing things, it’s often easier to talk about the death of a loved one with someone who can be objective and not related to the deceased or you.
“I love volunteering for Hospiscare. It’s a really kind, caring and compassionate organisation. Dignity at end of life is so important, and what most people don’t realise is that our Hospiscare here in Devon is not a national organisation. It’s a local charity for Exeter, Mid and East Devon only. So, if you have time why wouldn’t you volunteer? It is the most extraordinary experience. You get the joy of connecting with individuals and being valued and appreciated as part of a team. You also make a big difference to people when they need your help the most. None of us can tell if we too may need that help ourselves one day.
“Being a Bereavement Volunteer for Hospiscare for me feels like a legacy to my daughter Rachael. I want to carry on for as long as possible, and I simply want to help and to make things better.”
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is a nationwide charity which does fantastic work as the UK’s leading organisation offering support to blind and partially sighted people.
The RNIB is another charity which owes much of its success to the tireless efforts of its army of volunteers. We were pleased to hear from Jo Keller, the organisation’s Volunteering Engagement and Support Manager, about why this is such an important part of the RNIB’s operations and how it also benefits those who give up their time to help:
“Our work is vital in helping blind and partially sighted people find the strength, tools, and support they need to face the future with confidence. We wouldn’t be able to do this without our amazing volunteers across the UK. We have hundreds of roles on offer - there really is something for everyone.
“Whether you’re helping blind and partially sighted people get online or finding a home for one of our Sooty Collection Boxes there are many benefits to volunteering with RNIB.
“When you volunteer with us you’ll get the chance to meet lots of other committed people and feel part of a community offering a range of support to people affected by sight loss.
“There are many ways to share your skills or gain new ones. Some roles may need good communication skills, others require technical skills and knowledge.
“We offer training and support for all our roles, and you’ll pick up new skills – as well as having fun - while you volunteer with us.
“Help make a difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people. Be part of our network of dedicated volunteers making every day better for people with sight loss.
“To find out about volunteering opportunities at RNIB, contact: email@example.com or 01733 375450.”
The next group on our list is an umbrella organisation serving the Shetland Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. Voluntary Action Shetland is a charity which connects people who wish to volunteer with organisations which can facilitate them across a range of roles and sectors.
Here’s what the group had to say about their services and the potential benefits of volunteering, particularly amongst older people:
“Voluntary Action Shetland is the third sector interface for Shetland. As well as being the go-to place for people wishing to become a volunteer and those seeking to recruit volunteers, our building is a hub for local community and voluntary organisations. A senior who volunteers for one of these, the local CAB, said:
“Volunteers are always needed and, once trained, can look forward to a rewarding experience in a cheerful and friendly workplace. Over the last 20 or so years in the Bureau I have learnt much (and forgotten much too), but it has been time well spent and for anybody thinking about becoming a volunteer, I would say do it; you will not regret it!”
“He is a splendid example of how volunteering can offer older volunteers the opportunity both to contribute to their community by providing a valuable service and enjoy being part of a team, the camaraderie of colleagues and the feeling of having achieved something at the end of the day.
“Volunteering isn’t all about being young, and examples of roles enjoyed by older people locally include Business Advisor for the Young Enterprise Area Team, Assistants in our very popular charity shops, Mediation Volunteers, Red Cross Escorts, Cat Fosterers, Toe Nail Cutters and Charity Trustees.
“Whatever your background there will be experience and interests that you can bring to your role, as well as new skills to learn and friends to make.”
Another Devon-based charity which does fantastic work in the north of the county is North Devon Hospice, based in Barnstaple.
A network of doctors, nurses, counsellors, therapists and, of course, volunteers work to provide the highest quality care for anyone who has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness in the local area, as well as support and education for their family members.
This page of the hospice’s website sets out the benefits of volunteering for the charity – which could include driving, gardening, community support, maintenance and even being a complementary or beauty therapist – and two of the highlights are listed below:
“You may come to us with existing skills that will be of great benefit, but one of the things our volunteers most enjoy is being able to learn new skills. This comes from having the opportunity to take on roles that you haven't had much experience in and from working with our specialist team of staff and other volunteers, which will allow you to develop new skills. We also provide training programmes and sometimes even certificated qualifications to make sure you have the skills needed to do your voluntary role to the best of your ability.”
“Every hour you spend volunteering for North Devon Hospice will make a difference to local people in a very real way. Whether you're helping us to raise funds to spend on care, helping with the behind-the-scenes work that makes our care possible, or taking an active part in the delivery of care, every volunteering opportunity makes a difference to people right here in North Devon. It may be your neighbour, friend or family member who needs our support. Volunteering helps make a difference right on your doorstep.”
The final charity on our list may provide the perfect opportunity for those who love nothing more than getting out and about in nature.
The Youth Hostels Association (England & Wales), commonly known as YHA, was founded way back in 1930 and retains the same values today. YHA works to help young people in particular to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the countryside (as well as cultural aspects of towns and cities) through the provision of comfortable yet low-cost accommodation, which can be found in some truly stunning settings around the country.
Here’s what a representative from YHA told us about what you can do to support the group in your own area: “YHA (England and Wales) is a leading youth charity. It welcomes volunteers of all ages and has all sorts of activities available, including painting parties and gardening, as well as managing your own hostel. These opportunities allow you to see more of the country as there is free time to explore the area. For more information, please visit https://volunteer.yha.org.uk/.”
As you can see, there are no limits to what you can achieve if you decide to start volunteering, whatever your age. Whether you are fully mobile or are currently researching stairlift costs, there is no reason why you cannot make a real difference to your local community and, just as importantly, your own sense of wellbeing.
Image Credits: Hospiscare, George Williams, Reading Tom, Andrew, Andrew Bowden, David Siglin