An army of volunteers

THIS week has been national Volunteer's Week and as part of our Golden Years campaign to highlight the achievements and issues of the older generation JAMES MARSTON meets volunteers determined to do their bit for others.

THIS week has been national Volunteer's Week and as part of our Golden Years campaign to highlight the achievements and issues of the older generation JAMES MARSTON meets volunteers determined to do their bit for others.

TODAY there is a small army at work, running on reserves of generosity.

In homes, offices, charities and shops across Britain, they quietly toil to keep the community services we know and love alive.

Based on the average national wage, the help of such volunteers is worth over £40 billion in England and Wales every year. Recent figures tell us 22 million people in England give up their time for charities and other organisations and it's estimated more than half of us volunteer at some point in our lives.

This week people are being encouraged in to get their dose of “vitamin R” during Volunteers' Week.

Justin Davis-Smith, deputy chief executive of Volunteering England, the national development agency promoting volunteering, said: “The R stands for “risk”, which is an essential ingredient of a successful volunteering experience.

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“Volunteers Week presents the perfect opportunity for people to reach beyond their comfort zone and boost their confidence and skills through exposure to new experiences.

“I would urge everyone in the East of England to get a vitamin R boost this Volunteers' Week and try out a new volunteering activity. Whether the challenge be physical, emotional or intellectual, we can all gain by trying something new in the knowledge that not only are we contributing to the community but also helping our own personal development at the same time.”

At Age Concern Suffolk, Wendy Herber, volunteering development manager, coordinates the efforts of the charity's 750 strong team of volunteers across the county.

She said: “We like to make sure that our volunteers are matched with the job that suits their skills and talents. Whatever they want to do and whatever time they have to give us, we find something for them.”

Wendy said volunteers often find benefits from the experience.

She added: “We often see people change. They gain confidence ands move into new roles. Volunteering can really transform people's lives.”

Nancy Bulbeck, of Robin Drive, Ipswich, is the charity's volunteer administrator.

She said: “When I injured my shoulder I couldn't go back to the job I was doing. I felt useless for a while so I went to the Citizen's Advice Bureau and they sent me to Age Concern Suffolk where they needed a driver to help with the lunch club.

“Volunteering has been a lifesaver. It has given me a lot of confidence and now I work two days a week here. It's a lovely job.”

Age Concern Suffolk also encourages older people to volunteer. Wendy said: “We offer a phone befriending service and even if people are housebound they can volunteer for that. I'd like to encourage people to give it a go.

“It's a way to meet people, keeping active and having fun as well as being part of a team. We offer support throughout the volunteering process. It allows people the opportunity to try new things.

“People can volunteer as much as they like and it can have a huge impact on people's lives.”

Age Concern services include:

Visiting/befriending service.

Benefits advice servce.

Information desk and offices in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich and Lowestoft.

Phone enquiry desk.

Day care centre work.

Working in Age Concern charity shops.

Are you a volunteer? Have you benefited from volunteering or been helped by volunteers? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

For more information about volunteering for Age Concern Suffolk call Wendy on 01473 288047.

MIKE Neale, 63, is a former software engineer who enjoys putting those skills to use helping people.

Mike, of Winston Avenue, in the Rushmere Road area of Ipswich, works two to three days a week at Age Concern Suffolk.

He said: “I help people to fill in forms. I go out to see people and help them apply for things like attendance allowance, disability living allowance or pension credits.

“We offer an individual service, and often it is easy for a form to be filled in by a third person.”

Filling in forms for older people can be a daunting experience, admitted Mike.

He added: “Some of theses forms have more than 30 pages. I go through each question with the person applying. It can take up to three hours so it is quite an involved process.”

Becoming a volunteer coincided with his retirement, when he had more time available.

He said: “I started by helping my mother. She is 90 and needed a little bit of help with filling in a form.

“I realised that for older people who don't have anybody they can ask these forms can be worrying. People are very grateful when you help them and the feeling that you have made a difference makes it very worthwhile.”

Mike said people are often fearful of bureaucracy, but added: “People are entitled to care and help -and if you need it you should get it. A lot of people aren't taking up the help available and they don't think of themselves as needing that extra care.

“Volunteering is very satisfying and I really recommend it.”

COLIN Bristow, 52 enjoys serving meals at Foxhall Road Day Care Centre, one and a half days a week.

The Schreiber Road resident, in the Woodbridge Road area of Ipswich, said: “I serve meals and assist at meal times. I make people welcome and make them feel at ease. I suppose I am a friendly face for new people. I love it.”

Colin listens and talks to people at the centre, providing the company that is often missing in their lives.

He said: “We talk about a variety of subjects and there is a lot of banter. We talk about whatever they want to talk about really.”

Colin also helps with activities, like crafts, at the centre.

He added: “I love the people there and I enjoy the banter we have. It's always lots of fun.”

Colin, who is recovering from mental illness, is also benefiting hugely from the experience.

He added: “Volunteering is enabling me to get back into being with people, and mixing with people.”

PETER Payn, 63, felt too young to stop work when he faced early retirement.

Seven years ago Peter, from Sandringham Close, off Belstead Road, in Ipswich, found he was facing early retirement from his job as a teacher.

He said: “I was 55 and I decided I was too young to stop and I wanted to do something else. The moment I walked through the door of Age Concern I knew I wanted to volunteer here.”

He now works as an administrator at the Age Concern Suffolk office in Northgate Street, one day a week.

He said: “Since the drop in centre closed two years ago lots of people come straight to our headquarters asking for help. I help with enquiries and assist the trading services manager. I enjoy feeling part of the community and I like the camaraderie of volunteering. You can say no and you can stop at any time. Volunteering is important to me as it keeps me active and engaged.

“I would recommend it. My message would be don't waste your life away but get out and do something.”

ALISON Hamilton, 44, left her career in a quest for more job satisfaction.

She said: “I had wanted to work as a volunteer for years. I was working as an events manager in a large company but I never found I was getting anything back. It was very stressful and demanding but my job wasn't helping people.”

In August 2005, Alison, of Upland Road, in the California area of Ipswich, made the brave decision to leave her job and move her life in a different direction.

She said: “After 20 years I thought to myself “Right I'm going to change my lifestyle. I effectively down-scaled my life and volunteered straight away for Age Concern. I knew it was what I wanted to do.

“I don't have the holidays or the disposable income but I am a much happier person.”

Alison now works part-time for an Ipswich firm of solicitors, and volunteers in the office of Foxhall Road Day Centre providing administration support.

She said: “I don't have a set time and I stay as long as they need me. I write letters, collect money and organise the newsletter. I really enjoy it. It's very rewarding and it's nice as I don't have to make the decisions.”

Alison chooses to work with older people as she believes they have a lot to give.

She said: “I don't think society is as kind to older people as it should be, and I want to give something back to them. We all get old and I would like to think there will be somebody who will treat me nicely when I am older.”

FOR too long the older generation has been overlooked as people suffer care homes closing, dwindling pensions, hospital wards closing, and not enough carers in the community.

Our new Golden Years series aims to make sure that the older years really are Golden Years.

We will:

Listen to our older generation.

Fight for dignity in old age.

Make sure older people get the voice they need to raise the topics that matter to them.

Crusade on issues affecting pensioners.

Inform older people about the help and assistance available for them.

Dig out those inspirational stories that show old age need not be the barrier to a fulfilled and active life.

N Champion achievement

If you have a story for Golden Years, call James Marston on 01473 324731, e-mail james.marston@eveningstar.co.uk or write to him at The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

Over half the population volunteer. In 2005, 68pc of people in England (or 27.4 million people) volunteered informally, while 44pc of people (or 17.9 million people in England) volunteered formally.

It's not just older people who volunteer - 53per cent of young people aged 16-19 have volunteered with a club or organisation at least once in the last 12 months.

28pc of over 75s have volunteered with a club or organisation at least once in the last 12 months.

Volunteering is good for you. 63pc of 25-34 year olds and 62pc of over 65s say volunteering helps them feel less stressed. Nearly half of all volunteers say volunteering has improved their physical health and fitness.

Research indicates that people living in areas with a high level of community participation are happier.

Six out of ten volunteers said volunteering gave them an opportunity to learn new skills.

Volunteers spend an average of three working weeks a year giving unpaid help. This is the equivalent of around one million full-time workers involved in their local communities.

Source www.volunteering.org.uk