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Money & Rights

The value of volunteers

Volunteering is good for you as well as benefiting the wider community, says Teri Harman

Volunteering has the potential to improve your health and wellbeing, according to many studies.

A report by the charity Volunteering Matters found that volunteering also has a role in combating social isolation and loneliness among people of all ages – and for people of working age it can provide a route to paid employment through the acquisition of skills, self-confidence and contacts.

Another study identified 15 proven benefits of volunteering, including making new friends, encouraging better brain function, reducing the risk of depression or anxiety, and improving self-esteem.

Age is no barrier to becoming a volunteer (see our case study Joan Webb). It is retired people who often have the time and the skills to offer charities – and they are likely to be welcomed with open arms.

The Royal Voluntary Service says: “Older people are the mainstay of a large part of the volunteering that takes place across the country. They make a huge contribution through their commitment and experience. Data from the most recent Citizenship Survey found 30 per cent of those aged 65 to 74 and 20 per cent of those over 75 do some formal volunteering.”

Finding suitable opportunities

You may already have an affinity with a particular charity or organisation, in which case you can approach a local branch or the national office directly. However, if you are new to volunteering and do not have connections to a particular charity or organisation, or you have moved to a new area and are looking to make new friends though volunteering, there are several websites that match volunteers with opportunities. Type ‘volunteering opportunities near me’ into a search engine, or look at any of these websites:

1) The Do-it Trust (

2) Volunteering England (

3) Volunteering Scotland (

4) Volunteering Wales (www.volunteering–

5) Volunteering Matters (

Joan, 99, proves age is no barrier to making a difference

Joan Webb celebrated her 99th birthday in July and is still as committed a volunteer as ever . Despite never having lived close enough to the shoreline to hear maroons when lifeboats launched, she has always been drawn to the sea. Now living in Basingstoke, she supports the RNLI from her inland home.

Growing up in the Twenties, Joan says: “My mother was a loyal RNLI supporter. I remember standing eagerly with her while she volunteered at church-gate collections when I was four or five years old.”

Her mother would also recount stories of RNLI volunteers saving lives at sea.

As Joan grew up, she teamed up with her mother, shaking a collection box of her own. She also learnt more about the RNLI’s service, hearing tales of the sea from family members, some of whom served in the Royal Navy and others who were sailing enthusiasts.

“You’re never too old to volunteer”

Joan became an expert linguist and spent more than two decades working for the Diplomatic Service at the British Embassy in Bonn, then capital of West Germany. During her career, however, Joan says she would often think of the RNLI, and on her return to the UK in the early Eighties she offered her services to the Basingstoke and District Branch, a local unit dedicated to raising funds for the charity. She attended committee meetings and helped with regular collections at supermarkets, twice-yearly coffee mornings and the annual Christmas card sale, all of which she still helps at today.

The RNLI awarded Joan the Gold Badge in 2014 to recognise her dedication and commitment to fundraising, and for her 100th birthday next year have invited her to attend the launch of a lifeboat.

Now living in a retirement home, Joan continues to give up multiple weekends a year to help out with events, and she has left a legacy to the charity in her Will.

The RNLI’s volunteers include 4600 lifeboat crew, 3000 shore crew and tens of thousands who raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in the charity’s museums, shops and offices. While readers may not be young enough to take to the sea in a lifeboat, Joan proves you are never too old to make a difference though volunteering.

For more information about the RNLI, log on to: (

“I had always wanted to volunteer overseas”

Maggie Parker , 56, and her husband Doug, 59, spent three weeks last year volunteering for The Hope Foundation in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India.

Maggie, a nurse, says: “I had always, always wanted to volunteer overseas, and with our kids grown up and left home, the timing finally seemed right.”

The couple looked at some of the larger organisations, such as the Red Cross and Médicins Sans Frontières, but Maggie says: “They wanted a commitment of three to six months, and as we are both still working, that wasn’t an option.”

It was a chance conversation with a patient that provided her with the answer . “We were discussing volunteering when she said her nephew worked for Hope. I went home and looked at the website and it seemed perfect as they allow you to go for three weeks, which we could do by taking holiday, and it would give us a ‘taster’ without having to make a long-term commitment”.

They had an interview with a Hope representative who met them near their home, and they had CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks.

Hope asks volunteers to raise £1800 each, which covers accommodation and a support network, but not travel costs which also have to be met by volunteers.

Maggie says they paid all their own costs, rather than fundraise. “It didn’t seem right to ask our friends and family to contribute when this was something we both really wanted to do,” she says.

While In Kolkata, Maggie did some teaching and worked in a crèche and in the charity’s rescue centre, while Doug worked with older children in the Life Skills Centre.

A nuclear engineer , he was initially concerned that his profession wouldn’t be a good fit for the charity, but he’s a keen singer and musician and found a role teaching English through music.

“I loved doing something so different from my normal day job, and my major project was to organise the kids in putting on a concert.” Their accommodation was provided but “it was very basic”, says Maggie. “We had a tiny flat, with a two-ring hob, a fridge and just enough utensils for two. Our mattress was very thin and there was no hot water .” She adds, however: “it wouldn’t have seemed right to have stayed in a comfy hotel while working with children who have nothing.”

The couple agree the experience was a huge culture shock. “Nothing can prepare you for the heat and humidity, the dirt and the noise,” says Doug, but they found it immensely rewarding and say they will go again when they retire.

“Three weeks wasn’t enough really,” adds Maggie. “Next time we’ll go for longer as it would be great to get involved in a project that you can see though to the end.”

Find out more

The Hope Foundation is a registered charity working in Kolkata. It rescues abused and abandoned children from the streets and slums, and provides the support necessary to build better futures for children and families. It runs 60 on-theground projects, 12 of which are protection homes. Its mission is to break the cycle of poverty through the provision of health care, crèches, counselling, life skills, training, drugs rehabilitation, access to education and whatever other support is needed

For more information, see the website: (

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