Patricia Wardman recently had a double celebration. Pat, as she prefers to be called, not only toasted her 90th birthday at a dinner attended by family and friends, she has also marked 30 years continuous service as a volunteer for Age UK North Craven’s shop in Settle, a market town in the Yorkshire dales.
We had a chat with Pat as she prepared to go in and help out at the shop this week, to discuss her three decades of volunteering - how she started, what her responsibilities include, and what she enjoys about the work. What’s more, she imparted some words of wisdom for anyone thinking about giving up their time for the benefit of others.
What did you do for work before you were a volunteer?
“I did various things. Earlier on in my life I worked in the Hellifield [North Yorkshire] post office when my daughter was going to school. Then I eventually went to the chemist shop at Gargrave, which is a village nearby, helping out with things like prescriptions.”
When did volunteering first come into your life?
“When I was coming up to retirement – we all had to retire at 60 in that day – I knew that I wanted to do something to help people. I hadn’t got a lot of money, so I couldn’t go around giving out great big donations, so I had a look to see if there was something else I could do. Someone just happened to mention to me that they were looking for people to help out at the Age Concern [as it was known then] shop, which had been open a short time. So I went down there and they said yes. In those days you had to have a sponsor, so I asked the vicar to sponsor me.”
I was most enthusiastic about being part of a group doing good things. It made me happy, and the people I worked with too, so we were a very happy group.
What were your first impressions?
“When I first started, there were so few people that you ended up helping with almost everything. I was in the Flower Club, so I’d do flower arrangements for the window, even though it was this tiny weeny little thing. I also decided to learn to swim when I was 60, so on the way back from my swimming class I’d pop into the shop to see what needed doing. I was doing something different all the time – it was a really enjoyable time, and I knew I was helping people.”
Was there an area of volunteering you were particularly enthusiastic about?
“I was most enthusiastic about being part of a group doing good things. It made me happy, and the people I worked with too, so we were a very happy group. I was capable of doing all the work they gave me too.”
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What do you think you’d have said if someone told you back then you’d still be volunteering 30 years later?
“Quite honestly, in that day you didn’t think you’d live to 90! When my father died, at 75, they said ‘By gum, he’s had a good life!’ You didn’t think into the future that far back then. I think I’d have just laughed if someone had told me that.”
How have things changed since you started?
“The biggest change is the size it’s got to. Even though things have grown, I’ve never lost that sense that I’m helping others. It also continues to be a great place to meet many different people. I’ve met people there who I’m afraid are dead now, but you continue to meet great ones. Recently a lady started working there who’s much younger than me, and we quickly bonded. It’s a lovely place to make friends.”
Tell us about the celebration of your 30 years…
“I’m still on a high, quite honestly! They’d said they were going to do a bit of a party, so I thought it would be cakes and buns with the ladies from the shop. It was getting near the time for me to go home, and they said ‘We’ll bring you home – tell your husband [who’s 94] not to collect you.’ I had a bit of a moan, quite honestly, and said ‘They’re drawing this out, aren’t they? I could have been home by now!’ All of a sudden, the ladies came out and told me to go downstairs. I didn’t know what to expect when we went out the shop and around the corner. We went into this place and waiting for me was my husband and my daughter. I was so excited and thrilled – it was unbelievable!”
Even though things have grown, I’ve never lost that sense that I’m helping others. It also continues to be a great place to meet many different people.
What makes a good volunteer?
“You need to accept the idea of doing quite a few different jobs. And you need to have the willingness to help. Most people, surely, if asked to do something they know will help other people, would want to do it, wouldn’t they?”
What words of encouragement can you offer to those who are thinking of doing some volunteering?
“Just take the step! You will enjoy it, because there’s always someone there you will bond with. You’ll make many friends – I’m still receiving cards from people. I’ve already got 67! You’ll never be lonely!”