Music and memories: a volunteer's story
Dick Evans (left) has a special name for the older people who visit Age UK Milton Keynes’ Peartree Centre. The 66-year-old, who’s been volunteering there for six-and-a-half years affectionately refers to them as “recycled teenagers” – a term they’re very keen on.
‘People love it,’ laughs Dick, who’s also a musician and incorporates his gift into his work. ‘Lots of the elderly people are very young at heart, and it’s great they can keep that and if we assist in bringing that out.’
We sat down with the affable rocker, who’s a life-long fan of The Hollies, to find out more about how he became involved in volunteering, his love for what he does, and how Age UK Milton Keynes has inspired him as a songwriter.
How did you get involved with Age UK Milton Keynes?
‘It was my wife who saw an advert. I had been made redundant a couple of months beforehand, so she said “Why not go down and see what Age UK Milton Keynes have to offer?” That was 13 February, 2012 and the very next day I was working at a lunch club not far from where I live.’
What was your first impression of volunteering?
‘When I first started I didn’t know what to expect. I went down there and set up the tables and waited for people to come in, helped them in, gave them a cup of tea or coffee, and then served lunch. After about four or five weeks, I started really talking to the people coming in, and discovered what lovely memories they had. I started to find out about the ins and outs of their lives, and they began to become a big part of my mine – just as I became a part of theirs. The more time passed, the more I developed this rapport with them and it became one big family.’
Which parts of your work do you enjoy the most?
‘At the end of some of our activity sessions – which might be something like planting flower bulbs that have been donated – we’ll do a bit of singing. We’ll do little medleys of what I call the “old London pub songs” like Knees Up Mother Brown, and they absolutely love that. Then we’ll also do some chair exercises. One of the reasons we do some little routines to music like the Dad’s Army theme tune is that it’s good for memory retention, so after a while they’ll know what moves are coming next. Obviously there are physical benefits too. Sometimes the exercise will be as simple as touching each of your fingers against your thumb one at a time, because as soon as you lose the ability to grip things, you slowly lose your independence; if you can keep things going, then it’s going to benefit you for as long as you can.’
You’re a musician when did you begin incorporating that into your volunteering work?
‘When I was at secondary school, I detested music. In the five years I was there, I only had about a dozen music lessons, because the teacher put me off. When I left school, I went out and bought a guitar and taught myself how to play it. When I was bringing up my kids, I’d go into playgroup and play in front of the children. When I started here, nobody knew that I sang and played guitar. Eventually someone did, and they asked me if I’d sing a few songs to people. That was the start of another chapter of my life at Age UK Milton Keynes.’
“Owed” to Age UK MK
"This is a country-ish song about the services provided by Age UK Milton Keynes," says Dick.
You’ve written some songs about Age UK Milton Keynes, haven’t you?
‘I have. One Christmas, one of the girls at the Snack & Chat café in [in Age UK Milton Keynes’ Drop-in Centre] asked if I could go along and teach the staff down there a few songs to play for the patrons at a Christmas lunch. We were going through some songs, and halfway through one of the girls started narrating this little story about some of the services provided by Age UK Milton Keynes. That stuck in my mind, and I thought I’d do the same. It’s an upbeat number called "Owed" To Age UK MK, recorded with my band, Something Like That, which also includes my daughter Catherine on percussion. It’s “Owed” because the last verse is about the fact I owe a lot to Age UK Milton Keynes for allowing me to do a lot of these things. I’ve written three other songs since, including one called No One Should Have No One, named after the national Age UK campaign. I’d always sing them to my lunch club first; if I got a good response from them, then I’d record the song.’
Why is music such a useful aid in what you do?
‘Music is in everyone’s life – it doesn’t matter who you are. It’s there in all of us, and as soon as people hear it, they react. It’s a wonderful way to assist older people in reminiscing about their younger lives.’
What message would you send to people about why they should volunteer for their local Age UK?
‘Patience and the ability to listen are very important; talking is obviously important, but older people appreciate having someone who will listen. The modern day is very fast and there aren’t many outlets that cater for “recycled teenagers”. The special skill that you need to have is the ability to give up your time. The time you give to someone is incredibly precious to them.’