Volunteering not only enriches people’s lives, but can also improve the mental and physical wellbeing of those generous individuals giving up their time to help others.
Scientific research into the long-term benefits of helping a charity suggests that people who volunteered had their risk of dying reduced by up to 22%, as well as being less likely to experience mental health issues like depression.
Age UK has a wonderful network of volunteers that allows us to help more than 7 million people every year, be it by providing companionship in local communities, advice and support for older people who need it the most, and raising funds as part of the teams in our high street shops.
Not a day goes by when we’re not informed of moving and encouraging stories of the volunteer work being done for Age UK. At Age UK Milton Keynes, for example, volunteer Dick Evans uses his considerable gifts as a musician to connect with the older people he works with, who he affectionately describes as ‘recycled teenagers’.
‘It’s a wonderful way to assist older people in reminiscing about their younger lives,’ he told us when we chatted to him in June, before revealing that he’s even written songs about his love for his volunteering.
Or there’s Sandra and Bob from Age UK Isle of Wight, who gave up their time to volunteer at the shop in Newport – finding one another, and love, in the process. They got married in May of this year, though their nuptials haven’t altered their focus on their work. ‘They’re old school and both really professional,’ shop manager Mandy tells us.
A world of opportunities
For these reasons and many more, we’re passionate advocates of volunteering for the all-round positive impact it can have, but that doesn’t mean it’s limited to just Age UK – we mean the wider world, too. That’s why we spoke to Diane James, who works as Pet Bereavement Support Services Manager for Blue Cross, the animal welfare charity, about the vital support their volunteers give people and why it’s ideally suited to older people.
Offering support and advice for 25 years
‘Next year, the service will have been going for 25 years,’ Diane tells us. ‘It provides a free support service to anyone who’s suffered a bereavement, which means any type of loss. It could be that a pet has died, or they’ve had to re-home a pet because they’ve gone into care for financial reasons. We’re open every single day of the year from 8.30am to 8.30pm, and also have a free email service for those unable to speak.’
Trained volunteers represent the majority of those manning the phones for the bereavement service. ‘It’s home-based,' explains Diane. ‘Obviously, sometimes people want to volunteer but are restricted because their time is limited, or they’re unable to leave the house.
‘They are an amazing bunch of men and women, because they give their time freely.’
Marion: a reassuring voice
One of the more long-term volunteers is Marion, who Diane introduces us to. Marion describes herself as ‘a lady of a certain age’ and has been volunteering for the service for almost 11 years. ‘It doesn’t seem like it, that’s the strange thing,’ she explains. She has a very personal reason for becoming involved with the service, having once been on the other end of the line.
‘My dog Oliver died almost 14 years ago,’ she explains. ‘Although I’d had pets all my life, nothing affected me like when he died. It was the worst loss I’ve ever had. I went on the internet to see if there was any help I could get and I saw Blue Cross pet bereavement. They helped me on and off for almost a year, and they got me through what was a very dark time. I decided not long afterwards that I would like to help others.’
‘I know that the role is very important, and I believe that the people I speak to on the phone feel listened to and supported,’ continues Marion. ‘I had somebody say to me the other day, “You really understand, don’t you?” and that’s really nice. I don’t do it for thanks; I do it because I want to support people in a pretty difficult situation.’
If you're interested in volunteering for the Pet Bereavement Support Service like Marion, you can find out more here.