Bessbrook septuagenarian Philomena Evans enjoys a busy schedule of voluntary work.
The former personal secretary retired at the age of 58 following a heart attack and has been volunteering ever since. She is actively involved in her local area, helping to ensure older people are engaged in social activities and their voices heard by decision makers.
Philomena is on a consortium which helps to manage 53 University of the Third Age (U3A) clubs in the Newry and Mourne area. She also represents Newry and Mourne on regional groups, such as Age NI, and is on the management and health committees of the Age Sector Platform.
In addition she is chair for shop mobility at Newry’s Buttercrane Centre. All these positions are voluntary and Philomena, who also has 15 grandchildren, says she’s “kept pretty busy’’ with meetings and other work.
Explaining how she got involved with voluntary work, Philomena says: “Twenty years ago there was a big thing about providing all communities with a community centre, which would be a focal point for the local people. There was an aim to get different groups going within those clubs and I was asked to help set up a group for older people. At the beginning about 35 older people responded right away and joined the club and it went very well, and is still going very well.’’
However, Philomena would like to see more men get involved in these clubs. “For some reason or another men are very reticent about joining clubs. Women, I do believe, are more social creatures – if it’s only for the craic and a bit of bingo. It brings them together and it provides a social occasion.’’
Philomena says these “little clubs’’, which are all managed by volunteers and helped along by a consortium, provide a lifeline to the local older community.
“We couldn’t put a price on what all those clubs do, suffice to say that the alternative would be older people becoming house-bound, leading to ill health, both physically and mentally, and at what cost to the Health Service? There would be far more of them heading for nursing homes and residential homes. Social inclusion is so important, it gives older people the opportunity to get out and about, be active and lead interesting lives, it boosts their independence and selfimage.’’
Philomena says she is fed up with government departments highlighting the problems of an ageing population.
“Better healthcare has enabled older people to live healthier and longer lives and surely this is a cause for celebration, but instead we are getting this doom and gloom picture of what it is going to be like so many years down the line and how there are going to be more older people than younger people.
“They talk about older people as if they were just sitting there twiddling their thumbs. In actual fact grandparents have become the main carers of young children, if you go down to any school gates you’ll see that it’s the grannies and grandads who are leaving the children to school, and it’s them who are collecting them in the evening and taking them home and keeping them until the parents get home from work.
“The care of the sick and disabled adults is valued at £15.2bn per annum, one in eight people over 60 is a carer and most of them average 50 hours or more per week in a caring role.
“There are thousands of older people representing every single charity, they are promoting a bit of money for the charities they represent and they are recycling stuff that would be dumped otherwise. There is no question about it, older people are highly engaged in voluntary work. We are all part of our communities. We are feeding in to the local economy just like everybody else.
“If you offset that amount against our meagre pensions, which are the lowest in Europe, I think you’d say that the government is getting good value for money out of pensioners – and that we are actually earning our pension.’’
On a personal level Philomena says she couldn’t imagine her life without volunteering.
“I think I would have to go and find something else to do. As long as I
do what’s expected of me healthwise I am much better off to be involved, because the alternative is I could sit down and feel sorry for myself and not bother going out which is a very negative attitude. I think we are given time to use it usefully and the number of lovely people that you meet through life in these roles is just amazing.”
To volunteer, fill out the volunteer form, telephone 028 9024 5729 or email email@example.com