After journalist Pete Kelley retired he decided to take the plunge and volunteer for Age UK Norwich. He tells Age Space his personal reasons for doing so and why more people should give it a go
I was never sure how I’d feel about retirement. We all react differently. Some just want to relax or travel. Fair enough, they’ve earned it. But as the time approached, I was energised by the sense that plunging into voluntary work – stretching myself in new ways – would be fun as part of the mix.
For my family, 2013 had been a rollercoaster in which our old dad (88) went all the way from living independently to having falls, hospital visits, then needing daily carers to help him get up and go to bed and finally (with typical courage) that September saying: ‘I think it’s time I went into a care home.’ All the way through, he had excellent support from the professionals involved. But I’m an ex-journalist and my sister (who did most of the form-filling and phone calls) has worked in human resources – yet it was still all very tough to organise. He died in early 2014, and I came out of the experience thinking: I want everybody’s mum or dad to be looked after this well, but not every family has the skills to arrange all of this.
Who helps? After digging around a bit, I knocked on the door of Age UK Norwich that summer. I found an outfit that is pragmatic, focused and ambitious; that knows the limits of what it can do, and does that well, making every penny count with a ration of nearly 300 volunteers to about 20 paid staff. I started volunteering with them in late 2014. Now, this can go two ways: You can put your hand up for a specific role. These can be very varied. In our case, it might be to visit an isolated older person weekly for social befriending, for example, or help run our reception desk. It might be to become a trustee, and take a hand in steering the organisation‘s long-term strategy. There’s something for everyone – whatever your talents.
Volunteering will start that way, in any case, as the organisation gets to know you. But as the months go by, depending on the amount of time you have, you might find yourself carving out a more personal task, or something more might be suggested to you.
Myself, I started on the busy reception desk, began to help a little with press releases and was then offered a chance to join the trustees. I’ve also spent some time as an ’information assistant’, calling back the many families who phone us with questions to guide them towards the specific help they need. And this year – with a very experienced mentor – I’ve begun going out to help people fill in Attendance Allowance forms in their own homes. Needless to say, there’s been lots of training and support at each stage. It varies, but I probably average 10 to 15 hours a week, these days – and it’s great fun. When I was asked to write this piece, I couldn’t get to the keyboard fast enough, to pass on the good news, and maybe enthuse someone else. Give it a go.
Get in touch with Age UK Norwich here. Or if you’d like to explore more volunteering options, Voluntary Norfolk has a database of voluntary organisations and volunteering opportunities across the county.
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