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By Kay Hill

Giving your time and skills to help others can be satisfying and enjoyable for all involved, says Kay Hill

Volunteers are the backbone of so many organisations we value; and the most likely group to offer their services free of charge are older people, according to the Time Well Spent Survey1 – a national look at volunteering commissioned by The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). Among 55-64-year olds, 40% have volunteered within the last year, while the figure is even more impressive for the over 65s, with 45% volunteering in that period.

The study reveals that people in these age groups have realised that volunteering is not just giving a good turn to others (although most said that was their main motivation), it’s a two-way thing:

  • 97% say they enjoy volunteering
  • 93% say they feel they make a difference 
  • 93% say it gives them a sense of personal achievement.
  • 89% have met new people through volunteering

Some people actively enjoy the chance to use their professional skills (especially if they have retired) in a voluntary capacity – clubs and organisations always welcome retired accountants with open arms! The research found that of the 50% of volunteers who use their professional skills, the most sought-after by organisations were communications and marketing skills (46%), administrative and secretarial skills (45%), management skills (38%) and digital and IT skills (34%).

If you are looking for a volunteer role, here are some places to start:

  • Local councils welcome volunteers in a wide range of roles, such as serving in libraries, cleaning documents in the Record Office and gardening in cemeteries
  • Charities – whether it’s helping in a charity shop, with admin work or at events, pick a charity and you’re bound to find a job that needs doing
  • Schools – volunteer Governors, who help manage schools, are in great demand, while on the cliff face, teachers are usually grateful for volunteers to help read or to give demonstrations and talks to children
  • Faith groups  – you will often find community provisions such as food banks and kids clubs being run by overstretched local faith groups, which are generally delighted to have non-members pitch in
  • Hospitals/care homes – whether NHS or private, volunteers to provide entertainment, crafts or just chat and visit are normally welcome (although this is obviously curtailed at the moment)
  • Still struggling? The useful website do-it.org means you can pop in your postcode and the distance you are willing to travel and it will list the possibilities. There were 55 opportunities within 10 miles of my rural home, for example, including gardening, guiding visitors at a museum, reading with children, fundraising and driving.

While 88% of older participants choose to volunteer close to home, the kind of adventures that were once the prerogative of gap year students are now open to older people. According to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), around one in 10 of its volunteers are in their 50s or 60s, with 2% in their 70s. For example, older adults could:

Finally, don’t forget that volunteer roles which include contact with children or vulnerable adults will require an enhanced DBS check. You won’t automatically be prevented from volunteering if you have a criminal conviction, but you might want to discuss this at the outset.


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