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Article by Sarah Hamilton-Walker | 1st May 2018

Time to Give Back

Imagine doing something that could improve your health, happiness and social life – and help others, too. No wonder more and more people in later life are discovering the joy – and rewards – of voluntary work.

Later life is a time when many have extra time on their hands and wish to volunteer and make an active contribution to civic and community life; indeed many community groups are almost totally dependent on older people’s contributions.

There’s no doubt that voluntary work can be incredibly rewarding, with thousands of opportunities available to choose from. And volunteering doesn’t just play an important role in delivering services but also in improving the lives of the volunteers themselves; improving physical and mental health; combating loneliness and personal isolation; bringing communities together; boosting independence; providing contentment and satisfaction, and empowering people.

Did You Know?

• A study by Royal Voluntary Service found that voluntary work decreased depression and social isolation and improved quality of life.
• Research has also found that volunteering led to a healthier lifestyle, better relationships, improved self-esteem and a renewed sense of purpose.
• Endorphins, the so-called ‘happy hormones’, are released in the brain when you help others, boosting your mood and creating what is known as ‘helper’s high’, a powerful physical feeling that is similar to the elation runners experience after finishing a marathon!
• Voluntary work can reduce insomnia, strengthen your immune system, and even help to speed recovery after surgery.

Where to Start

Whether you’re looking for a new direction, aiming to help a cause close to your heart, or wanting to give something back to your community, there are so many volunteering opportunities available, but where do you start?

Ask yourself the following questions – and don’t just settle for the first opportunity that comes your way, make sure the work is something you are really going to enjoy.

Q Have you skills you can share with others, or is this a chance to learn new ones?
Q Would you like to make new friends and socialise with other volunteers with a similar interest?
Q Do you want to volunteer for a local organisation or a national one?
Q Is there a specific charity close to your heart, or do you want to help out anyone in anyway you can?
Q Would you prefer an opportunity where you can be/work outdoors?
Q Would you be able to commit regularly, say a few hours every week, or is it more likely to be on an ad-hoc basis?

Who to Contact

• Many charities and good causes have dedicated pages on their website explaining the opportunities available, as well as the support volunteers will receive. Check out www.volunteeringmatters.org.uk, which has a retired and senior volunteer programme for those aged over 50. Local groups drive people to hospital appointments, manage allotments, and knit clothes and soft toys for needy children.
• There has been a massive increase in the number of older people seeking voluntary work abroad. Teaching, caring and conservation are just a few of the projects you can get involved in, and you can travel as far as Africa or Asia or stay in Europe. Projects can last just a couple of weeks or a few months. Find out more at www.projects-abroad.co.uk
• Many voluntary groups need drivers who can take elderly or disabled people out shopping or to hospital or doctors appointments. Drivers are also needed to deliver meals to the housebound. Contact your local church, community group, Women’s Institute or local council (who often appeal for volunteers to help clean up local rivers or beaches).
• For ways to volunteer in Kent, from working with children and young people or in the countryside or library to being a Kent Greeter or for sporting opportunities, to name but a few, visit www.kent.gov.uk/leisure-and-community/volunteering
• RVS, www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk, call 0845 608 0122 (call rates apply) Monday-Friday 8am-6pm.
• Age UK, www.ageuk.org.uk, pop into your local branch, or call 0800 055 6112.
Volunteering is a gift that only costs you time, but it makes such a difference to other people’s lives. Not everyone can commit regularly, but even if you get involved once a year to hand out refreshments at a charity fun run, bake cakes at home for a local fete or pack up shoe boxes for a world disaster, every little helps!

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