OPINION: Never too late to start volunteering - even in your 80s!

Some of the staff, organisers and volunteers from the Volunteer Drivers Scheme at the Norfolk and No

Some of the staff, organisers and volunteers from the Volunteer Drivers Scheme at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital - Credit: Archant

Reader Ron Brewer describes the satisfaction and enjoyment you can get by helping others through just volunteering

When the American president John F Kennedy’s gave his inaugural address back in 1961 he aimed to inspire children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service.

His historic words were: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

This was his challenge to everyone to contribute in some way to the public good. He was asking people to use their experience that they had probably learnt in life or while at work to help other people in later life.

Now the news stories seem to be about past and present government ministers using their past experience and contacts to push for special treatment for their friends (and possibly boost their own bank balance in some way).

Also of civil servants being allowed, at the same time, to do work outside their Civil Service job and make use of what they have learnt to start making money for themselves. If these stories are true then I feel that these people should be using their skills to help others as I doubt that they really need to earn more money.

I find it very hard to understand the behaviour of these people. I spent nearly 40 years working in the civil service and gained several useful skills along the way as I worked up from the lower grades.

Most Read

There were high class training courses that you could take as you progressed through your career.

You became better at managing your staff and learnt the mysteries of negotiating a deal.

Also, in my case, just doing your job gave you experience in doing original research, writing, editing, arranging large public events, photography and running a publishing unit. I also came into contact with plenty of big organisations and their senior staff which could be advantageous at times.

I had the opportunity to retire earlier than usual. I was not rich, just comfortably well off, but had no urge to use my civil service-gained skills to earn more money.

Instead they were made freely available to other people and organisations within our village by, for instance, helping with the local produce show, by getting involved with the village newsletter and promoting local activities to the press.

Many other villagers do the same, helping locally by volunteering rather than trying to make more money for themselves. During the lockdowns the reaction was fast and effective with helpers organising themselves to provide contact points for those in need. Shopping was done, prescriptions collected and delivered and even dogs taken out for their walks.

I’m no angel but I was criticised after a previous piece of my writing for this paper that was about those who do not think the rules apply to them.

Someone wondered if “I sat at home all day polishing my halo.” No I don’t but I do get out and about in the community and enjoy being a volunteer.

For many years now I have been taking part in various clinical trials.

EDP reader Ron Brewer

EDP reader Ron Brewer - Credit: Archant

One of these that I am involved in started nearly 30 years ago and is still in operation. Other more recent trials have involved changing my diet for a whole year or even taking fish oil and chocolate each day, again daily for 12 months. Now I’m doing more volunteering by working with the scientists and using my experiences to ensure their research is participant-friendly.

We have just had National Volunteers’ Week at the start of June. Do you have any idea of how much the volunteering in the UK contributes to the UK economy each year?

The official figure is £2.4 billion (yes that is billion, not million).

To take a local example, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has more than 600 volunteers working to support the hospital, all of whom have been trained to do various jobs and provide valuable help.

I didn’t start my NNUH volunteering until I was in my eighties so it’s never too late to get involved.

Now what skills have you got that you could pass on to others as a volunteer?

It can be very satisfying so why not give it a try?