The joy of volunteering for over 50s

Posted on March 10, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature volunteers clean up local park

I recently received an email from a friend I used to work with who is now in her 50s and who devoted the last 18 years to being a stay-at-home mother of three boys. Two are still at home, but it will only be a short time before they’re off and, anyway, they no longer require as much of her time. What shall I do with myself now, she asked me? Her husband is an entrepreneurial businessman who has just got involved in a new venture after taking some time out from being a workaholic, so even he is not around to keep her company. She knows it would be difficult to slip back into her former career in marketing, not due to age (although that is a factor that hovers over our conversation) but mostly because she’s lost touch with the complex developments in her niche service sector.

She is considering taking a course of some kind, but the choice is so overwhelming that she feels like she’s going round in circles. Should she do something purely for pleasure – cookery for example – or something for a career, such as counselling? My friend is in the happy position of not needing to earn a salary, so her options are quite broad when you remove the need to make money form the equation. I suggest volunteering, she questions whether this is the reserve of kids and the answer is simple – not any more. I send her a link to GVI UK so that she can explore the idea.

Volunteering and the 50+ generation

Volunteering abroad or, indeed, in the UK, isn’t just for the young. Companies like GVI have been providing the over 50s with volunteering opportunities for over 14 years. You might be surprised at just how many organisations exist that find volunteer work in the UK and overseas for the 50+ generation; I counted 12 at this handy guide to volunteering at LaterLife.com – and did you know that Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) accepts applications up to the age of 75.  So, what is on offer and where to start? Well, they say charity begins at home, so let’s start there.

A woman volunteering at a food bank

Volunteering in the UK

If you want something close to your home then head over to Do-It and sign up. When I visited the site there were 1,431,551 volunteer places available and, according to the site, 47,131 organisations find their volunteers through Do-It. How many volunteers are registered at this one site? A fairly healthy 137,403, but considering the number of vacancies available, more people are needed to fill them. To find a volunteer job near you, you enter your postcode or town name and specify a distance that you’re prepared to travel. The diversity of the results that came up in my search was quite astounding and included helping on a community allotment, retail assistant in a local college shop, helping at a homework club and working with the Home from Hospital service.

If you have an interest in working with disabled people then ReVitalise organises respite holidays for people with varied disabilities and their carers, and are always seeking volunteers. Other information sites worth visiting are NCVO England, Volunteering Wales and Volunteer Scotland where you’ll find excellent guidance on local and national volunteer schemes.

Volunteering Overseas

For those who have retired, or fancy having a ‘working’ holiday overseas, then there is also a fantastic range of assignments on offer, varying from a few weeks to months and maybe longer. VSO International is a longstanding organisation backed by the British Council. VSO offers professional volunteer opportunities that you may not find so easily elsewhere, for example, it provides numerous medical placements and IT professionals are also in demand.

Organisations like GVI that I mentioned at the beginning are well suited to those who want to take a “responsible holiday”. GVI is experienced in running volunteer projects and there are at least 150 to choose from. The projects range across wildlife conservation, childcare, animal care, health care and teaching. If you’d like to rehabilitate rescued elephants in Thailand, support teachers in Fiji or even teach English to Buddhist monks in Laos for anything from two to 24 weeks, this is the perfect opportunity.

The variety of volunteering opportunities is so exciting that I feel inspired to give it a go myself. Perhaps I can encourage my friend to try the volunteer experience with me, we both might find a new vocation, and so might you!

Read on for more information on our insurance to support over 50s in your volunteering

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.