Many participants talked at length about the importance to them of their formal and informal voluntary work. There was a huge range of involvement – from service to organisations through to involvement in various charities, churches and community groups, to one-to-one assistance.

“Everybody should give the community something back.” – (Brian X)

“Just get in there and join in, don’t hide yourself in a little burrow. That’s how I would say is the best way to get on with age.” – (Denis)

“We’re not a burden on society; we’ve got something to contribute.” – (Barrie)

Of the 56 people we spoke to, 36 talked at length about the importance to them of their formal and informal voluntary work. There was a huge range of involvement – from service clubs to organisations such as University of the Third Age (U3A) and Council on the Aging (COTA), through to involvement in various charities, churches, schools, boards, committees and local community groups, to one-to-one assistance with activities like transport, gardening, home maintenance, tuition, providing lodging and caring.

Edith began volunteering to help her children and has continued to spend time helping people.

Marie volunteers in things that interest her and thinks this brings health benefits.

A recently widowed woman who lives in the country looks forward to Colleen’s daily telephone call.

Voluntary work was most often part-time but sometimes undertaken on a full-time basis. Some people viewed it as quite different from paid employment while others said that there was very little difference apart from not being paid. Some people’s paid employment led naturally into their voluntary work and vice versa, while others took on new directions (see Retirement).

Marlene says that paid and voluntary work are basically the same but she thinks that voluntary work changes lives and is the greatest thing a person can do.

Chris’ paid employment and voluntary role overlap. He is still passionate about his work but more relaxed than previously.

Marie sees a difference in how people are treated in the paid employment and voluntary sectors. She has never been treated badly as a volunteer and finds it rewarding.

People talked about voluntary work being more relaxed, flexible and less pressured than formal paid employment (see above with Chris and Marie). They had time to do the things they wanted to do at a pace that suited them. Some got pleasure from meeting and being involved with other people while others found giving and using their skills for the benefit of others rewarding and satisfying.

Helen B uses her skills in her voluntary work to keep everybody happy but she paces herself.

Lyn struggled to let go of her paid employment because she felt she was not contributing or being fulfilled but voluntary work helped with that and was more relaxing.

Some people said that their voluntary work was what kept them “alive” and “going” and that they would continue with it as long as they were able (see Retirement). Marie talked about the importance of maintaining balance in her life.

Marie ensures she has a balance of community, family, social and learning activities in her life.

Guymun keeps working because it keeps her healthy and active. She says she would slow down too much if she retired.