I was interested to research how many people like me, of 50+, do voluntary work. I am very lucky indeed to be able to devote a large proportion of my time to charity work, thanks to a GHWLSM (Generous Husband Who Largely Supports Me). I do work part-time but I can’t claim to be making much of a financial contribution to the household. For the record, I did hold down a Proper Job for many years – I even referred to it as a career, but it is so long ago now I can barely remember what I used to do. I realise just how lucky I am to be in this position, but it does mean that while I could in theory be at home buffing my nails or wandering around my garden with a trug, a glass of wine and a pair of secateurs, in fact I spend a massive amount of time giving to the Third Sector.
The definition of this sector (the first and second sectors being Private and Public) is ‘voluntary, not-for-profit and non-governmental’. While many are employed within it, there are huge numbers of people who get no financial reward at all for their involvement. In the UK, during the period 1998 until 2003, the voluntary and community sector employed around 550,000 workers. That number rose steadily between 2004 and 2010 reaching its highest point of just over 800,000 in 2010. What I can’t seem to find is a figure for the numbers of people who do the unpaid work in the Third Sector. When David Cameron launched The Big Society in 2009, the Third Sector became rather fashionable, but sadly that now looks to me to have been a fairly empty political slogan rather than a lasting legacy. I bandied it about at funding meetings for a couple of years but, certainly at the unglamorous end of the charity market I find myself in, it didn’t hold much water even back then.
The verb, volunteer, was first recorded in 1755. It was derived from the Middle English voluntaire and referred to ‘one who offers himself for military service’. According to the Volunteering Compact and Code of Good Practice, (Home Office, London, 2005), volunteering ‘is an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives’. So who is this army of charity workers? Well, the age group which volunteers the most here in the UK are the 65 to 74 years olds. The figures below show the proportion of people volunteering by age group, 2012/13 (% of respondents), taken from the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) website.
And what are the benefits of volunteering if you are lucky enough to have some spare time?
In an attempt to measure this positive effect on volunteers, Volunteering England commissioned the University of Wales to undertake a review of research on the subject. http://www.ivr.org.uk/ivr-news/133-volunteering-adn-health-what-impact-does-it-really-have . Dr Rachel Casiday, lecturer at the Department of Voluntary Sector Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter, led the review. The findings showed that volunteering can lead to improved self-esteem and sense of purpose (I would agree with that) and also that being a volunteer extends your life expectancy, when compared to non-volunteers (hallelujah! although I must say that some of my fellow volunteers in the charity I help at might find that surprising – laughable even – as our work often seems incredibly stressful, time-consuming and, frankly, a bit of a killer).
There is a charity for just about everything from bumblebee conservation to perianal support. In the UK there are just over 164,000 charities and people do some pretty crazy things to raise money for charity. Hello Stuart Kettell, who pushed a sprout up Mount Snowden last summer with his nose, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Then there’s the Australian Nick Le Souef who incarcerated himself and 300 deadly spiders in a shop window in Melbourne for three weeks, all to raise money for charity. He’s also done three-week stints in a snake pit, a shark tank and a cage with redback spiders. Children – don’t try this at home.
So whether you raise money for charities or are employed by one or work entirely unpaid, good on you. Here’s to a long and purposeful life.
Annie Bee x