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Planning Retirement Online

Jobs from the Reach files - 14

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In this regular series Olive Braman tells how volunteers can use their skills and expertise through REACH, the charity that places professional and business people in part time voluntary jobs

You can find all the Jobs From the REACH Files articles from the Volunteering Index

John wins award over welfare benefits

When you take on voluntary work, you don’t expect to receive special honours or become an expert in a totally new area of information.   But recently, John Smith, from Pitstone near Aylesbury, was indeed presented with a Royal Patron’s award for his work for the Abbeyfield Society by Prince Charles. The Prince of Wales is Royal Patron of the Society, which is the largest voluntary sector provider of sheltered housing for older people in the UK.

John was introduced to Abbeyfields by REACH, the charity which finds voluntary jobs for experienced managers and professionals.  The reward was for his invaluable advice on welfare benefits.  Before retirement, he had enjoyed a career as a senior administrator with De La Rue.  But he had to learn entirely new skills when he became a volunteer.

“I had been retired about six months and my wife encouraged me to look for charity work,” he said. “So I filled in and sent off the REACH application form. REACH responded very quickly by offering me a choice of jobs with local voluntary organisations.  Abbeyfields was the first to contact me and when I went there for my interview they were so welcoming that I said that I would like to start immediately.

John works two full days a week at the Abbeyfield Society’s UK office in St Albans and says it has been a constant learning process. “My job had given me life skills in helping and dealing with people, but I knew absolutely nothing about welfare benefits, income support, housing benefits etc,” he says. “ My predecessor gave me a month’s induction and from then on I just had to read all the guidelines and keep up to date with all the legislation.  I find it fascinating.”

John helps with the problems facing residents, tenants and sponsors.  He deals with local authorities, the Department of Social Security and the Benefits Agency. His expertise is much in demand, both in the office and at the many meetings he is invited to address. 

“The greatest satisfaction is being able to help people,” he says. “Often they have no idea what they are entitled to and when they can start claiming.  Sometimes they have run their resources down to nothing when they were actually entitled to start claiming earlier. It’s very nice indeed when I get letters of thanks after I have managed to help someone sort things out.”

One grateful granddaughter rang to say that as a result of John’s efforts her grandmother would now be able to afford a long-held wish – to go on a balloon trip to celebrate her 94th birthday.  

“It’s very important to have job satisfaction when you’re doing voluntary work,” says John. “When you’re getting paid, the salary can be a major factor, but when you’re a volunteer you really need to enjoy it. I do – and I still have time for holidays, golf and watching cricket- that’s why I’ve stayed here for seven years.”

For information about REACH please telephone 020 7582 6543;email  website 

The Abbeyfield Society has over 10,000 volunteers who manage over 850 houses providing accommodation for more than 8500 people with an average age of 85. For further information please telephone 01727 857536.




  • 22 million adults in the UK do volunteer work
  • Surprisingly, a government study revealed that the volunteering rate among people aged 50-65 is low, and people in younger age groups are more likely to do voluntary work
  • 6 out 10 volunteers say that volunteering gives them the opportunity to learn new skills
  • Volunteering has been rated by many as the second greatest source of personal enjoyment after dancing
  • Half of all volunteers get involved because someone has asked them to
  • 8 out 10 people think that volunteers offer something that cannot be provided by the State
  • 80% of people reject the idea that volunteers are less efficient than paid workers
  • The economic value of formal volunteering has been estimated at over 40 billion per year
Information from Victim Support London Newsletter



Many older volunteers have as much fun now as they did when they were younger (22%) and the majority (70%) are content with their lives, a BUPA survey of over 450 older volunteers has found.

The results of BUPA's survey also indicate a link between good health, physical exercise and the social contact that comes with volunteering. Seventy per cent of older volunteers rated their health as either good or excellent while 14% said their health had actually improved since they began volunteering. The results indicate an active and healthy group of people, dispelling the myth that getting older inevitably means slowing down.

"Volunteering may make us happier and healthier," says BUPA's Assistant Medical Director, Dr Paula Franklin. "So, if you want to have fun and help yourself to stay healthy over 50 you should get out, keep active and help others."

Keeping active
The BUPA survey suggests that older volunteers are more active and significantly less stressed than the general adult population.   The majority of them exercise regularly and only 22% said they suffered from anxiety, stress, insomnia or depression.

Nearly three quarters (73%) spend upwards of three hours per week on voluntary work and 32% commit more than seven hours per week.

Studies have shown that loneliness can contribute to poor health and illness. Age Concern say that an estimated 29% of men and 59% of women aged over 75 live alone. “The key is to stay connected, stay involved and to live a full life," says BUPA Professor of Health and Organisational Psychology at UMIST, Professor Cary Cooper.

Many of the older volunteers polled chose to begin voluntary work because of the social benefits. Over half said they began volunteering because of the regular social contact and 31% said they wanted to meet new people. When asked about their social life, over three-quarters described their social lives as busy, moderately busy or very busy. A third said their social lives had improved since they began doing voluntary work.

If you want to volunteer through Community Service Volunteers or receive information on volunteering events in your area contact 0845 601 3417.

the personal health service
BUPA House, 15-19 Bloomsbury Way, London, WC1A 2BA


REACH London office:  Tel: 020 7582 6543.   email:     website:               

Look out for future features from Olive Braman on Jobs From The REACH Files or view all the REACH Files Articles from our Volunteering Index


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