We need wider range of volunteering roles for older people, says Lynne Berry

The chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing tells the parliamentary group on civil society that the skills of older people provide an opportunity for the sector

Lynne Berry
Lynne Berry

Charities must provide more diverse volunteering opportunities for people of all ages, rather than just focusing new innovations on younger generations, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering has heard.

Lynne Berry, chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing, told a meeting of the APPG in Westminster yesterday that more older people were volunteering than ever before.

She said she was very disappointed to read a letter to The Times earlier this year in which a volunteer at a National Trust property in Kent said that both the trust and English Heritage were operating a model in which many sites relied upon older volunteers, which was unsustainable as the health of these volunteers declined.

Berry said: "I despaired at this idea that there is a particular type of volunteer who does a particular type of role."

She said a "culture of deference" existed in many charities, which meant that volunteers were often trapped in inflexible roles and not given the opportunity to be entrepreneurial. "Volunteers of the future are not going to put up with it – I’m not," she said.

Berry said it was good to see developments in micro-volunteering that encouraged younger people to give their time or skills to good causes, but all generations needed to be better catered for by volunteering opportunities. "We could be using the same imagination and thinking in relation to older people," she said.

Volunteering opportunities should involve anything from driving, business planning and overseeing construction to advising on investments, she said. Berry said charity might not be the only way of engaging older people in society. She said: "It may be that ideas of reciprocality are more relevant in the future than charity."

Despite the challenges of an ageing population, she said, the skills and experience provided by older generations provided an opportunity for charities. "At the commission, we are very firmly calling this an age of opportunity," she said, adding that she rejected the "divisive view that sees ageing as a burden".

Berry also told the meeting that TeachFirst, a charity that encourages graduates into teaching, was considering setting up something that might be called "TeachLater", which would help older professionals to make career changes into teaching.

"Some work has already gone in to developing that," she said, adding that the charity sector had a broader role in pondering other ways in which the skills of older people in a number of sectors could best be deployed or redeployed.

Baroness Barker, a Liberal Democrat peer, agreed with Berry that the message from English Heritage and the National Trust was concerning. "These are two of the biggest charities in the country and to hear them put out such a statement was depressing," she said.

English Heritage has a significant volunteering corps, but is not yet a charity, although plans for its conversion to charitable status in April 2015 are under way.

Jamie Ward-Smith, chief executive of the volunteering website ivo, who attended the meeting, said: "We’ve almost over-bureaucratised the whole volunteering agenda. What we find is that people are turning away from the traditional charities."

The meeting also heard from My Home Life, a joint venture that works to improve the lives of older and dying people, and Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group.

Bradshaw told the meeting that pensions continued to pose great difficulties for the sector, just as when she addressed the group on the same topic two years ago. "I said we were sitting on a pensions time bomb," she said. "Sadly, I think that is still the case, but I do feel that some progress has been made."

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