Age UK Norwich
will be exhibiting at our upcoming retirement event. We asked one of their volunteers to provide an article about their own retirement experience...
There’s a huge amount I could say about retirement… partly because, to me, it’s a very big opportunity.
I was lucky enough to have an interesting job I enjoyed, as a journalist on the EDP and Norwich Evening News and frankly in the years approaching retirement I had no idea how I was going to feel about the change, when it came.
I barely considered it.
But around 18 months before I left, it dawned on me how rare this opportunity is both in history and in other parts of the world today not only to be freed to do whatever I wanted but also (if, like an increasing number in our society, you’re lucky) to have the energy and fitness to be active for maybe another 10 or 15 years.
Thought of like that, it’s an astonishing gift.
We all react differently, of course. Some just want to relax or travel. Fair enough, they’ve earned it. Some, including a dear friend of mine, struggle to find a new sense of purpose. This can, paradoxically, be a particular problem for those who were most busy and purposeful at work. In such a case, a person may need time and sympathetic support to find their own solution.
Well-meaning friends and family will bombard you with suggestions… but they will be the answers which would be right for them. Take time, talk, explore.
As I say, I was lucky. I was immediately energised by the sense of how many generations had laboured to create a society in which people of my age could be given this liberation. Yep, I want to do stuff for myself. (I’m learning watercolour painting, taking up yoga and exploring Buddhism.) But I also felt I wanted to give something back.
There is no ’one size fits all’ approach to retirement. Indeed, the first andbiggest tip is not to make any major commitment until you’ve been away from the old job for a good six months… and see how you feel, rather than how you expected to feel.
For me though, plunging into voluntary work was the logical response, and the heart response to how I saw things.
If you get to that position, here are the next two tips.
1) Take time to think about the kind of voluntary work you’d like to do, something you have an emotional commitment to. If you want to be effective, don’t scatter your energies too widely.
Focus primarily on one area. Voluntary Norfolk
are brilliant about looking at your skills, and talking you through the options.
2) Start exploring seriously a good year before you leave work. In my experience, if you want to 'hit the ground running' you need to be approaching your chosen group/charity then… because if they are at all professional, they’ll have an induction process and then more specific training, all of which takes time to happen.
If you can afford it, see if your employer will let you drop to four days a week so you can really get to know the organisation, and who you’d be working with.
I chose Age UK Norwich, mainly because my old dad (aged 88) had gone through the whole range of scenarios from living independently to needing help at home, recurrent hospital time and finally a care home in 2013. He’d had excellent treatment… but I’d come away realise how complicated that is to organise, and that not every family has the skills.
I started making a list of what it would take to provide that support for everyone… and found Age UK was there already, pretty much doing it all. Every member of their fantastic staff just needed to be cloned about 20 times.
In the absence of cloning technology (yet!), they were doing the next best thing… 'leveraging' their professional input with a ratio of around 300 volunteers to 20 paid workers (which includes the obviously high number of staff needed to run a dementia day centre). I started volunteering with them in late 2013.
Again, this can go two ways. You can put your hand up for a specific role they’re advertising (in our case, that might be to visit an isolated older person weekly for social befriending, for example, or to take a shift running our reception desk) or it might be to become a trustee, and help steer the organisation‘s long term strategy.
It will start that way, in any case, but as the months go by, depending on the amount of time you have, you might find yourself carving out a more personal role. If you have an idea, suggest it. You might get the chance to try things you didn’t even know you could do.
If, like me, you rather enjoy being pushed out of your ’comfort zone’, one of the great things about volunteering is that people with the appropriate supervision to protect their clients will let you try a wide range of new things. I started out on the busy reception desk, began to help a little with press releases and was offered the chance to join the trustees. I’ve more recently trained as an 'information assistant' to steer older people and their families towards the specific help they need and with the guidance of a very experienced mentor I’ve begun going out to help people fill in Attendance Allowance forms in their own homes.
Self evidently, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. It’s also, of course, good for the brain. It’s stimulating.
Here’s a final thought though. They don’t always tell you this one and it’s equally important. I took up volunteering because it’s my idea of fun but it’s not always, at every moment, fun. Sometimes (not often) it begins to feel almost like work…. obviously, especially as the role becomes familiar. So why are you doing it? I, personally, hit that wall about a year in. One morning, when I had a free day and was sploshing about ineptly with my watercolours, the penny dropped. If my life now was all 'me time', like this, I’d pretty soon hate it. I’d stop painting.
The days when I have to put on a clean shirt, be somewhere on time… maybe write up some minutes, maybe focus on a long meeting… those are the only things which will make it possible, after a while, to still take pleasure in sitting in a café with a good book for an hour.
We all need variety. Give it a go. When I was asked to write this piece, I couldn’t get to the keyboard fast enough… to pass on the good news, and maybe enthuse someone else. Volunteering can be whatever you want it to be… and that means a lot.