Unfortunately, this week will be my final blog as I am ready to move on to pastures new and will be leaving my volunteering post with Northumberland Community Voluntary Action.


However, before I go I would like to thank my colleagues for their support and their patience over the past two years and for giving me back my confidence and self-belief. I would also like to thank Michelle Cadby for being a bit eccentric, for challenging me and pushing me further than I sometimes wanted to go and for being a real support. I would also like to thank all of the people who have opened up and given me their stories, every one of which has been amazing and inspiring!

Another inspiring tale this week has come from octogenarian Rob who is a volunteer at The Alnwick Garden, Blooming Well (Elderberries) programme (see www.alnwickgarden.com/the-elderberries-programme)

The Project is a community based initiative run by Alnwick Garden with the aim of improving the quality of life for people with dementia and their carers using a mixture of targeted therapeutic horticulture and arts activities. The programme offers older people monthly ‘clinic’ café sessions in partnership with NHS and offer a range of informative talks. Activities offered range from Keeping Active classes, including Pilates and a Walking group, to Tea dances and Foot-care sessions. There are also opportunities for a variety of arts and culture sessions including music performances, silk painting sessions and memory sessions. Drop-in sessions are available three times per week too for the over 55s to relax, chat and enjoy tea and cake and make new friends. There is also a Gentlemen's Garden (or allotment), run specifically for men who enjoy gardening and woodwork. The projects aim is to reduce isolation, increase a sense of identity and belonging as well as improve the physical and mental health of older men.

Rob is 85 years young and volunteers to help people living with Alzheimers and Dementia. He believes that as he is on the mature side himself “I’m on the same wavelength when getting everyone to talk of their long term memories” including WW2 and the 1950’s and 1960’s. As he sings in a choir he also finds it natural to lead in singing many of the “old time favourites”.However, Rob doesn’t just volunteer for the one organisation, he is a very busy gentleman. In fact, he reads the Talking Newspaper for the Blind (every fortnight), acts as a host on the Arthritis Care minibus (once a month). He is Steward at the Alnwick Playhouse and a story teller for the pre-school children as part of the Playhouse Creative Cocoon programme.

Rob is a retired Environmental Scientist and during his career he worked in Westminster within the Chief Scientists Group at the Admiralty. He has also worked for Ministry of Agriculture, Fish and Food as well as for the Department of the Environment. Rob originates from Surrey where both he and his wife were involved in the Brownies, the Guides, the Cubs and the Scouts, where he became the Science Badge Examiner. So volunteering is something that has been part of his life for many years. Indeed, when he originally retired and moved to Wensleydale in 1994 it appears to have been a natural move for him to help coach the juniors in the local badminton club.

Whilst in the Dales Rob and his wife ran a Guest House, but they decided after the B and B became too difficult to look after to move closer to their daughter who lived in Alnwick, and more or less immediately began to volunteer here too. From singing in the choir, and having a good voice, Rob was invited to do the talking news then from his work in the poison garden at Alnwick he found it a natural progression to volunteer for the Blooming Well role after his Arthritis began to make some movements restrictive. Things develop and change, but “most times the roles just found me, as time and time again I would be approached to see if I could help” and for the most part Rob found the majority of organisations to be extremely grateful and supportive.

Rob admits to not being too old to learn and says he has developed an ability to listen carefully to children and “get them to feed their ideas into various activities”. But, he also feels that he listens more in general and has developed more patience especially with the group of people he works with. Although Robs background was in many ways dissimilar to what he does now he uses lots of transferable skills and “my experience in all the jobs I’ve done is that they keep both the brain and body active and a sense of humour goes a long way in breaking down barriers.”

Volunteering, Rob feels “keeps me young at heart, if not young in body!” and he said he would encourage others to volunteer because “I often come away from sessions feeling better than when I started…”

What more can you say?