Sylvia’s story

Sylvia lives in Blackpool and retired a decade ago, after 20 years in the civil service. “I’d worked in lots of different jobs, but when I got to my mid-30s I separated from my partner and decided I needed a pension, so applied to the civil service.”

After securing a good pension, she had no plans for how to spend her retirement apart from a bit of “me time”.

The emotional impact of volunteering

“I started one day a week, volunteering at a food bank, packing bags; then went to three days when we started doing more deliveries; and then five days when we realised we needed to be a bigger operation. I’ve been there for six years.”

Sylvia ended up running the distribution centre, overseeing incoming donations and outgoing packages. The bags of food were sent out through the food bank’s partners, so volunteers rarely met the people using the service. “When you do meet someone, it’s very emotional. The look on their face when they’ve got their bag – I can’t explain it. It’s very rewarding.”

The pandemic has changed the food bank, and Sylvia’s life as well. After a major operation she has decided it’s time to move on; the work is too physical for her now, and she’s currently re-evaluating her volunteering.

“My niece is a teacher and she tells me there’s a need for adults to read with children in schools, so I’m considering that,” she says.

Choosing the right role for you

With plenty of friends also reaching retirement, Sylvia has often found herself in the role of an adviser on volunteering. She’s clear that it’s not the same for everyone. “You have to find something to suit you. Don’t go and do what everyone else is doing – you have to find whatever it is that makes you happy.”

Some friends are volunteering as dog walkers for the RSPCA, others at the Citizens Advice Bureau, others are working in charity shops. With so many different and varied options, it won’t be long before Sylvia is back putting her skills to good use; but she has one very special plan before then.

“Every year since my daughter moved to Australia, I’ve been out to see her. That didn’t happen last year of course, because of the pandemic. While it’s great that you can be walking down the street and get a call, or click a button and see her come up on a screen; it’s not the same as a visit. I’m hoping that I can go to Australia again soon.”

Wherever she goes, Sylvia’s big heart is sure to help her carry on making connections and friendships.

Discover more stories of people who are sharing their time and experience – and learning new skills along the way – by reading our article, The Power of Volunteering in Retirement. To search for volunteering opportunities near you, visit Royal Voluntary Service and Do IT.