Six ideas for helping others when you retire

Posted in: Wellbeing Last updated: 30 Aug 2013

Helping others out in your spare time is something many of us like to do. Whether it’s taking a neighbour’s dog for a walk or doing a stint in the local charity shop, it’s good to lend a hand – and retirement can be a good time to do it.

Many retired people volunteer for a range of reasons. For some it’s just that they have more spare time on their hands, but studies show that people brought up in the 1950s, in particular, feel it’s important to ‘put something back’ and do their bit for society.1

Lots of retired people donate hours out of their day to do unpaid work. A poll by the Royal Voluntary Service found that one in five – around 2.2 million people over the age of 60  help out with at least two different charities. More than a million (11%) volunteer for three or more.2

Why lend a hand?

Some retirees volunteer because they miss the routine of work and find it can give a bit of structure to their day - stopping them from feeling isolated. For others it’s about helping people in need – the feelings of satisfaction and being appreciated are their main drivers. Then there’s the other big bonus we all tend to forget about – helping others can make you feel better too! Studies of older people who volunteer show that those who do more hours report higher levels of well-being.3
So, if you’ve finished work and want to help out in your spare time, where do you look? You can start close to home with older people who might like a visitor or you could explore other options such as helping out with local fetes and fundraising events. Don’t forget all of those good causes out there, crying out for support. Here are just a few good ideas to get you started.

1. Using your professional skills

Why not use the professional skills you spent so long building up to help other people starting out? Many retired business people act as mentors through organisations like the Prince’s Trust or the local chamber of commerce. Nurses can register with the nursing reserves and people with a legal background can do advocacy and other much-needed work with asylum seekers and other disadvantaged people.

2. Heritage and museums

You can help out in some of the museums or heritage projects near you. Many of the country’s steam railways, for example, are run entirely by volunteers. In April this year the North York Moors Railway celebrated 40 years since it was brought back to use by keen supporters. The railway needs volunteer drivers, fireman, guards, ticket inspectors, signalmen, a station foreman and booking clerk. At the British Museum in London volunteers are highly knowledgeable and visible as they give talks and tours about the museum artifacts.

3. Older people

Some older people can become very isolated, particularly if their partner has died. Helping them out with emotional as well as practical support can be the lifeline they need. You can offer to do shopping trips or deliver food on an informal basis. Or you could contact an organisation like the Royal Voluntary Service (previously the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, WRVS) who rely on 40,000 community volunteers to deliver services to older people around the country. Volunteers are also often appreciated at care homes and retirement villages.

4. Hospitals or hospices

Hospices are care facilities for people at the end of life and many of them are very reliant on volunteer support. You can help with things like fundraising and activities like visiting and reading with patients, help with shopping, babysitting and transportation. Hospitals also often need volunteers to run stalls, fundraise and do ward visiting and befriending patients.

5. Animals

At Dogs Trust and other animal charities unpaid helpers are absolutely crucial to providing the service they do. Dogs Trust volunteers take dogs for walks, clean out kennels and ‘socialise’ puppies which involves playing so they get used to being handled. Cat rescue and donkey sanctuaries also often need helpers.

6. Developing countries

You might want to really take the plunge and travel to a developing country to lend a hand. There are projects out there that need helpers ranging from marine conservation to teaching English to working on local newspapers. Then there are specific professional skills needed, such as nursing. The Global Volunteer Network has placed people in their 70s and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) reports an increase in older volunteers in recent years. Some VSO volunteers have found that, as older people, they even get treated with more respect in countries like Africa than they do back home.
So if you want to get involved, keep your eyes peeled for volunteering opportunities near you, or contact some of the organisations’ head offices directly.


1 An examination of the practical and policy issues around the role of older volunteers. A study by Justin Davis Smith and Pat Gay of the Institute for Volunteering Research, for the Joseph Rowntree Trust Foundation 2008
2 The impact of volunteering on well-being in later life, Royal Voluntary Service, 2013
3 Effects of Volunteering on the Well-Being of Older Adults, Journal of Gerontology, 2003

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