I’ve always worked, and it’s been something I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve spent most of my life in education, I was a headteacher and for 20 years an Ofsted lead inspector. Then, at the age of 50, I got full-blown breast cancer.
My cancer was invasive, but I had the best care from my brilliant oncology team at Cheltenham General, and I survived. I desperately wanted to give something back to the hospital for their brilliant care, love, and kindness. They saved my life and gave me a future, so I decided that I would help the hospital and Cancer Research in any way I could.
When I recovered, even though I was working full-time, I used to volunteer at the Cancer Research shop at the weekend and in the holidays helping sort the donations and serving behind the till.
When I retired, I got further involved in volunteering. I signed up to be a school governor and a hospital volunteer and that’s been really, really good. I’m working on some very interesting projects with the local hospitals, where I’m part of the strategic leadership team with members from both hospital trusts. There is a big development across Cheltenham and Gloucester and I’m looking at it from the patient and volunteer angle.
Volunteering, whatever role you take up, it’s a 2-way thing. You’re helping the organisation you’re volunteering for, and it feels great to be part of that, but also you’re getting a tremendous amount back yourself. It gives you something to get up for, a purpose. When you get to a certain age and stop working you kind of feel like you’re on this scrap heap, you don’t feel valued anymore by anybody, or that you can use your skills. It just becomes quite a lonely, desperate time if you can’t find something to do. However, volunteering helped my self-esteem, I get to use my brain and feel appreciated and valued for what I have to offer, that I’m not just an old person.
Volunteering is very good for mental health, for a lot of older people… I just think it keeps you going, it keeps you young or a younger attitude anyway. It’s really nice meeting lots of other people of all ages… you don’t quite feel in God’s waiting room all the time!