Making a difference: older volunteers as community builders


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This seminar was the first in a series of seminars focusing on volunteering in a fair society organised by IVR in partnership with the ESRC and Northumbria University. This event focused on the unpaid voluntary work of older adults.

Irene Hardill (NOrthumbria University) discusses Making a difference: older volunteers as community builders.

Past presentations from the Institute of Volunteering Research website can be found at the following location -

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Making a difference: older volunteers as community builders

  1. 1. Making a difference: older volunteers as community builders Irene Hardill, Northumbria University
  2. 2. Introduction • Understanding older people’s pathways to volunteering • Meanings, contexts and pathways to volunteering by older adults • Research been supported by ESRC and AgeUK • Present findings of a community study, Brightville, East Midlands
  3. 3. Older volunteers • Unpaid voluntary activity important part of individual and community life • Older people – “kin keepers”, sustaining the family, and as “neighbourhood keepers” • For older men and women, the neighbourhood may be even more important than for younger people. • But older people seen as recipients not givers • Movement between service user and volunteers – from receiving to giving, and vice versa
  4. 4. Previous research • Volunteering motivation - altruism and self-interest. • Age related sets of motivations. • Filling the vocational void left by retirement and to manage increased free time. • Can be pathway to paid work. • Focus on individualistic set of explanations, fails to fully capture the social, economic and cultural complexity of volunteering.
  5. 5. Brightville study • Draw on in-depth study of voluntary activity within organisations and groups in an East Midlands community where people have borne the brunt of social deprivation and unemployment; • Four organisations present in the study community that offer support to families and individuals – 2 Home Start, Community Concern Erewash older volunteers important • Mixed methods – life history interviews, observation, focus groups
  6. 6. Cultural theory • How volunteering they currently do fits into their daily lives, used cultural theory • Adaptation of the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas • Grid and Group - Grid personal motivations, Group solidarity among members of the society.
  7. 7. Conclusion • Volunteering gave a sense of purpose, personal well- being • Contributes to both community cohesion and extended families. • Depends upon active support from within the household and wider family, and juggled around family needs and demands. • Sites of volunteering can be construed as 'spaces of hope’
  8. 8. Bibliography • Hardill, I. and Baines, S. (2011) Enterprising Care: Unpaid voluntary action in the 21st century Policy Press, Bristol • Hardill, I. and Baines, S. (2009) Active citizenship in later life: older adults in a deprived community Professional Geographer 61:1, 36-45. • Hardill, I. and Dwyer, P. (2011)Growing old in rural England: some challenges of delivering village services in the mixed economy of welfare paper Journal of Social Policy, 40,1, 157-72