Life after work ends

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The thought of retirement can be an anathema to many professional people. They fear that their brain power will diminish with every day spent in front of a jigsaw. Hoping to find something to do that will be satisfying, useful and stimulating, many turn to voluntary work.

"When I retired from teaching, I wanted to be able to give something back to the community," says Christine Bearne. "So I decided to volunteer for Homestart, which helps struggling parents in their own homes, doing two hours every week."

Two hours a week may not sound like too much of a commitment but Mrs Bearne could only start work after attending a training course one day a week for 13 weeks.

"We had outside speakers, social workers, health visitors and people from the Citizens Advice Bureau come to talk to us. It all felt very social as well as informative," she says.

Many of the larger voluntary bodies provide in-depth training to volunteers before they start work, followed by a range of regular additional courses.

"Do you know anyone who is retiring, working part-time or considering returning to work?" begins a plea for volunteers on the website of the Manchester Citizens Advice Bureau. For retired people are not the only ones to enjoy the benefits of this kind of work,particularly when in-depth training is required. The Manchester website goes on to say that it "can be a victim of its own success in that many volunteers are unemployed and find better employment prospects after CAB work."

There are 700 Citizens Advice Bureaux in England, Northern Ireland and Wales and 90 per cent of its staff are volunteers. Only managers and specialists are on the payroll.

Positions are available not only for advisers but also for management committee members and administrative support. "We offer a rigorous basic training course," says Moira Haynes, press officer at the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. "New advisers have to complete 130 hours of course work plus 156 hours under supervision in the bureau. This tends to take place over six months, at a rate of one day a week."

Even after the basic training advisers have contact with a guidance tutor and additional courses are run at regional centres.

All this training fails to daunt the volunteers, who see it as a vital part of the job. It provides younger workers with valuable skills, while letting older employees continue to contribute to society while giving purpose and value to their lives.