Don't let skills of the elderly go to waste

We would view it as a tragedy if young people were left to languish

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The Independent Online

In today’s culture we are all striving to continuously improve ourselves, gaining BAs, MAs, PHDs, awards and accolades. But what will happen to those skills once we stop working? When we hit a certain age do those skills simply disappear?

New research has shown that one in five older people in Britain who have a special skill or talent rarely or never get to use it. Men are the worst affected with nearly a third (29 per cent) saying they rarely or never get to use their talents or skills, compared to 14 per cent of women.

Older people have a wealth of experience and talent that should be shared and utilised in our communities. We would view it as a tragedy if a younger person had completed a qualification to then just sit at home all day, never using their skill. But this is happening every day to the older generation.

As Local Authorities come under increasing pressure to cut costs, this experience could be put to fantastic use helping shape society through volunteering. Our population is getting older . There are currently 10.8 million people over 65 in the UK and more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are under 18, so it is more important than ever that we don’t let this wealth of experience, skill and knowledge go to waste. By volunteering, these skills and talents can be put to good use, helping other members of the community by gardening, say, or putting carpentry skills to good use.

Our own 40,000 volunteers have an average age of 62 and support other older people to stay independent in their own homes through a variety of different services such as Meals on Wheels or Good Neighbours and companionship. Our research shows that some of the top skills going to waste include carpentry, engineering, gardening and sewing, all skills that could be used to help others.

This is not an issue that will take years to push through Government, needs to be debated by experts or costs money to implement, it is something that can happen today simply by all of us making a conscious effort to reach out to lonely, older neighbours and family and taking the time to learn about what skills they have. Being neighbourly is something we are all capable of and we can all do our bit towards stopping people feeling lonely and isolated from society.

Encouraging people to talk about their interests and experience can also benefit those on the receiving end. We can learn a great deal from older members of our community who may have had very similar or very different life experiences that we can learn from.

The research is released on Silver Sunday – a day pioneered by Westminster City Council to recognise older people’s contribution to society and help them to utilise their skills and interests. Events are being held across the country to recognise the contribution that older people already make and to encourage more older people to show off their talents, put them to good use and not waste what they have spent a lifetime nurturing.