Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Reflections on Volunteering: Britain, Travel and Unconventional Help for the Elderly

May 12, 2010 · No Comments

CT logo from “cinnamon.org.uk”

Though I haven’t gotten to see the results of my volunteering manifest in the community the way some others have, I feel like I’ve learned something about Norwich, but particularly Britain, from it. Looking for volunteering opportunities, a process which was late to begin with because I had held out hope of reconciling my paper with my experiential, was itself a tedious game of email tag and involved being crushed to see I inexplicably needed a background check for certain great jobs. However, I think I did notice some unusual trends in what volunteering was out there.

Firstly, although Claire came up with the idea for the first Holiday from Home from her own experience being unable to travel due to severe ME, and it is her own ingenuity and passion for travel which prompted her to develop the project into a larger organization, there is something else in the mission of HFH which speaks to something larger. This is the idea that travel is almost a right or at least something that ought to be available to everyone as a matter of fairness  seems to me a quite British idea (despite Britain not having a stunning national record on accessibility for the disabled).

After all, this is a nation where small bookstores will devote a whole wall to travel books and a Google search for British Travel yields more mentions of deals for Brits to go to Mallorca, Egypt and India than for foreigners to go to Scotland or Cornwall, which led a friend of mine to conclude that “the English seem to spend all of their time plotting how to get out of their country.” The first item on the HFH mission statement is “the advancement of health,” which I find to be an innovative way to think about the concept of travel.

Age Concern Norfolk Logo- “www.acnorfolk.org.uk”

This leads me to a wider point about volunteering opportunities in the Norfolk area and nationally: I was impressed with the amount of organizations which catered to the needs of the elderly, and did so in nontraditional ways. I would count Holidays from Home among these, but other larger and more national organizations do this as well. One example is the Cinnamon Trust, which helps to “relieve the anxieties, problems and sometimes injustices, faced by elderly and terminally ill people and their pets, thereby saving a great deal of human sadness and animal suffering.” Another is Age Concern Norfolk, which Anya explored as part of her experiential. It is an organization that offers volunteering roles from keeping older people active to helping with personal finances, all with a eye on companionship.

Doing what you can to help create a holiday or spending some time with an elderly or ill person while looking after their pets address important but often overlooked emotional needs of older people and are something that anyone can do, even for a few hours a week without having to have a background check. I saw a remarkable number of these organizations, both national and local, which is good, especially because I don’t see British culture in general as being notably reverent towards older people. I have no basis for comparison in terms of whether Norwich or Norfolk is exceptional in this regard, but it would be interesting to see whether a younger, larger urban area has as many opportunities in this vein.

I’m still hoping to learn more from my Holidays from Home experience, and because I can volunteer remotely, I intend to do what I can over the summer. Perhaps I’ll be able to see the fruits of my labor in the new holidays. Even if I do not, I feel I’ve gained something from the experience.

Categories: Aidan
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