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Volunteer Experience

By Sheron

Hi, my name is Sheron, I am 50+ Hackney resident and would like to share my story. After many years of being in gainful employment, I gave up work in 2003 to become a full-time carer to my dad. I did this (whilst also caring for my son who had been diagnosed with a life limiting condition) for 7 years until my dad passed away in 2010. By the time my son’s condition stabilised, I found myself in the world of jobseekers allowance hating the stigma attached to unemployment and the fortnightly jaunt to the jobcentre. I found the jobcentre advisers unhelpful and not interested in my professional development only that I was compliant with meeting their criteria. I knew I needed to refresh my skills in order to get a job but didn’t know how to go about doing this. When I asked to be referred to a course my request seemed to fall on deaf ears. I was finally allocated an advisor who took my concerns on board (month/date?) and was sent on some much needed refresher courses.

Slowly things started to fall into place but I lacked the confidence I once had and wanted to find an organisation that was willing to give me a chance to prove my ability to myself and others. Realistically I felt it was highly unlikely I would find paid work at that stage due to the long gap in my employment history. I didn’t relish the idea of being on benefits indefinitely but what could I do? Just as I was about to give up hope, a friend advised me to try volunteering.  I hadn’t really given it much thought previously but knew I had to do something to move forwards. I wasn’t sure what to expect but anything was better than sitting around getting more despondent.

I remember my first visit to the Volunteer Centre Hackney. I was nervous but staff immediately put me at ease. I still questioned what I had to offer as a volunteer but talking to the staff about my journey was assured that we all have valuable skills and life experiences to offer. I registered my interest and shortly after was offered a voluntary role with VCH doing administration (?). Although it was not a paid post, I felt ten feet tall. I started to feel like somebody with something to look forward to and I could actually visualise another life away from benefits.

With my new found confidence I registered with a few job agencies online. One particular advert caught my eye. It was for an Administration Officer at the Homerton Hospital. I had nothing to lose so I applied. A few weeks later I attended an interview and subsequently was offered the post.

I remember getting the call to say I had been successful. I was on Kingsland High Street and literally jumped up and down and did a little dance for joy. I was ecstatic. To break away from benefits and become self sufficient is an awesome feeling. I feel proud of what I have achieved and still pinch myself from time to time. I will always remember VCH’s role in getting me to where I am today.

As a 50+ year old I really thought that I was heading for the scrap heap. I seriously thought that my life would revolve around benefits for the long-term.  I’m living proof that anything is possible if you really apply yourself and get the right help and advice. Having the right people on side, supporting your development and enabling you to move forward makes the process that much easier.

I would urge anyone who is unemployed wishing to restore their self-esteem, their sense of worth and confidence in their ability to seriously consider volunteering. It’s a great stepping stone to your next chapter be that employment or something else. You will rediscover dormant skills and even develop new ones. Your mindset will change, your confidence will grow. Volunteering is a two way street, you have to be prepared to give of yourself in order to get results.

To close I’d like to add a words encouragement to anyone who thinks that finding a job at 50+ is impossible. As I write this, I am extremely pleased to announce that I have been offered another post with Imperial NHS Trust with greater benefits and more responsibilities. I am testament, it is possible and you too can do this.

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Inspired by Sheron’s story? Want to register to volunteer? Let us know at or call on 0207 241 4443.