I am a post-doctoral research associate at Aberystwyth University and, since January this year, I have been visiting the National Botanic Garden of Wales for my research into volunteering among the over 50s and those who are retired.
I am interested in finding out the role and contribution volunteers make to a rural organisation like the Botanic Garden, but also what they gain from the experience.
I have been surprised by the variety of activities undertaken by volunteers, which includes everything from weeding to needlework, tour guiding and helping with children’s events.
So far, I have spent most of my time with the wonderfully friendly Stitching Botanicals group. As someone who struggles to sew on a button, their level of skill and creativity astounds me! This group of volunteers use their combined knowledge to design and produce stunning textile exhibitions for the Garden, and provide new and exciting ways for visitors to engage with the Garden experience.
In addition to their contribution to the Garden, the volunteers I have spoken to have identified skill-sharing, friendship and sense of achievement as just some of the personal gains they have made through their involvement. Importantly, Stitching Botanicals also offers an accessible way for volunteers facing mobility issues to continue their work in the Garden.
Another surprising finding is just how busy everyone seems to be after they retire!
As well as contributing to many other organisations, the Garden volunteers I have met are involved in a range of other leisure activities and often continue caring responsibilities within their families.
As it is National Volunteer Week, I think it is important that we remember and recognise the many informal voluntary roles held by retirees that tend to go ‘under the radar’, and perhaps aren’t traditionally classed as ‘voluntary work’.
My research at the Garden is ongoing and I am keen to hear from as many volunteers as possible about your experiences at the Garden as well as other voluntary activities you may be involved in. If you would like to have an informal conversation about this over a cup of tea, please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This research project is part of the WISERD Civil Society research theme more information on which can be found here