Ladies and gents who lunch
Retirement Voluntary work is increasingly vital as cash-strapped councils struggle to provide for a population that is living longer. One Scottish community is benefitting from a lunch club.
After an “adventurous life” of teaching in various countries, Rae Wilson, 76, took retirement about 15 years ago and got involved in volunteering, which she had always been interested in. She set up a meals-on-wheels service in her village, Balfron in Stirlingshire, and went on to form a local lunch club because she saw a need for that kind of social gathering.
“People wanted somewhere to meet and chat and enjoy food together,” she says. “We have between 30 and 50 people coming to the Thursday lunches now, and there are about 30 volunteers, including six drivers to bring people in. Everybody chats away and we have a great laugh. It’s so rewarding that people are so grateful – not that we are looking for rewards, but what we do is very appreciated. One widower who’d moved here to be closer to his daughters said that the lunches were a lifeline for him as he got to know the new community. And the volunteers enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories.”
"If you go out and help other people, it’s so stimulating. You won’t get a life by sitting at home alone"
The service is supported with training by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), and the church provides rooms for the lunches. The pool of younger volunteers is small because most households need two salaries to raise a family, while people in their fifties who might previously have volunteered now have to, or want to work on till they are 65, says Wilson.
“We’re so fortunate because we do have a few younger volunteers. We have some young mothers, and they’ll sometimes bring their children in; we all eat together then the children can play and the older people are delighted to see the kids. The inter-generational interaction is excellent.”
She’s hoping that they’ll be able to have young volunteers from the local high school again next term. “We used to, but it became difficult to fit around the classes.”
Wilson herself does all the ordering and cooking and organises the rotas.
“I’ve always loved cooking, a skill I learned from my mother and honed bringing up my own family. I can always whip up a tasty, nourishing meal! It’s very rewarding to see people enjoying what you’ve made. People in the club will share recipes with their family and they like trying new things.”
Wilson and her husband, a lecturer, worked in Bahrain, Nigeria, Kenya and Zanzibar as well as Scotland, giving her both life and professional skills which stand the community in good stead now. “I’ve seen so much,” she says. “And I’ve had good organisational skills throughout, because as a teacher you have to prepare for each day. I’m used to working as part of a team to do what’s necessary.”
Her husband, who passed away last year, was very supportive of the lunch club. “He used to come along to enjoy the food. The club’s very important to me. I’ve got to know the people who come as friends; it’s so beneficial for me, especially now, to have them around. I’d encourage anyone with a bit of spare time to volunteer, because helping someone else helps you.”
“So many people retire and then go downhill! We have to make the most of every day that we have"
There are many different ways of volunteering, she points out. “If you’re not the chatty type, you can still be a driver, take people to hospital appointments, for example. It helps your own health and attitude.
“So many people retire and then go downhill! We have to make the most of every day that we have. If you go out and help other people, it’s so stimulating. You won’t get a life by sitting at home alone.”
Recently, the lunch club team has started providing meals for local residents who are housebound – a concept that the councils are keen to extend into other villages.
“The voluntary sector is becoming more and more important as the government is more cash-strapped and it’s harder for the councils to find money for total care packages,” says Wilson. “I’ve been invited to meetings because they realise they can’t provide everything, and they’re consulting with us. The Stirlingshire council is going ahead with the Dutch model of care within communities, they’re doing more joined-up thinking.”