Jan with Vivienne - a firm friendship has been allowed to flourish over the last few months

Volunteers’ Week is an annual celebration of the contribution made by millions of people countrywide who give their time to support others.

Ahead of this year’s event between June 1-7, Pulse’s Sammy Jones looked at why we should all try and give back to our community.

Most of us would like to give a little time to make things better for individuals or charities if we could, right?

But time is money, and money is tight. Pretty sure some of you are reading this and thinking, ‘I would, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.’

But by making time, you’ll not only assist others, but you’ll be rewarded in other ways for your efforts.

When Jan Kendall answered the call for volunteers at the school her children attended, it kick started a passion for volunteering.

“I wanted to support them, and helped out in the classroom, became a member of the school PTA organising fundraising events and school uniform, and later I became a parent governor.

“Life was busy as a mum of young children but I also wanted to be involved in my local community and find ways to use and develop my skills.

“I didn’t think of it as giving my time up, but rather making good of the time that I had,” she told Pulse.

When her children moved to secondary school, Jan was keen to continue volunteering, but began looking for new opportunities – and the local volunteer bureau was a wealth of information and ideas.

“I felt drawn to working with older people and became a befriender with Age Concern where I visited an elderly lady every week for a chat or I’d take her out in her wheelchair,” Jan recalled, “I also volunteered with Alzheimer’s Society as a befriender to families coping with dementia – I was particularly drawn to this charity as they offered very comprehensive training.

“I loved this new role and felt I made a difference to the lives of the people I supported.”

And that voluntary role led to a career in dementia care that lasted more than 25 years and took her intro training practice which saw her travel the UK and further abroad.

As her career progressed Jan rose through the ranks from volunteer coordinator to national trainer and support manager.

“It has been challenging at times, but thoroughly rewarding,” she said.

Jan retired in 2020 during the pandemic, but perhaps unsurprisingly, she wasn’t about to put her feet up; she decided to re-enter the voluntary sector once more.

Today, she gives her time to a variety of roles; as a tour guide at the Safety Centre in Kiln Farm, as a reading volunteer in a primary school and as a coach with ReadEasy, helping adults learn to read.

“I like to be busy, but also want to be useful and feel that I make a difference to someone else’s life or to society in general.”

To that end, Jan also volunteers as a walker/befriender through Age UK Milton Keynes, and when Pulse made her acquaintance she was out and about in a local park with Vivienne Holliday.

Vivienne accessed the walking befriending service after her GP referred her to Age UK’s LiveLife Social Prescribing service, which connected the pair. It provides non-medical solutions to worries and problems that affect people’s health.

They have now struck up a firm friendship through their weekly meet-ups, which means that Vivienne is still able to enjoy her love of long walks.

“It’s the highlight of my week and I look forward to it,” said 86-year-old Vivienne, “Jan is an ideal companion; caring, always reliable, a patient listener and we have some great chats that are fun and interesting, with stops to look at beautiful views, listen to birds and try to identify trees and wildflowers along the way.”

Vivienne spent her career as a medical secretary, working first in London, before moving to the new town in the early 1980s where she was able to continue in the same line of work. She retired in 2000 before she spent time volunteering at Milton Keynes Hospital, so Vivienne has seen the benefits of being a volunteer herself, and then taking advantage of a volunteer scheme.

Meeting up with Jan allows Vivienne to keep her independence which is invaluable.

“I feel completely confident in Jan’s presence on my two walking sticks to tackle longer walks and it’s an opportunity to enjoy a variety of scenery. Life would seem poorer without her good company, patience and empathy.”

But Jan takes just as much from her time-giving: “When I was younger, volunteering gave me opportunities to gain knowledge and skills that helped set me on a career. Now I am in my 60s, I am still able to use my knowledge and skills but in different ways to make a difference to others.

“Whether I am going for a walk with someone or listening to a child read I feel I am doing something useful. It’s rewarding. It’s also fun. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”

For the past 18 months Vivienne and Jan have enjoyed their weekly walks and exploration of the local area, and a firm friendship has been allowed to flourish.

If you’ve thought about giving your time, but have never taken the next step, or if you are reading this and thinking for the first time that you might like to volunteer, Jan has some words of encouragement.

“If you have time on your hands or are feeling a bit bored, consider it,” she encourages.

“There are numerous opportunities to volunteer in Milton Keynes. Whatever stage you are in life, you will find something to interest you. If you are not sure, just give it a go. You may surprise yourself.”

> If you would like to learn more about volunteering with AgeUK Milton Keynes visit ageukmiltonkeynes.org.uk