Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Leave a comment

Making a compelling and flexible offer to would-be volunteers

A discussion paper by The Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing entitled “A better offer: The future of volunteering in an ageing society” looks at the current picture and future trends. The value to charities of volunteering by people over 50 is set to grow from £10bn to £15bn by 2020 according to the Royal Voluntary Service. But with a rise in the retirement age and increasing pressures on older people to help out the younger generations of their family there could be less volunteers available. So the benefits of volunteering need to outweigh the disadvantages.


The paper describes two key benefits as ‘the buzz’ or sense of well-being that volunteers get from their role and ‘learn and grow’ or the opportunity for personal development. The barriers to involvement.are identified as: time pressures; feeling exploited; and the image of volunteering. The authors argue that charities will need to make a compelling and flexible offer to would-be volunteers in the future.

Why have I told you this?  Is it because I fear that our advocacy service will fail to attract volunteers?  On the contrary. At Dorset Macmillan Advocacy we recently completed a round of volunteer recruitment.  Our most successful method has been a short paragraph about the aims of our service in the free, local community magazines that drop on people’s doormats.  This generates enquiries, exchange of information, further informal discussion followed by application and interviews for just over half of those that contact us.

At the informal interview we have started by asking ‘What interests you in being a peer volunteer advocate for older people affected by cancer?’  Immediately we hear the many reasons that motivated people to come and meet us to find out more:

‘I’ve been retired for a while, we have five children and I’m a very busy grandmother but I miss being part of team and I’m bored.’

 ‘I’m newly retired and I’ve been looking for volunteering opportunities for six months, I’ve started one already but this one really spoke to me.  After my own cancer experience I make the most of each day and my way of doing that is by doing an act of kindness every day.’

 ‘I’m semi-retired, I’m really busy with other voluntary activities but after being a carer for a family member with cancer I feel I have something more to give.’

The reasons may be different but a deep understanding of the need for advocacy for older people facing cancer is what every candidate has in common.  In addition there is a shared conviction that this is an important service.

We aim for the volunteers to have flexibility, some chose to take breaks between matches, some are happy to have more than one advocacy partner at a time,  some also take part in external events promoting our service, talk on the radio, distribute publicity, engage with local commissioners on our behalf.  All join us for ongoing training and networking with the volunteer team.

The nature of the service combined with the volunteers’ varied but highly personal motivation is what makes what we do compelling.  Add to that the flexibility offered by the role and volunteers will continue to come forward as, in my opinion, there could not be ‘a better offer’.


Kathleen Gillett, Project Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy


1 Comment

Being a Dorset Macmillan Advocate

Dorset Macmillan Advocacy volunteer advocate Janet Lister describes her role and what it is she does to support older people affected by cancer:

I’ve taken on many volunteer roles since retiring, some of them more satisfying than others. But becoming an advocacy volunteer has turned out to be the most worthwhile volunteer role that I have ever been asked to play.
It has called upon a lifetime of personal experiences, of being faced with a diagnosis of cancer, of supporting family members and friends through a variety of difficult cancer treatments, of working with health care professionals caring for cancer patients in a hospital setting, all of which I expected would be important in my advocacy role.

Janet from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

Janet from Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

But I have been overwhelmed by what I had not anticipated – the  privilege of being allowed in to the private lives of my advocacy partners, to be told the most intimate details of their lives, their family and personal relationships, and to become a true support and ally in their difficult journey.
I find that the most important need of our partners is to talk – they need to express their feelings, fears, doubts, and worries to a friendly, non-partisan, non judgemental person.
I have found that these initial conversations may, in the beginning, raise minor concerns that seem easy to fix. But often, hidden away in what may seem harmless conversation, there are deeper concerns. Sometimes you have to intuit these conflicts, mentioned in passing, and feel confident to dig a little deeper.  In this way you can help the person to reflect on their treatment choices, and to prepare for the many challenges that living with, and surviving, a cancer diagnosis brings
Of course, they may be situations where the prognosis is not so happy. Here also you can fill an important role in helping the patient and the family to come to terms with the decisions that might have to be made. Here, as with all discussions you have, it is important not to become too involved, or to bring your own feelings and opinions into the discussions.

It all sounds very difficult but I assure you, it is all worthwhile and you will get the gratitude of the patient, their friends and family in the end. To be allowed into what becomes a very intimate circle at such is a difficult time is a rare privilege which gives me much satisfaction.