Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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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


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In what sense is our work preventative?

‘Prevention and Health and Social Care’ was the subject of a development session for the Bournemouth and Poole Health and Wellbeing Board which was facilitated by Viv Aird CEO of Bournemouth CVS and Christopher Beale CEO of  Poole CVS.   Dorset Cancer Advocacy was invited to describe and demonstrate what we do as an example of innovative voluntary sector service provision.

The Board first heard from Alex Massey, Senior Policy Officer of Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) who explained the key recommendations from the association’s recent Taskforce report The Prevention Revolution: Transforming health and social care.  The report calls for preventative support, advice and treatment to be ‘fully integrated into all stages of the care pathway with the aim of addressing the wider determinants of ill health’.  The report emphasises ‘the role played by voluntary organisations in providing preventative, holistic care in community settings; fostering innovation; strengthening patient engagement; and catalysing cultural change.’


Christopher Beale of Poole CVS and Alex Massey of ACEVO

I then illustrated how although our work cannot prevent cancer it is holistic and can help to mitigate many aspects of the impact of cancer.  Independent advocacy support ensures that the cancer patient is more than a mere passenger on their cancer journey, it puts them in the driving seat.  Giving voice, choice and control through peer volunteer advocacy means working with an advocacy partner to help them to make informed choices about treatment and care and then to look ahead and plan for the possible consequences of that treatment.  In doing so we improve wellbeing and help to build resilience which in turn supports a person’s ability to cope with unplanned transitions in life such as a cancer diagnosis.

Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Cancer Advocacy