A lifetime of volunteering

Posted on: 28 July 2015 by 50connect editorial

Why is the numbers of older volunteers shrinking? We hear from the National Wales Museum volunteer Val Williams about why she is so keen to give back to the community.


The National Trust has seen a significant decline in the number of volunteers in recent years, stating that pensioners are too busy travelling and looking after their grandchildren to commit time elsewhere. However Val Williams, a 77 year-old widow and former research technician from Wales, has volunteered for most of her life and reaps significant benefits from it.  Whether socialising or learning new things, she is an advocate of giving back to the community.

Val first started volunteering at the age of 16, when she helped out in her Sunday school. She was also a voluntary carer at a Girl Guide camp, where she was a Patrol leader for a girl who was disabled and needed help with washing and personal care – a role that she found both challenging and rewarding.

But it was at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales where her longest stint as a volunteer began. As a “Friend of the Museum” Val has worked: on the information desk, as a friendly face for visitors; with the education department, to support school holiday periods; in conservation workshops; and in the gardening department, where she helped identify greenhouse plants.

Discussing her volunteering, Val enthuses: “I have taken immense satisfaction over the years in knowing that my efforts are appreciated. On social occasions at the museum, you get to meet other volunteers and also rub shoulders with experts in their various fields. Listening to their conversation is fascinating and meets my need for intellectual stimulus.”

Volunteering in the botany department of the museum, Val and a colleague have been kept busy over the past few years with mounting plant specimens on conservation grade paper for use in future research.  Their latest assignment involves a very large collection of grasses from various sites around the world, many of which have been donated by lifetime collectors.  The collection is alphabetically arranged and they are currently up to E!

Val adds: “What I can contribute in the herbarium is work that permanent staff simply aren’t able to do because of lack of time.”

Volunteering not only complements Val’s love of gardening, (she plants around twenty large pots of spring bulbs for everyone in her assisted living complex to enjoy each year) but it has also seen her through tough times. “My son died six years ago, aged 45, having suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, and his father died four years ago. I have a wonderful daughter, but volunteering has also been a tremendous support during these difficult times.”

She concludes: “I would recommend taking up a voluntary post to anyone, because it is rewarding in its own right and also great for its therapeutic value.”

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