"Of course it's nice to help people, but for me volunteering is all about community and being part of something."

"I'd always encourage people to volunteer, I think it's the best kind of therapy."

I’m Chris, I’m 64 going on 65 next week! I retired 7 and a half years ago. I was a pathologist in the pharmaceutical industry and have been in a relationship for 36 glorious years! We had a Civil Partnership 3 years or so ago.

I retired early (which I would highly recommend) and I’d had quite a pressured job actually. I thought I’d have 3 months or so of doing nothing just to get over work, and a week later I was so bored. I thought “I really do need to do something,” and I thought volunteering was the obvious thing. I didn’t want to do any paid work because I didn’t want to feel any pressure or obligation in a sense. Although you do have obligations in volunteering, I thought “Well, I might as well volunteer for the LGBT communities. I sent an email to what was known as the LGF and was invited to come to a presentation about volunteering. I was kind of expecting lots of older people to be there but it was actually mostly young people which I found quite refreshing. It was really nice to see young people wanting to give something to society and help.

There were a number of volunteering positions open at the time and lots of them were aimed at volunteers who were looking to improve their CV and job skills, so I started out just doing office administration. It was lovely; I’d count envelopes, and resources, No stress at all. Then I got involved with Pride in Practice which was great, but I’d also started to get involved with other areas. I volunteered with the Village Angels and at the same time I was doing Befriending, which I really, really enjoyed.I did the Angels for about 2 years, but I’m not that used to late nights. It was fascinating and really interesting though. It could be quite upsetting seeing people in dire situations, people who may be under the influence of drink and drugs and had lost their friends or become separated from them. It was a great bunch of people and good fun, but it wasn’t something I felt I could continue long-term.

Befriending was so rewarding. I met some really remarkable people and it did so much for me as well as them. It’s actually opened up huge avenues for me to follow in terms of interests. Now I facilitate Older and Bolder, a social group for Gay and Bi Men over the age of 40. It’s a real privilege for me. All of the people who attend are lovely and I’m quite proud of them. The knowledge base they have is amazing: people from law backgrounds, university graduates, authors. They really know politics and the really know about the area and history of Manchester. They are an amazing group.

Mostly my role is ensuring the attendees are comfortable, refreshments are provided and the conversation is flowing. There are 4 volunteers supporting the group, and we plan and facilitate activities. We try to plan 6 months in advance so we can post it on the website and take responsibility for sessions. I’ve just done a session on pottery; mug painting. It’s good fun and there were some really good results. We had a film night last week, and the week before that the Manchester Prairie Dogs were here to do line-dancing. It was fantastic, it really gets people talking. We sometimes have a discussion topic or guest speakers in; it really does depend on the session you’ve decided to lead on.I did a session on LGBT Manchester and its history, there are picnics if the weather’s good, but the main thing is to try and get people to talk and engage. Occasionally we may be taken to one side to speak to someone, because some of the attendees might not have that. They might need to vocalise their feelings, or they might need some support or signposting to services they can access. Sometimes they might just need for us to listen. For some of the service users, it might be their only social outlet.

Of course it’s nice to help people, but for me volunteering is all about community and being part of something. I get that feeling from volunteering, and I guess that means you are passing that on to whoever you may be working with. That’s the biggest thing for me. When I retired I expected my circle of friends to shrink but actually it’s been completely the opposite. That’s down to the volunteering I’ve done here, because it’s sent me off in directions that I would never have dreamt really. For example, one the first service users I worked with in the Befriending service was interested in singing, so I looked for Manchester choirs and I suggested to them that we could go to a session together. I said; “I’ll just come in with you, make sure you’re comfortable and then leave you to it.” Anyway, I got so much out of it that I continued to go too. I don’t sing with the same choir now, but I do sing in 4 other choirs and that’s a huge part of my life now. I’ve made hundreds of friends through that and have travelled all over Europe with it and have made some great friends.

I also took someone who was interested in art and culture to galleries and things, and we attended a charity in Salford called Start which is a creative arts and wellbeing centre. We did a variety of art activities and the facilities are spectacular. One of the modules there was ceramics, which I had done a little bit of at school. I really enjoyed picking it up again and she said “Why don’t you get yourself a potter’s wheel?” so I did. I do ceramics now after a short course, and I actually sell some of them now. I probably throw pots on the wheel about 2 or 3 days per week and the profits I make go to a charity in Blackburn called Vocalise, which is a choir for under-privileged children in Blackburn.

That’s what I’ve got out of volunteering: a life. I can honestly say that I loved my job. It was my life, seven days a week at the end, but I can honestly say I have never been happier than now, and I see how lucky I am. You can’t just think “Well I’m alright,” and that’s why I will never stop volunteering in one form or another. I’d always encourage people to volunteer, I think it’s the best kind of therapy. Just do it!