Come rain or shine, 85-year-old Jenny Williams wakes up, gets dressed and travels the seven miles by bus to nearby Bangor. It’s a journey that she’s become well-accustomed to over the past 20 years, the time in which she’s been volunteering for Age UK.
Jenny proudly tells me that she used to volunteer in the Bangor charity shop five days a week, but as she’s now in her eighties she’s taking it easy working 10.30am-2.30pm, three days a week.
The 85-year-old enjoys volunteering because it gets her out of the house. “I do like to speak to people,” she says enthusiastically, adding that she’ll often speak to strangers on the way into Bangor in the morning. “I live alone. I lost my husband when I was 49.”
Jenny has had her fair share of sorrow in life, she had tuberculosis in her teens and was later forced to have a major lung operation, she lost her husband 20 years after and then, a year ago, lost her best friend of 30 years who volunteered in the shop alongside her. But this hasn’t stopped her from seizing the day - if anything, it’s spurred her on to help people even more.
The bubbly volunteer says on a typical shift she will sort the clothes out and talk to customers (something which she particularly enjoys). She can also be found merchandising the windows, which the intonation in her voice tells me she’s very passionate about.
“You meet people, you talk to people, the day goes really quickly,” she says. “I like helping people find what they want.”
Jenny says she sees the other volunteers as relatives rather than colleagues: “We’re all a happy family here, everybody is the same, it doesn’t matter what language you speak or what background you’re from.”
When she’s not volunteering, she likes to bring joy to her elderly neighbours by baking them cakes, popping over for coffee or just generally keeping an eye on them. Something as simple as this can be crucial in helping tackle loneliness, which affects three-quarters of older people in the UK.
Jenny’s boss, Lana Hill, who is manager of the Age UK Bangor shop, says she is a “brilliant” volunteer. “My whole team are, to be honest,” she adds. “We have 12 volunteers in total aged between 18 and 86. They work so hard. We couldn’t do it without them.”
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