Why I volunteer: our new Silverlinks volunteer Mark shares what motivates him

My name is Mark Hillary and I tried to retire last year when I turned 60. My wife said I had to keep busy so I did a Workers Education Association (WEA) course on Cathedral Architecture at the Mechanics Institute next door to Age UK Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.

As I walked by their Bradbury House offices I noticed they had a Housing Options drop-in service on a Friday morning and thought I might be able to help.  As well as a professional interest in housing, I teach the Housing Degree for the Institute of Housing. I remembered that my mum had had an Age UK funeral plan and it was a great solace to her in her declining years.  These years were also greatly enhanced by getting her to move closer to me and her granddaughters. But it was complicated to organise the move. It was then that I realised that other people could do with a hand with housing – related issues.

I am fortunate, having a nice home and pensions but through a career in Local Government and Social Housing I have come across lots of people much less well off than me.  I was a Head of Service with Nottingham City Council and think I usually understand bureaucracies, but it gets harder as you get older and particularly when everything goes online.  I worked in London for 25 years and still run a small housing training & consultancy business and I am also really interested in quality management.

Mark at the information stand at a local community health hub

The reality is that since I tried to give up work I have just got busier and busier and in the last year I have been fortunate enough to go to the United Arab Emirates on a few occasions to assess the quality of housing in Dubai.   Remembering my mother’s struggle I feel I understand and really want to use my knowledge help older people.  I also really believe in mixing up the generations and, having worked with apprentices for 20 years, tried to pass on knowledge and skills to the next generations.

We recently did a “ward round” style drop in visit to Lings Bar hospital. I remember that my mum was in there after being discharged from the Queens Medical Centre here in Nottingham. The lack of suitable housing and care and the “bed blocking” issue are among the big quality issues I am really interested in. On the day we visited the wards it was so rewarding to just chat to people who may feel isolated and frightened being away from home and not knowing exactly what is going to happen.  My Mum had me to help her, but sometimes the standard of care fell short and it horrifies me that there are older, vulnerable people out there being ripped off on equity release schemes or simply neglected who just need a word of advice or someone they can just talk to about what is worrying them.

I believe keeping busy and active is vital as we get older and last summer I volunteered to trek across Iceland to raise money for Shelter.   Offering support and advice through Silverlinks and Housing Options at Age UK Nottingham and Nottinghamshire may not always be easy but believe me it’s much easier on the feet and back than climbing up glaciers and camping on the hard ground in the frozen north!

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