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When volunteer Rachel Barker goes in to MHA Brockworth House care home, she says she feels as though she is ‘doing something that matters’.

The 32-year-old has been volunteering at the care home for more than 18 months after spotting an advert on a local website. She was looking for volunteer work after having spent five years bed-bound due to sensory motor polyneuropathy. When feeling began to return to her nerves and she became mobile again using a wheelchair, Rachel felt it was time to do something.

Rachel says: “My illness had got to the stage where I had been in my room for so many years it felt like a prison and starting to affect me psychologically. I knew I had to do something. 

"I knew I had to do something"

“I wanted to go somewhere where I would have insight in to people. I rang Brockworth House and spoke to the volunteer coordinator. I told her I was in a wheelchair but that didn’t bother her or the home. I went to visit and it felt like I was home. It immediately felt I belonged there and wanted to be there.”

Today Rachel helps out by befriending residents and supporting lots of activities in the home including gardening, bingo and encouraging residents to use the karaoke machine.

Rachel volunteer Brockworth House Gloucester2.jpg

She says of her volunteering: “Deciding to volunteer and to make the conscience decision to give back to society has brought me the greatest joy and has been the singular greatest privilege of my life. Yes, I am the one who chose to volunteer, but it turns out that I am the one who has been given a gift. It is a gift that cannot be bought and a gift that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

“I like older people,” she added. “There is so much we can learn from them. It’s the lessons they can teach us. The rich tapestry of life. There is knowledge there. There is wisdom there. I love hearing about their lives. 

“I do not want older people to feel like they are second class citizens. There is a lot of ‘you have been to work, you have paid your taxes, then it is time for you to go away’ attitude with older people. But we can learn so much from older people.”

"I like older people... There is so much we can learn from them."

Since being at Brockworth House, Rachel says she has learnt to perhaps not be so quick to judge people. She added: “There are stories to be told, there are different sides to stories. One of the residents is a former Wren who served in the Second World War. She talks about sticking together, that sometimes things can be really, really tough but it was one of the best times of her life. If you just listen to people, there is a wealth there. Some people just hear older people but not listen to what they are saying. 

“I chuckle when younger people say that those of other generations don’t have anything to give us or that they are irrelevant in today’s society.

Rachel volunteer Brockworth House Gloucester3.jpg

“I’d tell them that they are missing so much. Years ago things were very different culturally and spiritually. Older people come from a different world. You can learn from them. Not giving older people the time of day would mean you are missing out on wonder. 

“My grandfather used to hate being called an old age pensioner or a senior citizen. I would urge people to realise and appreciate that older people are not over the hill. They are not second class citizens. They still have something to offer and that is beautiful.”

"It’s about the people you surround yourself with to overcome those barriers."

Rachel also took advice from her grandfather when she was ill. While in his 90s – he sadly died in 2019 on his 99th birthday – he took the train to visit her.

She said: “He said to me ‘I can give you all the advice in the world’ (he didn’t have time in his life to be sentimental) ‘life is very, very difficult at times and it’s hard for some but you have to find a way to get a grip and carry on because tomorrow the sun will rise, you will wake up and you can either bury your head or make the best of it. You have to pull yourself together. You will have difficult times. Some people have terribly sad times in their lives but it (life) goes on. You have to make that decision mentally’.

"That advice really kept me going. It’s about the people you surround yourself with to overcome those barriers."


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