From park to Palace: Collecting our Queen’s Award

Our reporter Lesley has been voted alongside our editor Bob to attend Buckingham Palace in celebration of our team winning the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Here she remembers how she got started on the project and what she’s looking forward to about collecting our award.

Spring 2019. Walking in my local green space, Clarence Park, Bury, I stopped to look at the notices and flyer on the window of the Café in the Green. Having just moved to Bury the year before, I was still getting to know the area, the people, and what’s on. One of the fliers caught my eye. “Wanted: Community Reporters.”

They were asking for anyone over the age of 50 to volunteer to go out and about in their local area, and report on what the over 50’s were getting up to in Greater Manchester. There was a phone number.

Well, I’ve always liked to write about what I was up to, not a diary, but whenever something struck me as interesting, memorable. And I’m also rather nosy, I like people watching and quite like striking up conversations with complete strangers (slightly worrying, but it’s always turned out OK).

And I was getting a bit bored. I ummed and aahed a bit – do I really want to get involved with groups of old codgers (bearing in mind that I was 61 myself and definitely qualified for that description)?

I dialed. An enthusiastic woman called Grace answered and described the project in professional but warm tones, inviting me to the inaugural meeting. The project sat within the Ambition for Aging programme, running for five years throughout Greater Manchester, aimed at dissecting all aspects of ‘getting on a bit’ in an effort to improve the experience. It had no title as yet, but was specifically targeting over-50’s who, for whatever reason, defied the usual stereotypes of aging.

Our first meeting was held in the library in Eccles. I was wondering what I was letting myself in for, but was reassured when I walked into a room with about 12 men and women who were, well, like me. At the front were Grace and Kirsty, both very not 50+. Their social enterprise company, Yellow Jigsaw had been commissioned to get the project up and running. It was to last a year.

At that first meeting we were given a great intro into what it was all about, and we were listened to and consulted about our feelings and thoughts of aging stereotypes, terminology, (later life, older people, coffin dodgers etc.)

Most of the volunteers were already heavily involved in other areas of volunteering, and it became clear were multi-talented and mostly up for anything.

So that was the start. We named ourselves Talking About My Generation, apologies to Mr Townsend.

Since then, I have interviewed tennis players, dancers, belly and ballroom, volunteer tea-makers, hospital helpers, recent retirees, gay rights activists… and tried vegan cakes!

I have been involved with national bodies consulting on later life. I’ve taken part in podcasts, street vox pops, TV reports. And I’ve been interviewed myself by various bodies, and have had my own ‘photo shoot’ with a professional photographer.

I’ve written poems and opinion pieces. And I’ve made some lovely friends and shared the odd cocktail or two. We were supposed to last a year, but due to our own enthusiasm and Kirsty and Grace’s outstanding support and determination we’re still going strong 3 years on. And it’s all been lovely.

And now – we have had the great honour of being awarded the Queen’s Award for Volunteering. Gasp, and much amazement from us all. There are going to be several celebrations for this, but the main one is an invitation to two of our number to attend a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, next year.

We had a vote. Hold your breath. Yep – I’m one of the lucky two. Bob Alston who is practically volunteering full time now is the other lucky person. We’re both very very chuffed and not a little abashed to be chosen by our fellow, lovely, reporters. We’re already discussing hats.

So, the thread running through this is – look what happens to you when you jump in and say YES. You meet wonderful people, learn new skills, enhance old ones, get interested, motivated, rejuvenated. And if you’re very lucky, and have lots of wonderful people around you, you may get to go and have tea at the Palace. (I’ll put a marmalade sandwich in my bag just in case).

See more local reaction to our award here.

Enjoyed reading this – and would like to read more? We’re a team of volunteer reporters who are on a mission to change the record on growing older in Greater Manchester. We are not-for-profit – and we rely on your vital support to avoid those annoying pop-up ads and to keep on sharing stories that challenge ageist stereotypes and celebrate the ways we’re all growing older. Please support us from as little as £3 by buying us a Ko-fi. – it would mean the world to us! Thank you.


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