A year of volunteering – what next?

So here we are – a year after my journey of volunteering began.  I celebrated my 60th birthday at the end of November and so that marks the end of my Gift of Time project.

It has been such an interesting and rewarding year and I have learned many things as a result.

I have now added to the pages of this blog the final stats for the Gift of Time project.  These include the number of organisations I volunteered with and the money raised by events I took part in (not all money I raised myself. although that is included in the total).

I learnt many things over this year, and as a result there will be volunteering that I will continue to do.

The monthly litter pick will continue – I will try other ways of getting volunteers in 2020, including posters in local shops and a large poster outside our door.

I am now on the fundraising committee for Jane Scarth House in Romsey, which I enjoy very much and as a result will continue to meet people who I would not have met before this year (one of my goals).  Next year is a big anniversary for the charity and I look forward to being involved in events taking place for that.  I imagine other volunteering opportunities will come from that as well.

I shall also continue with the afternoon entertainment in the residential home which have featured twice in my blogs for GoT. The first of these can be found here and the second here

Although my musical recitals in aid of various charities have been taking place for some years before GoT, this year has made me aware of other good causes that may benefit from such fund raising and I will bear that in mind for future events.

The lunchtime recitals at our local church are something that may not have happened had it not been for GoT and has resulted in putting together another talented group of recorder players which I hope will continue to meet.  Consorte d’amici lunchtime recital- 13 hours In addition, we have formed closer connections with the church and hope to take part in more musical events with them. Indeed, John and I will be joining them for their carol service for the first time this year.

The hedgehog cream tea was a very enjoyable and relatively easy event to organise with a good result in money raised.  That is something I should be happy to repeat for another cause sometime. Hedgehog Cream Tea – 5 hours

Lastly and by no means least, I have really enjoyed the process of blogging and I intend to continue to do so, talking about the things I do now I am no longer in paid work.

As my retirement continues so will this blog where I will carry on recording what I do in retirement with the ‘gift of time’ that I now have.




Wedding in Jamaica-Celebrating in the UK

My younger son (YS) and his lovely fiancee (DIL) got married this year in Jamaica-just the two of them.

My husband and I were delighted that they were having the wedding they wanted even though we would not be there. However, there was no way I could let their wedding day go by without doing something to celebrate at home, so I decided we would have our own celebration on the day.

I wanted it to be a small but special affair and decided that 8 would be a good number to have around the table.  Everyone then gets a chance to interract with everyone else without it breaking off into smaller groups which tends to happen with larger numbers.

Having a lunch seemed the best idea as it would leave us free to spend as much time as we wanted together.

I sent emails out months in advance asking my guests to save the date and then a month or two beforehand I sent out ‘formal’ invitations:-


I wanted to ensure that I could enjoy the day myself so in planning the menu, I was careful to choose things that I could prepare in advance.

Here is the menu:-


With the exception of the salad and runner beans, every course could be frozen ahead of time:-

  • The cheese souffles were the twice baked variety which can be frozen after the first baking
  • Beef bourgignon needs long, slow cooking but once done, freezes very well and just needs reheating
  • Duchesse potatoes,  made and piped into rosettes can then be ‘open frozen’ and then packed into containers.  These were placed on baking trays and cooked from frozen on the day.
  • The roulade was frozen, then taken out on the morning of our lunch.

One of my guests suffers from coeliac disease, and also has to eat very low residue, and I was able to easily adapt this menu so that it satisfied those requirements.  The person in question simply did not eat the runner beans or salad.

I knew my guests would have questions about the wedding and so printed out some maps, with the wedding location circles, photos and information to put on the walls so we could chat as we had our pre lunch drinks and nibbles.  The bride-to-be had sent some photos of the hotel so I was able to print those out as well.


I wanted the table to have a wedding feel about it and so decorated it accordingly…..


……and of course you have to have a photo of the dessert!


Our guests arrived, sharing with us stories of how they explained to other friends and family members that they were going to a wedding in Jamaica without leaving the UK!

There were a couple of especially happy moments when both myself and my elder son got messages from YS (my husband does not have a mobile phone) which we read out to our guests.

It was 7pm before our guests left, all of us astonished at how the time had flown.

A wonderful day.

Wedding dress box

Congratulations Mr and Mrs Finnegan!











Afternoon entertainment, preparation and performance. 4 hours

It seems fitting that my final act of volunteering as part of my 60th birthday celebrations should be a repeat of one of the first bits of volunteering that I did – an hour’s entertainment for the residents of a retirement home. The first one was in January entitled Afternoon entertainment – residential care home.

This was a revisit to the same home as before so we had a good idea of what to expect.  The method of deciding the programme and rehearsing was the same, so I thought I would talk a little about things that we consider when putting on entertainment in care homes.

The length of time needs to be considered and most residents tire easily, and their attention span can vary greatly.

A mixture of items is important as that can help with attention span as they don’t have to concentrate on the same thing for too long. For this particular afternoon, we had some piano duets, recorder duets, vocal solo, flute solo and some hymns (this is a church home) for all to join in with.

Hymns or songs that have words in a book are so useful as memory of songs we have known since childhood seem to remain in our long term memory, even after all other memory is a problem to access. Also the act of choosing a hymn and then finding the number in a book can be beneficial, even if that needs to be done with help.  I always take this opportunity to engage with the residents on a one to one basis.

When I am performing a song in one of my recitals, audience feedback is really important to me,  I look for clues that my audience is responding to the song and that really enriches my performance.  However, when singing in care homes that kind of engagement may not be visible and so it is necessary to provide that extra energy yourself which can make this type of performance particularly tiring although it is always rewarding.

Another thing that is worth mentioning is that some residents do not actually want you there at all – they can’t watch the TV, or chat with their friends and they will voice those opinions loudly to all.  The staff at the home are always very quick to deal with this type of outburst and offer an alternative activity, but oddly enough the residents do tend to opt to stay on and gradually become less disgruntled.

Generally though, they are very happy to see a different set of faces and always thank us for coming.  The staff are always so grateful to us for giving our time and I always feel privileged that I have an interest that is able to be shared in this way.


Concert preparations part four -3 hours

This is the final part of the Concert Preparations series of posts.  You can find the previous ones here at Concert preparations. Part one – 4 hours, Concert preparations part two – 2 hours and Concert preparations part three. Duets and trios- 3 hours

This post is about the week leading up to the recital and the concert day.  Although this is specifically about this concert, my routine is generally the same for all recitals.

During this time, I arrange to see my accompanist to sing through my solos, and then for this particular concert, the other singers and myself met in the church itself with our accompaniment tracks so we could sing in the space and see what the acoustic is like.  As we are amateur singers, we have to fund the concert ourselves and so we do our best to keep our accompanist fees to a minimum.  When I am performing with other people I use this time to ‘choreograph’ moving from one item to another.  It helps to just walk through where people will be sitting if not performing and where they need to be to perform next.  I believe this attention to detail really helps with the overall look of the performance.

The day before the concert I do my best to ensure that I drink plenty of water so that the day of the concert I am well hydrated.  On the day itself,  I do some gentle vocal exercises and then make a list of things I need to take with me. I may look at words for songs I am singing and check memorising the words, but I generally do not sing through my programme.  I eat lightly during the day and continue to drink water.  I get ready in plenty of time and then head out for the venue, usually 2- 3 hours before the concert start time.

On arrival, there is usually someone there from the venue to let us in. They check that we have all we need and then leave us to our own devices until about an hour before the concert is due to start.

Once our accompanist arrives a quick ‘top and tail’ of songs is done.  The main goal here is to check that the balance of voice and keyboard is right and it is really useful to have someone who can go to different areas of the venue to check this and give feedback.

Then comes the worst bit for all performers – the wait until the concert starts.  We chat, have something light to eat, but really all we really want to do is just get on with it!

Don’t you get nervous?  This is a question I am often asked and the answer, of course, is absolutely!  As you have more experience of performing, you learn that nerves are made up of excitement and anxiety.  Excitement is good and anxiety less so.  I find that if I have prepared thoroughly then the feeling has more excitement about it than anxiety, I am just ready to go out and sing my songs.

There is a lot of peering round doors to see how full the venue is getting and then the start time comes, I/we are introduced and then……we’re on.

When I come to sing my first song I am always relieved when I open my mouth and the first note comes out!  Then I’m off and before I know it the song is over and I settle into the rest of the programme.

In amateur concerts the interval is an opportunity to mingle with the audience, catch up with friends who have come to listen and get a feel for how things are going.  The second half of the programme always has a more relaxed feel about it – partly because the ‘lighter’ items are usually in this half.

All of a sudden I find myself singing the last item, taking my bow and dashing to get changed in order to help with the packing up or reordering of the church/venue.

I usually arrange to have a drink with friends afterwards as the adrenaline aftermath is hard to shake and you need time to come down in order to get to sleep.

The concert at Cadnam Methodist church in aid of the Boaz project raised £260.  The church added to this and £500 was sent off to the charity.




Litter pick no. 8 – 1.5 hours

It was decided fairly early on in the year that September would be our last pick of the year due to the unpredictability of UK weather, especially in the winter months.

There were seven of us involved this time and I was delighted to be joined by two of our local residents, and one of those had joined us before (only the second time we have had a repeat volunteer that was not one of our friends).

It was encouraging to see that the areas we have regularly visited are much improved and it will be interesting to see what things are like when we start up again in March.  At the moment, foliage is still lush and full and it is likely there will be litter hidden amongst that will become visible in early spring.

It was very pleasing and heartening to be greeted and thanked by passers by as we worked.  More people than usual either just thanked us as they went passed or stopped and chatted a little.


The tally of bags at the end of our hour and a half was 13 bags of which 8 were general waste, 4 recycling and 1 full of glass.  Best finds – two pairs of shoes, part of a shopping trolley and a rubber seal of some sort.

So the final amount of bags at the end of 8 sessions of litter picking was a staggering 97.  As has been said before – that is 97 bags that would still be on the streets, looking awful and possibly harming wildlife.

My hearfelt thanks go to all the amazing volunteers who have helped us this year.  We could not have done it without you and hope to see you again in March 2020.




Concert preparations part three. Duets and trios- 3 hours

As we are whisking through August and rapidly heading to September, the preparations/meetings/rehearsals  really start to increase, and  especially with the songs the three of us will sing together – duets and trios. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to talk about the challenges that come with singing a song with other people

The three of us are classically trained (actually all with the same teacher, which is how we met) and we all sing with other choirs and groups.  We are all used to singing in harmony – that is when you are all singing a different line of music that harmonises into one, hopefully, pleasing sound.

Singing in harmony is really hard to do. When you get it right it sounds great, but get it wrong by a slight error in tuning and it can go wrong very quickly, even in a choir when you have a whole section singing the same as you. Coming in at the right place, on the right note, with the right rhythm when others around you are doing something different? Not easy.

Singing one to a part, as you can imagine is even harder.

Both my friends are mezzo sopranos and I am a soprano so I am extremely lucky as I am usually singing the top line, which is quite often the melody of a song I am already familiar with.  However, it is also the line that is quite often heard most clearly so if you make a mistake, it is very obvious.

Then you come to the actual performing of a piece. When you sing a solo it is scary because it is usually just you and your accompanist. However, if you have a good accompanist, they can really cover your mistakes for you. If you come in at the wrong time, they will ‘pleat’ the music and just follow you.  They will bash out notes helpfully to get you back on track if you have gone a bit wayward.  When you are singing with others you obviously cannot just go ‘off piste’ like that – well, you can but that is a pretty good way to bring the whole thing down around your, and everyone else’s ears.

When you sing together you need to be ‘in’ the song together – telling the story and communicating with each other.  You need to sing quieter and louder and not always at the same time.  As with instruments, sometimes you need to be quieter because someone else has a more interesting line.  If you are singing as the same time, you need to come off the note together. You are performing together and so you need to be a cohesive unit and much of our work together is working on that.

Those are the challenges, and there are many, but the rewards?  Here are just a few.

Meeting up and discussing the music and how to present a song.

Laughing at your mistakes, getting the giggles and not being able to sing a note

Rehearsing together with people who have the same goals as you and the same work ethic and attitude to give the best performance you can.

Support and encouragement from people who really are in this with you.

At last but not least, that amazing feeling when everything is right and you look at your fellow singers and you smile with absolute joy because THIS is what it is all about.

This is the third post about preparations for a concert I am singing in with two friends at the end of September.  If you would like to read the other posts, they are logically titled Concert preparations part one and Concert preparations part two.

Litter pick no. 7 – 1.5 hours

August was bound to be a quiet month as people with children of school going age are likely to be either holidaying or having trips out at the weekend.  Added to that is the fact that here in the southern part of the UK, we are having a summer (!) so the weather has generally been hot and on occasion, very humid, and many people like to stay indoors and keep cool.  Because of this my husband and I had expected that we might be the only ones picking this month.  However, two of our most faithful friends and volunteers turned up to help despite the fact that they had to dash off somewhere and had to cut their time short with us.  Thank you – you know who you are!  In addition, we were delighted to be joined by a new volunteer who was enthusiastic and keen, so five volunteers in all.

Our friends who had to leave early we  left picking around the area near our house as they could start picking immediately and make the best use of their time.  The rest of us went picking by the railway bridge and the dual carriageway heading towards the city centre.  We do this area almost every month and I think we are only just keeping on top of it.


13 bags of rubbish in all – 9 general waste, 3 recycling and 1 bag absolutely full of glass bottles. There was also 4 metres of rather thin cable.

Another very satisfying pick, and I thought the five of us did amazingly well to get as much rubbish as we did.

We decided that we would pause the litter pick for the autumn/winter months just because the weather is likely to become even more unpredictable, so September will be our last pick until we start up again in March 2020.

I am always thinking of ways that I can get the message about the litter picking out to the people in our area, and I realise that the Facebook pages are very useful, but if lots of posts come on after mine, the litter pick gets pushed down and many people don’t see it in time.  I would have to post everyday the week before the pick – which I am reluctant to do as I know I get fed up of frequent posts about the same thing – in order to make sure it’s seen by enough people.  Many people are not on Facebook or don’t use it very much so I need to find an additional method of advertising.

I also have events registered with Litteraction and Keep Britain Tidy sites, but we have only had one volunteer through this.

Possible things that come to mind – I have found that our local baptist church actually do  their own litter picking event and have shown an interest in publicising ours, so I will try that.

The other thing we will try is putting an A3 poster outside our house the week before the litter pick and see what interest that generates from people just walking past the house.

Our friends in the other local group have posters printed which advertise the pick so I may see about printing some out and putting them on the community boards at local shops next year.

Here’s a question -how to people feel about leaflet drops? I am so loathe to do this as I just feel it is junk mail and I personally would just recycle it and it would not generate a positive response in me – am I alone in this?  If anyone reading this has any thoughts about this or any other suggestions, I should be pleased to have them.

John and I will pick litter once a month regardless, but I think more people would get involved if they only knew about it.



Jane Scarth House – Romsey Schools Choir Festival – 2 hours

This is the second post about volunteering with Jane Scarth House (JSH).  In my previous post I took part in their street collection in April.

This time I was asked if I would help out with the refreshments at Romsey Abbey where the Romsey Schools’ Choir Festival was taking place.

The concert started at 7pm and I was told to arrive at the Abbey at 6.15.  There I was greeted and made welcome by members of JSH already present.  We had some photographs taken of all the helpers and then I was shown to the refreshments table where I would be stationed.

We would be serving red, white and rose wine, water and fruit juice.  It was extremely hot, so we were anticipating a very busy interval.


Ten choirs took part in the concert and it certainly was impressive.  The standard was so good and the commitment of both the staff and pupils was evident.  I was particularly impressed when one of the choirs sang Shenandoah in parts, unaccompanied and stayed bang on pitch – wow.

As can be imagined, photograph taking had to be very carefully considered at this event, so I contented myself with taking just one picture inside the abbey looking up as I listened to the young voices.


The abbey was pretty much full with both audience and choir members so it was all hands on deck to serve refreshments in the interval.  We managed to deal with the queues efficiently and I could see lots of donations going in the buckets.

The MC – sadly, I could not hear his name from where I was – spoke about the the pride in this particular event and the dedication of staff and pupils.  I think all were saddened to hear that a number of schools that used to take part now have NO music department.  If only the powers that be could have heard what I heard that evening.

The final item was ‘Something inside so strong’ by Labi Siffre, arr. Michael Whiteside, sung by all the choirs together.  This song was inspired by a documentary on South Africa and apartheid and is very special to me so I admit to having a lump in my throat as I listened.

I helped with most of the clearing up but left early as major roadworks and closures were happening that weekend that could affect my journey home.  I left with a smile on my face in amongst a happy atmosphere of excitement and exhilaration, with chattering, skipping children and their very proud families.

The proceeds from this concert were split between JSH and The Romsey Festival of Youth Music and the amount raised for JSH was £462.81.


















Litter pick no. 6 – 1.5 hours

During the week leading up to the litter pick we have been enjoying very fine weather but it was clearly saving itself for the Saturday because boy, was it hot!

The thought of putting on hi-viz vest and gloves was a bit daunting, but off we went, splitting into two teams.

Two  worked on one side of the dual carriageway by Millbrook station and going up toward the city centre and the rest of us worked the other side of the road starting at the railway bridge and working back towards our house.


This is an area we have covered on every litter pick so far.  Either side of the fence is a planted area that seems to be used for fly tipping and drinking judging by the rubbish found there.

Here we found 3 x 1kg bags of rice unopened, a bag of pasta also unopened and another bag of pasta that had split.  We also found untold numbers of glass bottles and cans.

Despite this, there was relatively little litter in this area.  It may be that the plants have grown up and we are just not seeing as much, but I am cautiously encouraged by this as I do feel the amount of litter in the places we are consistently covering is reducing.  Or, at the very least, we are keeping on top of it.

We did a lot of shade hopping as the heat was really fierce and even went into a local park where the trees kept everything lovely and cool.  We were delighted that there was little to no litter there.

We made our way back to the meeting place and picked around our road, which always makes me feel happier.  Still getting flytipping by the substation though…..


This next picture shows a problem that could be easily resolved/avoided…….


……if  companies doing work on the road simply took their stuff away when they finished.

I’ll mention this to the council as well, but I doubt it is their responsibility to dispose of it.

As we dashed in to wash our hands, drink loads and cool off, we tallied up – 3 bags of recycling, 1 bag of glass and 5 bags of general rubbish.  9 bags in all, pretty good all things considered.

Best/odd finds this month – two pairs lace knickers (!) and a pram mobile.

Another great pick with our brilliant volunteers.































Author Talk SeaCity Museum – 2 hours

I have no interest in climbing mountains, enduring hardship or trekking for miles but I do like to hear how others have done it.  The sheer determination and endurance of the people who do such things amaze me, so when I saw that there would be talk given at the SeaCity museum by mountain climber, Adrian Hayes  promoting his book One Man’s Climb, I thought I would volunteer to help set up for the talk and to greet people as they arrived.

The room where the talk would be held is normally the cafe at the museum, so the main thing to do was to remove the tables and rearrange the seating for the talk.  When I arrived, much of this had already been done, but I would need to help put everything back after the talk.  My job was to greet people (seems to be my forte) and show them where the talk was being held.  Unlike the Leonardo Da Vinci day  I volunteered at in May, they were not expecting a huge crowd, so once everyone was in, I could sit and listen to the talk. Bonus!

As Adrian explained about the challenges of climbing K2, the mountain which the book mainly focuses on, I began to understand why over 2,000 people have climbed Everest, but only 381 have climbed K2.   The second highest mountain in the world is located in an extremely remote place – it takes 8 days of trekking to get there, and that is before you even start to climb the mountain itself.  It is also extremely sheer and difficult, and the weather is very unpredictable.  The stats for K2 reflect this with a 22% death rate compared to Everest’s 6.5%.

I was interested to hear how the team go about climbing a mountain and the role the various camps have,  and I was astonished at the photographs.  Adrian kept saying
“there is a bit of flat here where the tents are” and I was thinking “that is still an an angle of nearly 45 degrees”. Snow, wind, ice and rocks, together with sheer sides to climb just had me shaking my head in disbelief.  Oh, and with all that is an elevation of 8,611 metres (28,251 ft), so the altitude sickness is crippling.

At the end of the talk, there was time for questions from the audience and then Adrian signed copies of his book.

All there was left to do was to restore the cafe back to normal, and say goodbye to all the new people I had met and worked with that evening. Another interesting and satisfying volunteering event.