The benefits of volunteering for older volunteers and for the organisations who host them is well-documented. The impact of being obliged to leave volunteering due to age-related conditions, and any challenges that this creates for volunteer managers, are under-researched. This study explored how volunteers and volunteer managers experienced this point in the volunteering lifecycle and whether the topic warranted further research. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with fourteen older people, who were (or had been) volunteers at one of three cultural heritage organisations in the north-east of England alongside seven volunteer managers from those organisations. These represented the diversity of heritage organisations in the region. Volunteers discussed leaving volunteering in terms of loss but also indicated that forms of personal appraisal and agency were possible, ameliorating the impact of leaving. Volunteer managers discussed how organisational frameworks and the relationships they formed with volunteers shaped their practices. These relationships created a sense of organisational reciprocity which led some managers to exceed the rules in order to sustain people in their volunteering. The results suggest that supporting personal agency could ameliorate the impact of leaving volunteering but that organisations would benefit from articulating the extent and the limits of that support.


ageing, wellbeing, volunteering, volunteer management, cultural heritage, semi-structured interviews

Author Bio(s)

Bruce Davenport is a Research Associate in Media, Culture, Heritage in the School of Arts & Cultures, Newcastle University. Before this he worked as an educator in museums and galleries in the North East of England. Bruce has worked on a variety of projects exploring the impact of older people’s engagement with cultural heritage, either as participants in formal activities or as volunteers. He is also interested embodied approaches to exploring how people interact with each other and with museum/gallery objects to create meanings. Please direct correspondence to bruce.davenport@newcastle.ac.uk.

Andrew Newman is Professor of Cultural Gerontology at Newcastle University. His research applies the arts, both in terms of subject and methodologies, to current questions in gerontology. He is also interested in how social and cultural policy is constructed and practice regulated. Andrew’s work responds to the challenges faced by ageing populations in areas such as loneliness, social-economic disadvantage, bereavement, life transitions and negative societal meta-narratives that can affect health. His most recent project explores the engagement of older people with dementia with the arts. Please direct correspondence to andrew.newman@newcastle.ac.uk.

Suzanne Moffatt is a Reader in Social Gerontology in the Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University. She trained as a speech and language therapist before embarking on a post-doctoral research career in 1990. Until 2000, Suzanne worked on environmental epidemiology studies investigating the health of communities living near industry. Since 2000, she has undertaken a number of studies on health, welfare and well-being among older people. Her current interests are in the health and well-being of older people, the impact of changes to the welfare state, tackling health and social inequalities and applying research to policy and practice. Please direct correspondence to suzanne.moffatt@newcastle.ac.uk.


The authors would like to thank the Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal for jointly funding the project. (Since the project ran both institutes have been either closed down or reconfigured.) The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of the 3 partner organisations, their staff and volunteers. Without their willing participation and interest in the topic, the project would not have been possible.

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