A lifetime of volunteering

Published: 12/03/21 | Categories: Author: Margaret Thorne CBE DL

Updated: 08/04/2021*

WCVA Vice President Margaret Thorne CBE DL has spent most of her adult life in the service of Wales’ voluntary sector – and recently turned 98 years old. We ask her about her memories from a lifetime of volunteering. 

WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF VOLUNTEERING? 

I don’t suppose I really looked on it as volunteering at the time, but my first memory is from when I was still at school. Next door to us was a housing estate that was put up after the war, and I went with my father collecting money for milk for babies – children who’d been deprived of milk due to the Spanish Civil War, as part of the Milk for Spain campaign.

My first real experience of volunteering consciously was with the Red Cross. We’d moved to Neath from Colchester for my husband’s work. It was a completely new area for me, but luckily picking up my son from nursery school I became friendly with one of the Red Cross fundraisers.

We raised enough money to start a new centre, and before I knew it I was in charge of the centre and the many activities that were organised. Then of course I went on to help set up the Neath Port Talbot Council for Voluntary Service and the rest is history.

It’s very different these days – the volunteering process is much more formal and requires much more commitment, and also the focus has shifted to getting contracts and bids rather than on local fundraising. But where would I be without the contacts and friendships I developed through volunteering? 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO SOMEONE WHO IS THINKING OF VOLUNTEERING BUT NOT SURE WHERE TO START?

Start slowly, I wouldn’t go into it full pelt…read up and find out about the organisation before you get your foot in the door. Then perhaps go unofficially to some meeting or other to get a feel for the place.

And remember, if you don’t think it’ll make you happy you shouldn’t be doing it – follow your happiness, play your part to the best of your ability.

WHAT IS YOUR BEST MEMORY OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE DONE WITH A CHARITY? 

Having the freedom of the borough at the same time as Michael Sheen was a real highlight of my volunteering experience. Volunteering didn’t earn me any money, but I did earn a great deal of fulfilment and recognition and I’m pleased to have made a difference.

I also feel really proud of what I achieved with the Red Cross – when I see them on the news trying to help with disasters overseas and closer to home, I still feel that little swell of pride to have contributed!

Occasionally when I was volunteering, shaking buckets and the like, sometimes people would come up to me say to me things like, ‘my brother would have died as a prisoner in the war without the red cross packs’. I got a lot of personal fulfilment from that. 

WHAT DOES BEING VICE PRESIDENT OF WCVA MEAN TO YOU? 

Gratitude – that they’ve not lost touch with me, that they’ve overlooked the fact that I’m quite unable to go far, have kept me in the fold even though I’m unable to attend many meetings. I’ve known Ruth Marks, the CEO, for a long time and am very grateful that she still keeps in touch. Overall, I feel so fortunate to have ended up in this little corner of Wales.

I hope that the feeling of community that has been generated through these horrible times we’re going through will never go away. Those of us in the sector, what we look for is a more settled community and a community that matters and looks after each other. And I think WCVA is a large part of that.

START YOUR VOLUNTEERING JOURNEY

If Margaret’s story has inspired you to volunteer for the first time why not take a look at our I want to volunteer page.


*this article was amended on 8 April 2021 to correct Mrs Thorne’s title from OBE to CBE DL