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About A Week: Making A Difference

Peter Hinchliffe writes with pride of the growing band of British pensioners who are not asking for more, but asking if they can contribute more.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words I want to hear them spoken by Robert Donald.

I enrolled in a Huddersfield University of the Third Age art appreciation class. Robert is the tutor. In a matter of weeks he inspired me to look at pictures in a different way.

He’s witty, challenging, full of information. His words are illuminated by slides of astonishing paintings. This is learning as entertainment. Rather, it is learning which enables us to be more profoundly entertained.

How much did this 20-week journey into the world of Renaissance art cost me? £10. An embarrassingly modest 50p a lesson.

And how much was Robert paid for enthusiastically sharing his knowledge of great art?

Nothing. Nowt. Nix.

Like all U3A tutors he is an unpaid volunteer. Of course Robert is a pensioner. You know, pensioners? That growing band of grey-heads who are slowly losing command of their grey matter?

They cower indoors day-long watching television, venturing to the Post Office once a week to collect the State handout, don’t they?

Bah! Humbug!

Some of the liveliest folk you are likely to meet are pensioners. And a surprisingly high number of older folk are putting something back into the community with no thought of reward other than the pleasure of being useful.

Census statistics reveal that one in five of the population of Britain is over 60. There are 1,100,000 people over 85. For the first time in our history there are more folk aged over 60 than there are youngsters under 16.

A pity that the census did not establish how many of the over-60s are vigorously involved in voluntary work.

Many over-60s would happily carry on working, full-time or part-time. And some enlightened employers encourage them to do so. Lord Deedes, in a recent radio discussion of the significance of the Census statistics, said the country was wasting a lot of ability by ignoring the potential in the over-60s.

“We are not asking for more,’’ he said. “We are asking if we can contribute more.’’

Bill Deedes, one of my journalistic heroes, is fortunate in having an enlightened employer. He still writes lively and highly readable columns for a national newspaper. He is now in his nineties.

The majority of over-60s eager to go on contributing are not as fortunate as Bill. One day we may be mature enough as a country to realise that we all lose out if the over-65s are automatically and officially stuffed into the rejects cupboard.

Until then many thousands of retired folk willingly do unpaid work, deriving great satisfaction from doing so.

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