About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

'Gap year style' volunteering for the over 50s - what can we learn?

What will you do when you retire? Spend more time with the grandchildren, take up a new hobby or perhaps go on the month long holiday you've always promised yourself. All of that sounds very nice in the early part of retirement but what happens to all the life skills you've developed, the work experience you've gained over half a lifetime?  Does it all just become irrelevant?

What if there were opportunities to have a positive impact on another person’s life and use the skills and experience you've developed over the years’ in a short but intensive timeframe?

Would you consider helping out in an A&E dept for 6 months, or support someone with mental health needs 3 days a week, or perhaps help a child develop a love of reading during a school term.

What impact might that have on you as well as the person you’re helping?  Will it have a positive impact on the school or hospital you’re spending time in?  And if so could that impact be amplified to help create better public services for all of us?

Together with the Office for Civil Society, we have funded five organisations who will test just that - new intensive volunteering opportunities for people aged 50 and above, working alongside public services.  We’re interested in understanding how an intensive volunteering - gap year-style - model might work for people aged 50 and above.  

Does it help to enable more volunteers to contribute to causes they care about and still fit in with their existing commitments and do the individuals supported benefit more from an intensive approach?  Do both the patients (and staff) in the A&E department feel more supported and reassured because you’re with them throughout the entire process?   Can you still collect the grandchildren from school on a Wednesday and help a teacher to develop a child’s love of reading on a Thursday?

We will be sharing the learning from these new intensive initiatives as they develop and publish the models for success so that others can replicate.  The five funded organisations are:


The national children’s literacy charity will recruit volunteers to deliver four times a week intensive support to children who are behind with their reading and develop a new volunteer Mentor scheme for newly trained reading helpers.

Genesis Housing Association

The London-based housing association will recruit and train 100 volunteer Wellbeing Mentors to give three days a week over four months in support of 100 people living on the association’s housing estates with moderate to medium mental health needs.

King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust​

Volunteers giving 15 hours a week for six months will support A&E staff from the first point of contact until the patient is discharged and where appropriate accompany and follow-up with patients in their home

North Tyneside VODA

The Voluntary Organisation’s Development Agency will recruit 120 volunteers to undertake an intensive three-month programme of volunteering. Working in teams of 12-15, volunteers will design, plan and deliver a series of community projects.

Volunteering Matters

The national volunteering charity will enable volunteers to support disabled young people aged 16–24 in transition from education and who are ineligible for continuing health/social care support. Volunteers will give two days a week over three months.

Image: Genesis Housing Association


Deborah Fox

Deborah Fox

Deborah Fox

Director of Creative Innovation

Deborah leads Nesta's Arts practice.

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