The community charity Gatehouse put on a surprise 80th birthday party, but not for one of the elderly people it helps.
Instead it was long term volunteer Jo Gooch whose birthday was being marked by other volunteers, staff and members of the charity’s dementia group at its Dettingen Way, Bury St Edmunds, headquarters.
Jo has no intention of ‘retiring’ from volunteering. In fact, she advises other pensioners to take it up.
She first got involved with Gatehouse 28 years ago, soon after Sister Helena began it at St Louis Convent (now the school) in St Andrew’s Street South, Bury.
It began with selling things to raise money and grew to occupy the convent gatehouse, hence the name.
Jo said: “I started as a driver bringing old people on a Friday and it mushroomed.
“We had about six or seven moves until we got Lottery funding and moved to where we are now.
“We had premises offered for free, then they needed it so we had to move.
“When they started doing furniture, I thought I would like to do that – I like sorting stuff.”
But six years ago, Jo had to take a break from volunteering after needing two hip replacements in a year, which meant she could no longer manage shifting furniture.
“I started to volunteer for the dementia group,” she said, “That’s wonderful work. They’re such wonderful peopl, they’re like a second family to me.
“They’re great people and the staff are wonderful.”
Some of the people she helps are younger than her but she feels that helps.
“They can sit down and talk and when they talk about the old days, I remember those days, too,” Jo said. “I can talk to them and jog their memories.
“I think I’m very lucky to be as old as I am and as well as I am. I’m blessed that I can still drive and get about.”
She says volunteering also helps her. She added: “I couldn’t be indoors on my own – I would go mad! I always have to be doing something.
“I was in the nursing profession in the early days, so keeping busy is in the blood.
“If you’re retired, you don’t have to stop.
“Volunteering opens up a whole new world to you. It’s not all happy – you have bad days – but you do get a lot of pleasure from helping people and we could do with more volunteers at Gatehouse.”