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Scoping Study of Older People in Rural Scotland




7.1 Upon retirement people are released from the structure and constraints paid work places upon life. Leisure time is increased, with those who have left the labour market being at liberty to spend their time as they wish. West et al (1996, p255) describe leisure activities as being " all activities practised at a person's discretion once they are liberated from professional, social and family constraints".

7.2 An ability to participate in leisure and social activities is believed to be an important contributing factor to overall quality of life (McCormick et al, 1996). The organisation of and participation in a wide range of social and community activities comprises an area where older people can make a significant contribution to the vitality of their local community. The ability to make full use of the personal freedom life in retirement offers is dependant on a number of factors, including financial status, health status and personal mobility. Other constraints include family commitments, notably the constraints associated with being a carer, and the location of home and the places where leisure activities are sited. The young-old in particular tend to be able to make full use of their leisure time, but the constraints of money, health and personal mobility in an individual or their spouse can conspire to reduce elderly people's ability to play a full role in social and leisure activities in later life. Maintaining existing inter-personal relationships, and developing new personal relationships are also important in older life. Social activities can provide opportunities to meet new partners as well as providing opportunities to maintain and expand a circle of friends and acquaintances.

7.3 This chapter will consider a number of issues associated with older people in rural Scotland maintaining social and community lives. It includes a range of examples drawn from across rural Scotland of how older people get 'out and about', considers the potential of life-long learning to older age groups, describes how older people are active in community activities, including community safety programmes, and examines the role of older people as volunteers and as people who can give something back to the community they live in. Given the large number of social activities older people take part in across rural Scotland, be they specifically for older people or open to all age groups, this chapter can only give a very limited flavour of the ways in which older people can spend their time.

Getting out and about

7.4 Regular social contact is an important element of quality of life for older people. Social life indicators were introduced to the Scottish Household Survey in January 2000, and include questions asking whether the respondent visited relatives, or went out with friends in the fortnight preceding their interview. As may be seen in Table 7.1 most people of all ages have some form of social interaction on a regular basis.

Table 7.1 Social life indicators

Age band

Met with friends or relatives

Spoke to relatives on the phone

Spoke to neighbours

None of these


under 55















75 and over






under 55















75 and over





Available observations: 14553
Source: Scottish Household Survey

7.5 Most older people, those aged 65 and over, had met with friends or relatives in the fortnight preceding the survey. This included visiting them, going out with them, or being visited by them. For both rural and non-rural areas the proportion meeting with friends declined with each successive age band. The same is broadly true for speaking to friends or relatives on the phone. For each of the age bands, those living in rural areas were more likely to have spoken to friends or relatives in the past fortnight indicating that the phone is a very important means of maintaining social contact in rural areas. Some people reported that they had none of the forms of contact mentioned. For both rural and non-rural dwellers the incidence of this increased over the age bands but the absolute numbers were very small.

7.6 The Scottish Household Survey also recorded information about the amenities respondents have visited in the month prior to the survey being completed. Results demonstrate that the number of visits to amenities including public parks, museums and art galleries and sport and leisure facilities decrease with age (see Table 7.2). With the exception of public libraries, the proportion of each age band visiting each of the amenities is less for each successive age group for both rural and non-rural areas. Among the older three age bands, the more popular amenities to visit are the public library and public parks and open spaces.

Table 7.2 Amenities visited within the last month

Age band

Amenity visited

Public library

Public parks and open spaces

Museums and art galleries

Swimming pools

Sports and leisure centres


under 55


















75 and over







under 55


















75 and over






Available observations: 28333
Source: Scottish Household Survey

Social activities

7.7 Getting out and about, and maintaining social contact, is an important activity for all people, but is particularly important for older people who often live relatively isolated lives. Many activities that older people participate in are not exclusively aimed at older members of the community; they are activities enjoyed by people of all ages. For example, many older people are members of golf, curling and bowling clubs, gardening clubs, musical groups and amateur dramatics. They enrol for evening classes and attend special interest lectures and outings. Many women in rural Scotland, including older women, are members of the Women's Guild and the Scottish Women's Rural Institute. Many men follow sporting activities, for example many are members of football supporters clubs, ranging from the 'Tartan Army' (supporters of the Scottish national football team) to their local junior team. Other activities, including a plethora of lunch clubs, social meetings, Christmas events and summer outings are organised by national and local groups specifically for older people. Such groups view their ability to promote social interaction and counteract loneliness and isolation as particularly important. Many such groups operate on shoestring budgets but provide a service whose importance belies the financial outlay. Hundreds of lunch clubs and senior citizens' clubs, for example, meet regularly across the length and breadth of mainland Scotland and in the Western and Northern Isles.

Shetland Branch of the Scottish Old Age Pensioners Association

The Shetland Branch of the Scottish Pensioners Association meet on the last Thursday of every month (except July, August, September and December). The meetings are social occasions with music, slide shows, speakers and raffles. Annual events include a summer outing, a cabaret in September and a Christmas party

7.8 An interesting feature of the Shetland Branch of the Scottish Old Age Pensioners Association is that their membership is open to anyone over the age of eighteen. This encourages intergenerational contact and the exchange of ideas and opinions between young and old. It is also a group whose members can draw upon the resources and support of a national organisation, particularly useful if the group wishes to campaign on social and economic issues.

7.9 Most senior citizen's groups / organisations are local in origin. Some owe their existence to the efforts of a single person. The Senior Citizen's Club in Mey, Caithness is a case in point. In 1973 there was very little in the way of social activity for older people, especially women, in the area in and around the village of Mey. The new owners of the Berriedale Arms decided to give a Christmas meal to the elderly in the area and volunteers provided transport. From this a committee was formed and a Senior Citizen's Club established. Monthly meetings were held, with entertainment and teas provided. Although the hotel has had a number of owners since then, the club is still running (with 50 members at present). The members come from small villages scattered around Mey and they are transported to meetings either by volunteers from the committee or a welfare bus. The committee has 11 members, and although most are middle aged there are a couple of quite young members helping to provide this activity.

7.10 Some pensioner groups in the more remote parts of Scotland can have small memberships but, nevertheless, they fulfil an important social function. An example, also from Caithness, is 'The Wednesday Club'.

'The Wednesday Club', Caithness

The Wednesday Club has about 20 members of pensionable age and they meet fortnightly in the village of Mey. The Club tries to get older people out for meetings, coach trips, dinners etc. At meetings various speakers attend, slide shows and craft demonstrations are given and quizzes etc. are completed. To facilitate this they hold raffles and bingos at meetings and run a bottle stall at the local fair to raise money for activities. Fundraising also helps finance the mini-bus they hire to convey some members who do not have transport to meetings.

7.11 Many activities for older people have an explicitly social function. Getting people out of the house to an event where they will be entertained and meet other people helps ensure that older people do not become isolated. An example is the Banchory Senior Citizens Group.

Banchory Senior Citizens Group

The group has 99 members, who each pay a 3 membership fee per annum. There are monthly meetings in September, October, November, February, March, April and May at which an entertainment, often a musical concert, is provided. The group also have a Christmas Lunch and organise an outing in June. Most members live in Banchory, but about a fifth come from nearby Drumoak and Durris. Members living in Banchory can be picked up by bus and taken to the meetings.

Funding voluntary social activities for older people

7.12 Events such as those organised by the Banchory Senior Citizens Group give older people a night out, something that many would not have otherwise. Financing such activities can be difficult. In the Banchory case, although membership subscriptions are paid, these do not cover the cost of hiring the venue used by the group (1.50 per head per meeting). Costs are also incurred by the provision of a bus that takes members to meetings. It costs 40 per evening and those who use the service pay 50p for their return journey. Providing transport is considered to be very important as it promotes inclusion, encouraging members who do not have their own transport or who feel they cannot afford a taxi to attend events. As the group does not receive any grant income it relies upon fund raising events to support activities. A small charge is made for tea at meetings and regular raffles are held. Members of the group also participate in the '100 club'. A fundraising coffee morning is held every year and the group takes tables at the combined charities sale in Banchory in November.

7.13 Balancing the books is a problem faced by many voluntary groups. Small groups may not have ready access to the expertise that would help them prepare grant applications to organisations such as the National Lottery and instead rely upon local fundraising activities and the small grants available from public sources such as Common Good funds. Rural communities tend to support fund-raising activities in higher numbers than would be likely in urban areas suggesting that an altruistic concern for local activities runs deep amongst the rural population.

Social activities for older people in the Nordic countries.

7.14 Social activities similar to those mentioned above are to be found across the Nordic countries. For example, Senior Citizen's Centres, Eldresenter, are to be found across Norway and they act as meeting and information places for pensioners. Their details are available from municipal health and social services offices. Their activities include exercise groups, choirs, handicrafts and bridge groups. Counselling and guidance services are also available at the centres. However, Norwegian municipalities are not required by law to provide centres for the elderly and Norwegian People's Aid ( http://www.folkhjelp.no/English/about_npa/annual_report/omsorg.htm) have expressed concern that senior citizen' centres are easy prey when budgetary cuts have to be made. Monetary concerns are thus not confined to the activities of voluntary organisations who provide social activities for older people in Scotland.

Loneliness and isolation

7.15 There are 150,000 people aged 75 and over who live alone in Scotland. A sizeable number may experience loneliness and feel isolated from their community for a number of reasons. Mullins et al (1996) identify two types of isolation in the elderly. Social isolation occurs when an elderly individual has few friends and acquaintances with whom they can interact. Emotional isolation results from the loss of or lack of intimate ties, and is commonly experienced when a spouse dies and when family do not live in close proximity.

7.16 In a study of older Americans, Mullins et al (1996) found that loneliness was greatest amongst men, those with no children, those with no friends (a problem that increases with age when one's contemporaries die before you) and those with a limiting physical disability. Older people who considered themselves to be in poor health and who considered their economic position to be inadequate were also more likely to be lonely: their health and/or lack of disposable income limited their activities.

7.17 In rural areas, community 'visibility' tends to be greater than it is in urban areas. Whilst some people dislike the lack of anonymity living in a small rural community brings, the advantages for older people, particularly those living in villages and small towns, are that they are known by other members of the community. The support network of an elderly person may contain family members, friends (a relationship based on choice and shared interests) and neighbours (often a relationship based on proximity alone). They vary according to " availability and proximity of family and the level of involvement with family, friends, neighbours and community" (Wenger, 1990 p375). Studies in the United States and in the United Kingdom have found that, on average, elderly people have between 5 and 7 people in their support networks. However, a comparison of urban and rural support networks in Liverpool and rural North Wales found that, as a result of Liverpool having a more stable elderly population, more older people there had support network types able to provide a high level of informal care and support (Wenger, 1995). It must not, therefore, be assumed that older people living in rural areas are less likely to experience loneliness and isolation because of the common perception that rural communities have maintained the social ties thought lost in urban society.

7.18 The WRVS-Scottish Borders Dark Horse Project, part funded by the Scottish Executive under the Active Communities Unit, is an example of a project where old and young members of the community work together to tackle social exclusion and isolation.

WRVS - Scottish Borders Dark Horse Project

The project is designed to activate 'Dark Horses', encouraging isolated, housebound elderly people out of their homes to become involved in community activities. The project is unique in that it links elderly and young members of the community: the interests of elderly people are assessed and they are linked with a young person. This enables the elderly to contribute towards young people's projects and 'give something back' to their community. The interests of individual elderly people are developed along with their confidence and they are slowly introduced to activities that assist others. Elderly people are the volunteers, and they encourage social inclusion by helping others.

7.19 Many projects listed in the getting out and about section of this chapter do much to counteract loneliness and isolation. In addition to these, a range of friendship groups and befriending activities are active across Scotland in an attempt to ensure that elderly people in particular have social contact on a regular basis. Age Concern in Badenoch and Strathspey are proposing to establish a Visiting Scheme. They hope to be able to organise volunteers who will regularly call on an isolated and lonely older person for a cup of tea and a chat, or perhaps to help with activities such as walking the dog and helping with correspondence. Contact the Elderly in Scotland is a UK-wide, voluntary organisation which offers friendship and a monthly outing to lonely, elderly people. There are now over 40 groups running in Scotland, of which 10 are in the Highlands. Other rural communities, including Arran, West Stirlingshire and the Benderloch area in Argyll have local groups. Members are usually aged 70 or more, living alone and are often unable to get out on their own and they are taken to and from the home of volunteer hosts by volunteer drivers. Providing transport is a crucial component of the activities of Contact and similar groups. Similar befriending activities are run in Scandinavia. For example, in Norway many municipalities contain an organisation which finds telephone friends for elderly and disabled persons living at home. This service, Telefonknotackt is free. The Red Cross in Norway is involved with the provision of visitor services and visiting friends, services that aim to counteract the loneliness and isolation felt by older people. The Besokstjeneste/besoksvenner service can arrange regular social visits to the home of an elderly person or to retirement or nursing homes.

Supporting the cultural life of rural communities

7.20 Older people, particularly those who have lived most of their lives in a specific rural area, are an important resource when it comes to ensuring local traditions are upheld. They are also an important source of local historical knowledge and have an important role to play in ensuring that the vocabulary of rural life, an important part of Scotland's rural heritage, is passed on to younger generations,

7.21 The minority languages of Scotland, Gaelic, Doric, Lallans and the Norse-influenced dialects of the Northern Isles, are still widely spoken in rural Scotland. Within the lifetimes of the over 50s, standard English was rarely spoken in everyday communication in many parts of Scotland. The linguistic knowledge of the older generation can be exploited to ensure that minority languages, their vocabulary and their cultural significance to Scottish rural life is retained. Minority languages can play an important role in local history and reminiscence activities. People often tell their stories in the language of their earlier years, using a vocabulary lost to many in younger age groups.

7.22 Many people are interested in the past, and like to find out about the history of the area in which they live. Local History Societies, Family History Societies and Reminiscence groups may be found across Scotland, and the memories and expertise of older people are often crucial to the activities of these groups. Many groups prepare publications about their local areas, a tangible contribution often made by older people to the community at large.

Prestonpans Local History Society

The Prestonpans Local History Society started in 1986 and presently has a membership of 45. 75% of this number are over 60 years and 50% of those are over 75 years. 5 of the 7 office bearers are of retirement age. The society could not exist without older members. The group meets once a month to hear a talk about a local subject. A booklet of stories about Prestonpans and its people was produced as a Millennium project and the publication was a great success.

7.23 Reminiscence by elderly members of the community is also a theme of the Glencairn Gazette, published twice a year in Moniaivie in Dumfriesshire. Residents of Moniaivie and the surrounding area provide material for inclusion in the publication, recalling 'days gone by'. A Reminiscence Group is currently under development in the Borders under the auspices of the WRVS. It will allow the elderly to trace their history and look into their family origins. Elderly people act as volunteers, assisting people young and old to trace their family history.

7.24 Many older people are actively involved in the arts across rural Scotland, including for example amateur dramatics, choral societies and various instrumental groups. In Islay the 'Islay Visual Arts Project' is a group of mostly older local painters who have an annual exhibition and an on-going exhibition in the Bowmore Distillery. Such groups promote arts and culture, often with a local theme and as well as involving older people as participants, they provide social opportunities for other older people (as well as other age groups) in the form of public exhibitions, performances and concerts.

Community safety

7.25 Although not crime free, rural areas are less likely to be the scene of violent crimes than urban areas. However, older members of the community are the most likely to express a fear of crime and those living in rural communities are no exception to this trend. In south-west Scotland the benefits of engaging the elderly in addressing crime has been recognised by both the Police and the Stewartry Community Safety Forum who have involved older members of the community as partners in crime prevention. Schemes such as Neighbourhood Watch and the Phonebox Guardian Scheme rely heavily upon the support of older members of the community who tend to be better placed to maintain a 'watching brief' of their respective areas. These schemes provide an opportunity to reassure members of the public that their community is actually safer than they perceive.

7.26 Petty crimes, such as housebreaking, are common in villages and small towns, often associated with young people stealing to feed a drugs habit. In south-west Scotland, Stewartry Community Safety Forum ran an innovative initiative whereby energy efficiency and crime prevention were addressed in tandem.

Stewartry Community Safety Forum: Low Energy Light Bulb Scheme

Experience has shown that housebreakers target properties which appear empty. An indication of this is a lack of lighting during the early evening throughout the winter months. It is also well known that those on a limited income, especially the elderly, are conscious of the cost of electricity and as such are reluctant to direct funds when an obvious benefit is not apparent.

Organised with support from Scottish Power under the auspices of an energy efficiency project, this initiative involved the Stewartry Community Safety Forum providing free low energy light bulbs to pensioners throughout the Stewartry. The light bulbs were distributed to pensioner groups at meetings where the benefits of lighting properties to deter criminal attack were outlined, the low costs of using the energy efficient light bulbs were demonstrated and further crime prevention advice was provided.

An additional hoped for benefit of the scheme, given that low energy light bulbs have a life expectancy of approximately 10,000 hours, was to prevent injuries such as broken hips regularly sustained by elderly people changing 'cheap' light bulbs which require replacement on a regular basis.

Lifelong learning

7.27 As promoted in the Green and White Papers on lifelong learning (DfEE 1998, 1999), the opportunities provided by advances in information technology should be harnessed in order for British society to exploit the knowledge-based economy. Lifelong learning may be seen as being an element of New Labour's intention to modernise economic, social and political life (Edwards and Nicol, 2001). However, lifelong learning is not simply about IT-based education and training for the workplace. It is an activity that anyone can be involved in, regardless of age. For older people, lifelong learning may see people registering with the Open University and completing a degree, attending evening classes to learn conversational Spanish to help them on their next foreign holiday, or attending an introductory computing session to enable them to learn how to email their grandchildren or how to search the internet.

Educational opportunities for older people

7.28 The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a Europe-wide venture. Groups across the United Kingdom are members of the Third Age Trust ( http://www.u3a.org.uk). Its main purpose is to encourage lifelong learning for those no longer in full time gainful employment. The U3A in the UK started with the creation of the 'Third Age Trust' in 1982. There are currently 498 groups with a total membership of 121,852. The groups work on the principle that Third Agers themselves have the skills to organise and teach in their own autonomous learning groups. Learning is for pleasure, no qualifications are required to participate in U3A activities, and no qualifications are given. A relatively new U3A group is the East Berwickshire U3A.

East Berwickshire U3A

East Berwickshire U3A began in September 2000. It is run by a committee, funded by membership fees (7.50 this year). It is cheap because groups have leaders or co-ordinators who give their services voluntarily. In the last 2 years, 31 different interest / activity groups have run, including, for example, badminton, environmental issues, philosophy, theatre visits and play-reading and country dancing. Interest / activity meetings run alongside general open meetings where speakers have spoken on topics as diverse as the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Borders Elder Council, gardening and health.

7.29 U3A groups in other European countries are often associated with institutions of Higher Education. The benefit of this is that they can call upon the resources of the institutions and, in turn, U3A members can co-operate with academic gerontological research and interact with younger students. In Finland, for example, the U3A is associated with nine institutes of higher education and about 6000 older people are involved in U3A activities. Some U3A programmes are arranged jointly with local summer universities of local open colleges. Programmes are also arranged in towns within the catchment area of the Higher Education Institutions, enabling U3A activities to be delivered in smaller population centres which are accessible by members of the older rural population.

The University of the Third Age of Jyvaskyla

The University of the Third Age of Jyvaskyla serves eight towns and involves about 2500 older people, two-thirds of whom are women. The main programmes are: a lecture series, seminars, publishing, student's programmes, study tours, projects, research and international networking (see http://www.cec.jyu.fi/u3A/ikisen/toiminta.htm).

7.30 In Norway, one of the largest organisers of adult education Folkenuniversitetet runs courses for pensioners. These activities are designed for those who have finished their professional careers and want to become involved with leisure activities or learning. The popularity of these courses has increased considerably in recent years. The Norwegian Penjonistuniversitet also promotes lifelong learning amongst older people, and provides a forum for elderly people to exchange knowledge and develop social contacts ( http://www.fu.no/english.htm).

Information technology and life-long learning

7.31 Information Technology is not just for the young. A recent readers survey conducted by Computer Active magazine found that, on average, the over 50s used their home computers for more than 21 hours a week and were particularly likely to use their computer to access the internet and email. Internet access is also available from local libraries and from many community resource centres and 'one-stop' shops. Age Resource, a project run by Age Concern, developed the first Internet chat café (the baby boomer bistro - http://www.bbb.org.uk) aimed specifically at older people. People can log on to chat and obtain information about forthcoming events. The chat café also acts as a forum for themed sessions involving professionals, politicians and policy makers.

7.32 In rural areas the opportunities associated with IT are diverse. Email offers a cheap and quick way of maintaining contact with friends and relatives, in particular grandchildren and other young people. The internet contains many resources for older people, ranging from advice on pensions and benefits, on-line supermarket shopping and holiday planning information. As the proportion of computer literate individuals in the retired population increases, access to IT-based lifelong learning is likely to see rising demand.

7.33 As the proportion of older people who have left the labour market and thus, potentially, have free time, grows it is likely that demand for a wide range of lifelong learning activities will grow.


7.34 Many of the programmes and initiatives described in this and preceding chapters rely upon the input of volunteers of all ages. The role of volunteers in health and social care activities has become increasingly important since the introduction of the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act. As noted by Wardell et al (2000, p228) " Underpinning the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act was an extended role not only for organisations which use volunteers but for the volunteers themselves, and increasing responsibility for direct service provision with vulnerable and frail adults, for example people with dementia". Many voluntary groups rely upon older volunteers. Indeed some schemes run by the British Red Cross and the WRVS actively recruit their volunteers from older members of the community. In addition to the voluntary activities associated with charitable groups, churches, political organisations etc., there are huge numbers of volunteers acting as carers of friends and relatives. Without these volunteers community care would not work.

7.35 The Scottish Household Survey recorded details of voluntary activity, providing details of the proportion of people who had given up time for charity or local groups in the previous 12 months and details of how much time those who volunteered gave to activities every month. Information about the type of organisation people gave their time to and what types of activity their volunteering entailed was also collected. Results are presented in Tables 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and 7.5. The wording of the questions about volunteering changed between the 1999 and 2000 surveys therefore results for 2000 alone are presented in Table 7.2.

Table 7.2: Volunteering

Age Band

Proportion who had given up time for charity / local groups in the past 12 months


under 55






75 and over



under 55






75 and over


Available observations: 14508
Source: Scottish Household Survey

7.36 People of all age groups living in rural areas are far more likely than their non-rural counterparts to have given up their time for charitable or local groups. A total of 41.1% of under 55s in rural areas had volunteered compared with only 26.3% in non-rural areas. There is negligible variation in the proportion of those resident in small towns and rural areas who participate in voluntary activities.

7.37 The likelihood of an individual volunteering their time decreases with age. Whilst 30.3% of those aged 65-74 in rural areas had volunteered their time, the proportion had dropped to 16.8% for the over 75 age group. The smallest rural / non-rural difference in volunteering rates was between the oldest age group. Also of note is that approximately a third of respondents who were volunteers gave time to more than one organisation and that women are more likely to volunteer their time than men (see http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library3/society/oprs-00.asp).

7.38 Information about the amount of time people spend on volunteering activities was asked in the random adult Scottish Household Survey questionnaire in January 2000. Findings are recorded in Table 7.3. Respondents who indicated that they had volunteered in the past 12 months were asked how many hours in total they had volunteered in the past four weeks and the average weekly hours volunteered are calculated from these responses. For Scotland as a whole, 72% of those who volunteer give up at least three hours a week to help a variety of different organisations. The average weekly hours volunteered are presented for rural and non-rural areas of Scotland by age band in Table 7.3.

Table 7.3 Average weekly hours volunteered

Age band

Average weekly hours volunteered


under 55






75 and over



under 55






75 and over


Available observations: 2669
Source: Scottish Household Survey

7.39 Although the over 75s are the least likely age group in rural Scotland to volunteer, when they do they give the most time per week. For the three younger age groups, the under 55s, 55-64s and 65-74s, more time is donated by those living in non-rural areas than those living in rural areas (although note, as recorded in Table 7.2. that overall volunteering rates in non-rural areas were the lowest).

7.40 Details about the type of organisation people gave their time to shows that volunteers across Scotland give their time to a wide variety of voluntary activities. Selected details are presented in Table 7.4. Working with one organisation does not preclude also working for another.

Table 7.4 Organisations receiving volunteers

Rural areas
Non-rural areas


under 55



75 and over

Church / religious activities









Working with older people









Working in the area of health e.g. hospices









Working with people with disabilities









Arts and culture









Residents / tenants groups or organisations









Activities of organisations working with young people









Political party









Available observations: 3805
Source: Scottish Household Survey

7.41 The most common type of voluntary activity undertaken by older people in rural Scotland are those associated with the church or other religious activities. Almost a third of all rural volunteers over the age of 65 give up time to church based activities, although this proportion is not as high as the proportion in that age group in non-rural areas. Where the voluntary activity involves working with older people, a larger proportion of the rural under 55s than the non-rural under 55s participate. The same is true for the over 75 age band. With the exception of those aged 75 and over living in non-rural areas, the proportion volunteering with such organisations increases with each age band. This suggests that older people are likely to volunteer their time to organisations that will assist other older people. The over 75s are the most likely age group to volunteer in activities that involve working with older people, to be active in residents or tenants groups and to volunteer their time for a political party. The 65-74 age group, in contrast, are most commonly involved in activities that involve working with older people, giving time to organisations related to health and to volunteer their time to activities in arts and culture.

7.42 Table 7.5 presents details of the types of activity volunteers are involved in. Fundraising and providing some kind of service to an organisation are the most common types of voluntary activity in rural and non-rural areas.

Table 7.5 Voluntary activity

Age band


Provide some kind of service

Management committee

Help with campaigning

Help with administration


under 55


















75 and over







under 55


















75 and over






Available observations: 3805
Source: Scottish Household Survey

7.43 With the exception of those over 75 and living in rural areas, the proportion who participate in fundraising activities declines with each successive age band. Overall, rural volunteers are more likely to be involved in fundraising than their non-rural counterparts. This confirms the general assumption that fundraising activities, particularly for local groups, are well supported in rural areas. Older rural volunteers (those aged 65 and over) are considerably more likely than those of the same age group in non-rural areas to serve on a management committee, help with campaigning and help with administration.

7.44 The overall picture of older volunteers in rural areas is that, on average, they give the most time to voluntary activities, many give their time to groups working with older people and they are likely to be actively involved in the running of voluntary organisations. Their direct involvement with voluntary activities appears to be greater than that of the same age groups in non-rural areas.

7.45 A voluntary activity that may not have been captured in the data presented above is that of older people providing care to other family members, be it a spouse, adult child, or grandchildren (see Chapter Six for a discussion of the informal care given by older people to a spouse or elderly relative). As more women with children have become economically active in recent decades, the need for day-care, after-school and school holiday care has grown. Grandparents often provide such care and this can be an important source of inter-generational contact. However, not all grandparents are willing and/or able to provide childcare. The provision of child care by grandparents should be viewed as part of a wider suite of childcare that includes nursery place, after-school clubs, holiday activities and baby sitting groups.

Why do older people volunteer?

7.46 Wardell et al (2000) suggest that, historically, older age groups have provided relatively few volunteers, but that in recent years more older people have given time to voluntary activities. Findings from the Scottish Household Survey indicate that, in rural areas at least, a large number of the over 65s are volunteers and given the 'self-help' culture in rural areas it is likely that this pattern is not new. Barlow and Hainsworth, in a study of the motivation of older volunteers as they embarked on training to become lay leaders of an arthritis self-management programme, found that " volunteerism was motivated by three key needs: to fill the vocational void left by retirement, to feel a useful member of society by helping others and to find a peer group" (2001, p203). Volunteering was found to have its costs, including time, responsibility and invasion of social life. However, the positive effects of volunteering among older people tend to outweigh the disadvantages. Those who volunteer can improve their quality of life and redefine their role in the community.

Older people helping other older people

7.47 As indicated in Table 7.4, 23.4% of the over 75s in rural Scotland who volunteer give their time to activities that involve working with older people. Dark Horse, an initiative run by the WRVS in the Scottish Borders and Thrive, a national charity that helps the disabled and the elderly undertake gardening projects, have worked together to include active elderly people as volunteers to assist on projects for others, often the elderly, who are not active or disabled.

An elderly blind lady was assisted with her garden through Dark Horse and Thrive. She couldn't tend her own garden due to her disability. The garden was made more appropriate for a blind lady, with an emphasis on raised beds and fragrant plants. She is now busy recording articles for the Talking Newspaper on gardening for the blind. She now feels as though she is giving something back and it has restored her dignity, interests and made her feel useful again. (WRVS, Dark Horses Project manager)

The benefit of this project is that those who have been assisted are in turn encouraged to become volunteers and help others.

7.48 Also in the Borders, the WRVS is coordinating an assessment of disabled facilities in Borders towns. Elderly volunteers are listing the facilities available and are noting where facilities are lacking. Encouraging older people to undertake such surveys may well result in different obstacles being identified than would be the case if a young, active person conducted the survey.

Older people and political activism

7.49 Another important facet of volunteering amongst the older population is their involvement in 'political' activities. As indicated in Table 7.4, people living in rural areas are more likely than urban dwellers to give their time to political parties, with the over 75s being the most likely of all age groups to give up time in this way. The rise of 'grey power' is well documented as being an influential lobby in the North American political scene where politicians are conscious of the need to listen to, and address the concerns of, older members of the community. Politicians in the UK will have to acknowledge older peoples' issues as they are increasing in numbers and more likely to vote than younger people.

7.50 National organisations, such as Help the Aged and Age Concern are well known for their political activities, lobbying on policy issues of concern to older people. Local branches of these and other organisations are also politically active. For example, the Shetland Branch of the Scottish Old Age Pensioners Association have campaigned on older peoples' issues such as the Christmas bonus and free TV licences for the elderly. Elderly Forums, local groups affiliated to the Confederation of Scottish Elderly Forums highlight both national and more local concerns of older members of the community. For example, the Dumfries and Galloway Elderly Forum has a membership of c900, and focuses on lobbying on national and local issues, including pensions, transport, and charging policies.

Do we rely upon volunteers too much?

7.51 As noted in Chapter Six, the role of volunteers in health and social care services has extended markedly in the past decade. These volunteers play a very important role supporting older people and organising activities that contribute to the maintenance of a good quality of life. However, are we running the risk of relying upon volunteers too much?

7.52 Wardell et al (2000) observed that the financial difficulties experienced by many voluntary organisations can limit the support, including training and reimbursement of expenses, they are able to offer volunteers. Can the Government's aim of encouraging more volunteers from under-represented groups, including people in low incomes, be realised if organisations are unable to meet their expenses? Volunteer-fatigue has been identified as a problem in rural areas (Philip and Shucksmith, 2000), with some organisations experiencing difficulties in generating sufficient numbers of volunteers to meet the demand they receive for their services. Some Social Work Departments in rural areas have difficulties recruiting paid Home Care Workers because of the amount of travelling involved in rural caring jobs. If paid staff are difficult to recruit, how can voluntary organisations contracted by local government to provide home-care services be expected to provide voluntary services on a long-term basis?

7.53 It is likely that the social / special interest activities reliant upon volunteer activity will continue to thrive across rural Scotland. However, as the elderly population increases in number the voluntary sector cannot be relied upon to deliver services that are required to meet statutory obligations.

Rural communities supporting older residents

7.54 The small population inherently associated with rural life usually means that older people are known within the community, informally 'looked out for' and supported by their neighbours. Findings from the Scottish Household Survey (Scottish Household Survey Bulletin 6) indicate that more adults in small towns and rural areas feel involved in their local community than do adults in urban areas of Scotland. Adults living in the more remote areas of Scotland are the most likely to feel involved in their local community, 47% in very remote rural areas compared with 24% in accessible small towns.

7.55 The important role played by friends and neighbours in providing information support has been noted on many occasions in this report but no research investigating how older people are supported by their rural community has been completed. Research on such a topic is, however, underway in Finland. A project entitled The village community as a resource for the aged in the sparsely populated areas of Lapland examines how the sparsely populated village communities in Lapland support the lives of the aged and how the resources and activities within the village can be developed to support the aged population (see http://www.uta.fi/laitokset/tsph/itu/english.htm). The research has investigated who gives and receives help, reciprocal relationships and inter-generational interaction. It has also supported activity days, with reminiscence, cooking and singing programmes in one of the study villages. The activity days have promoted intergenerational interaction and provided older people with a break from their everyday life. Similar research in Scotland would be beneficial to developing an understanding of the social networks and reciprocal relationships that link older people with younger members of the community.


7.56 With more free time, higher levels of personal mobility than previous generations, secure financial circumstances and good health, many older people can expect to enjoy the freedom retirement brings until well into their eighth decade. As is evident from this chapter, many older people across rural Scotland are involved in a wide range of social, recreational, learning and other community activities. Some are organised locally by local groups, some are associated with national organisations. Some are organised with older people in mind, others are activities open to all members of the community regardless of age. It is therefore inappropriate to assume that the activities older people are involved with are solely those aimed directly at their particular age group. Cross generational involvement in a wide range of social activities is to be encouraged because it is an important means of promoting the social inclusion of older members of the community.

7.57 Evidence from the Scottish Household Survey demonstrates that most older people lead active lives and have regular social contact with friends, relatives and neighbours. However, a minority of older people experience loneliness and isolation, and it is these people who particularly benefit from the range of activities that aim to get older people 'out and about'. In this sense, the rural elderly are no different to the urban elderly.

7.58 The importance of the voluntary sector and volunteers themselves is clear, both from the information presented in the section about volunteers in this chapter and in the case vignettes provided to describe a variety of projects and initiatives throughout this report. Without the many and varied activities of the voluntary sector the lives of older people in rural Scotland would be less rich and fulfilling. There is no reason to suppose that the voluntary endeavour that supports social and community activities in rural Scotland will cease. However, care must be taken to ensure that what is commonly perceived to be the rural way of doing things - where communities will take the initiative and organise activities and services themselves, should continue indefinitely. With more women active in the labour market and volunteer-fatigue, the public sector should not assume that it will always be able to rely upon the voluntary sector to deliver services, including social activities, for older people in rural areas.

Key Issue 1

7.59 Many voluntary groups whose activities support social activities for older people operate on very small budgets. Some are lucky enough to be sponsored by local businesses or receive low rates or discounts for the hire costs of the meeting venue. However, many are not so lucky and have to rely on regular fundraising to cover their costs. There is a perception that small, local organisations are discriminated against when it comes to making funding applications to bodies such as the National Lottery because their membership lack the necessary skills, contacts and expertise to complete application forms and other documentation. An investigation of the financial situation of the many voluntary organisations whose activities are beneficial to the lives of older people in rural Scotland would identify the extent of funding difficulties and suggests possible means by which such difficulties could be overcome.

Key Issue 2

7.60 The WRVS Scottish Borders Dark Horse Project is particularly innovative in that it seeks to use intergenerational cooperation as a mechanism for promoting social inclusion whilst encouraging volunteering at the same time. There is scope for encouraging similar schemes to develop in other locations.

Key Issue 3

7.61 Older people in rural areas are as likely as their urban counterparts to express a fear of crime. Older people, due to the fact that they are not away at work during the day, are in a position to become actively involved in a variety of neighbourhood watch and community safety initiatives. The importance of older people to such activities could be promoted more as direct involvement in crime prevention schemes can help to reduce the perceived fear of crime and allow older people to feel that they are making a positive contribution to their community.

Key Issue 4

7.62 Information technology is likely to become an increasingly important means by which a range of goods and services are delivered. Older people will not be able to reap the benefits of technological advances unless they can receive instruction in how to use, for example, email and internet shopping facilities and have access to skills updating opportunities. Any literature advertising IT skills training could explicitly target older members of the community.