Since the 1950s, thousands of volunteers have passed through the doors at Abbeyfield.
Richard Carr-Gomm, OBE was Abbeyfield’s founder and first volunteer. A Major in the armed forces, Carr-Gomm resigned from his military career in order to work unpaid as a home help for older people. Noticing that many of those whom he helped were lonely, he used his army gratuity to purchase a house in Bermondsey, London, in 1955, where he invited older people from the neighbourhood to live together.
Carr-Gomm’s new model of communal retirement living grew in popularity and a further four houses quickly followed, leading to the establishment of The Abbeyfield Society as a registered charity. His mission was to help relieve loneliness, which he did by attracting volunteers to help. Today, thousands of Abbeyfield volunteers continue to assist in every area from trusteeships to cooking, befriending and gardening, forming the lifeblood of every Abbeyfield.
This passion for volunteering is one of the enduring principles King Charles chose to support as Abbeyfield’s patron.
Having met Carr-Gomm on a number of occasions, His Majesty saw Abbeyfield as a unique force for good, not just for older people but also by championing good practice in volunteering. The Royal Patron’s Awards that he endorsed as Prince of Wales are given annually to staff and volunteers who have made an outstanding contribution to the organisation.
When hosting Abbeyfield’s 60th Anniversary at St James’ Palace in 2016, he said, “In 1955 Richard Carr-Gomm put into motion an idea that would change the lives of people for the better by creating a secure and safe home of support to lonely and vulnerable people. His work is an inspiration to us all.”
King Charles’ continued support for localised volunteering is evident throughout the Coronation weekend, culminating in The Big Help Out on Monday 8th May, a national initiative encouraging people to take up volunteering opportunities in their local community, including Abbeyfield houses and homes.
The Big Help Out is also a day for recognising people who already give their time, which Abbeyfield also regularly does. For example, an event was recently held at Abbeyfield Holloway House sheltered housing scheme in Quorn, Leicestershire, in honour of Mrs Kate Hutchinson. An Abbeyfield volunteer of 40 years, Kate goes to great lengths to promote Abbeyfield in the local community, and her willingness to get involved in countless activities and initiatives to improve the residents’ wellbeing has helped to make the house what it is today.
Holloway House Sheltered Housing Manager, Tricia Hopcroft, said, “Holloway House has is a wonderful place, largely because of Kate’s support for many decades. She is a true gem and many residents, staff and visitors have been lucky to have had the opportunity to know her.”
Abbeyfield’s values continue to inspire people to lend their support, and volunteering presents a unique opportunity for them to give their time to enhance the quality of life of older people in their local communities. As such, volunteering at Abbeyfield benefits the volunteers just as much as the residents. As Kate put it, “Abbeyfield really is like one big family.”