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Volunteering with Over The Wall

03 December 2019

Joanne Morris, Head of Volunteering at the children’s charity Over The Wall, explains how volunteering at the charity’s residential camps for children with serious illness, has deeply enriched the lives of many…

A volunteer teaches a child archery

A volunteering generation

There’s no doubt about it, without the generosity and dedication of volunteers, charities all over the world would struggle to fulfil their mission. In England alone, a quarter of the population (26%) participate in formal volunteering at least once a month - and those over the age of 50 make up a vast amount of that number.

As well as being considered an opportunity to ‘do good’, volunteering is also increasingly seen as an activity that is beneficial for the individual. In fact, it has recently been proven that it can have a very positive physical impact. Scientific research has shown that it can even lower blood pressure as well as improve general health and happiness. There have even been studies that have revealed that regular volunteering can reduce early mortality rates by up to 22%.

In recent years, our charity has actively sought volunteers over 50, not just because this age group may be inclined to have more spare time, but also, because we have learnt that people over 50 make fantastic volunteers. Whilst we encourage people of all age groups to volunteer, we are increasingly looking for people over 50 to join us as we feel that our camps need a diverse range of people, and a variation of age groups and skill sets.  

People in a higher age bracket tend to have the life skills, knowledge and talent that we need at our camps. Parenthood, grand-parenthood, or life itself gives people the experience that many of the younger volunteers may not have and a range of volunteer ages also gives our campers the rich and balanced experience they need.

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Who we are…

Over The Wall is a small but national charity that offers free residential camps to children with serious illness across the UK. The charity also provides camps for the siblings of children who suffer from illnesses and camps for their whole families. To do so, we need to fill over 700 volunteer places every year.   

The camps we provide aim to enable children to reach beyond the perceived limitations of their illness and rediscover a whole new world of possibilities, helping to build their confidence, self-esteem and social skills. Our aim is to provide the children who lose parts of their childhood to illness, with the opportunity to reclaim it at camp, through activities, challenges and above all- by having fun.

Our charity was founded 20 years ago by the late Hollywood legend and Oscar winning actor, Paul Newman, (who many people will remember for his performances as The Sundance Kid or Cool Hand Luke). Back in 1999, Newman decided to bring the camps he created for children in the US to the UK along with the help of the Scottish businessman Joe Woods.

Newman created these camps for the children whose lives were impacted by illness to- ‘raise a little hell’ - as he always said. The first camp he launched catered for 25 children but after two decades, the need and demand for the camps has grown. Next year, Over The Wall will cater for a record number of 1,200 campers, meaning an unprecedented number of volunteers are now needed.

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Becoming a volunteer

Our volunteers, or ‘Team Mates’, are vital in supporting children throughout their time with Over The Wall, and without them, camp would not happen. Team Mates generally help to build one-to-one relationships, as well as encourage and empower campers as they complete activities such as games, music, drama, climbing, arts and crafts and archery. At camp, Team Mates are allocated to a group and will spend their time with their team of campers and other volunteers, helping to ensure the children have an amazing experience. 

We also encourage volunteers with a specific passion or skills in areas like music, drama, games, sports and arts and crafts, as there are always opportunities to help lead a specific activity, which often works well with those over 50. Whether its helping campers unleash their creativity and artistic flair, planning a fun session of games, or leading discovery activities including things like ‘Spy School Training’ and ‘Rocket Launching’! In addition, we offer ‘Free Choice Sessions’ and ‘Special Activities’ which allow volunteers to lead in their area of choice.

Those with a passion for photography can take part in a Camp Recorder role where keen amateur photographers capture the achievements of all our campers, so that they have permanent memories of their experience.

All volunteers receive full training and are supported in their role; medical training and knowledge is not a requirement as we have a team of clinical volunteers (doctors, nurses and paramedics etc), who support the medical needs of campers.

To create more opportunities for those over the age of 50, we have also recently introduced a daytime volunteer role - so that it is not necessary for volunteers to stay overnight. The beauty of volunteering for our charity, is that our volunteers benefit from camp almost as much as the campers and the following case study from a retired volunteer demonstrates exactly this.

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Meet Over The Wall volunteer, Mike Miller, 65

“Camp made me feel young again!”

Since retiring, 65-year-old paediatrician Mike Miller has volunteered at many of Over The Wall’s camps.

“I remember asking one of the Over The Wall nurses, ‘am I too old to volunteer?’- to which she replied, ‘of course not - providing you are relatively fit, can interact with children and you enjoy having fun, you’ll love it’”.  

“And of course, I did. There is a great deal of positive energy at camp - and you have a constant feeling that you are doing something so valuable, which is why I find myself volunteering more and more each year.”

“Volunteering with Over The Wall also works very well with retired life. For example, I have volunteered for other charities in the past, and often they require long term commitments, and so you find yourself signing up for regular days, but with Over The Wall it’s a short burst of time, so you volunteer for just a few days then camp ends.” 

Being at camp as an older person 

“Being an older volunteer actually works very well for me. I feel I’m able to bring my life experiences to this role, and it’s also important the children have contact with people from various backgrounds,” says Mike.  

“Also, at camp, everyone looks after each other which is what makes it so special. So, if my knees start creaking, people are sympathetic. If there are certain activities that are more physical than others, there are always other options. For example, there may be campers that have mobility or strength issues and therefore they’re unable to participate in the more physical activities. These children need to be supported too. The volunteers must mirror the campers’ needs; by doing so, it is easy to fit in. I often help with art and crafts – which I’m hopeless at! However, I once built a clay Stonehenge model with a camper, which we were both very proud of. It’s all about getting stuck in and not worrying too much.”  

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Experiencing the magic 

“For me, camp is about feeling young again,” says Mike. “It allows you to see the world through new eyes, which really is quite something. Everyone looks after each other- and because of that, anything becomes possible.” 

“I always remember being in Sainsbury’s on a dreary Monday morning, straight after volunteering at camp. It was all very quiet and gloomy. I had this huge urge to start singing Over The Wall camp songs to cheer everyone up! I wanted to make everyone smile by bringing the camp spirit to everyone around me - but I didn’t quite have the courage!”  

“I volunteer at camp because it feels like anything’s possible. You lose your inhibitions and feel young again. Seeing children with serious illnesses overcome their health challenges and have fun is a very inspiring thing to witness. Seeing how they cope and actually helping them to be as independent as they can be - that feels like a gift.” 

If you are interested in finding out more about Over The Wall camp, and the volunteering opportunities in 2020 - go to  or you can call on 02392 477 110 or email

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.