Building new communities – with love

You can help local people by volunteering or with a gift in your will. Jo Knowsley explains how.

What do you want from your later years? How do you want to be remembered? What legacy are you planning to leave behind? There are some appealing options for new things to do in your senior years and for thinking about what you would like to leave behind.

The Royal Voluntary Service (, for example, has 20,000 volunteers who offer company and practical support to thousands of older people. Perhaps you’d like to become one of them? Or, by remembering the service in your will, you could help to create communities where everyone has company and everyone is valued.

Or you might choose to help people with mental illness to navigate the health system, to ensure they receive support and the best care. Rethink Mental Illness ( helps to stop people with mental illness from falling through the gaps in the system, preventing them from attempting to go it alone.

Organisations like these often rely on gifts in wills to fund their services.The Charities Aid Foundation (, which has been around for 98 years (though initially under a different name) says the cost-of-living crisis is having a negative effect on charitable giving. Nearly five million people chose not to make a one-off charitable donation last year. But there are other options for ways to show our love.

There’s the ‘giving circle’ option, where a group of people collaborate either formally or informally to donate their money or time to a cause in which they’re interested. By doing this you can increase your engagement with a charity or a project and engage with your local community.

You’ll also make yourself feel good. The knowledge that you’re helping others is hugely empowering and can make you feel happier and more fulfilled. Research has proven a link between making a donation to charity and increased activity in the area of the brain that registers pleasure – it really is better to give than to receive!

If you choose to leave a legacy there are three main types you can choose. A residuary legacy is a specified percentage of your estate; a pecuniary legacy is a specific amount of money, and a specific legacy refers to an item of value, such as jewellery or property, that can be sold by the charity to raise money.

At the Stroke Association (, for example, a young doctor’s receptionist called Sylvia was so deeply affected by the patients she saw that she left her own legacy to the association when she died. Today Sylvia is something of a mascot for the association, not just because of her generous donation but for the inspiration she has given others.

‘We’ve invested £55 million in stroke research since 1992,’ a spokesman says. ‘A third of our annual income comes from gifts left in wills. It’s terribly important to us.’

Like most charities the Stroke Association never asks people to become legacy supporters. ‘We want them to consider their loved ones first,’ the spokesman says. ‘But we do offer a will writing service and can also help advise people and their solicitors on the best way to make a legacy.’

In more recent times a young woman called Amber Garland followed Sylvia’s example. She plans to leave a legacy to the association because of the help and support it has provided to her after she had multiple strokes at the age of 19.

‘By attending my local support group I was able to improve my speech and rebuild my confidence,’ she says. ‘That was in part thanks to all the people who had left gifts in their wills, which allows the association to support people like me and carry on with its vital research work.’