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Embrace the Age of Opportunity

By Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing 1 April 2014

Lynne Berry OBE is chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing, deputy-chair of the new Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways), a non-executive director of Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust and a senior fellow at Cass Business School, City University. 

Lynne has held chief executive posts at The Royal Voluntary Service (formerly WRVS), the General Social Care Council, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Family Welfare Association, and was also the Executive Director of the Charity Commission. She has served on many Government bodies including the Office of Civil Society Advisory Board and several Better Regulation Task forces.


This is an age of opportunity for the voluntary sector. That may see a bold claim for a sector that is concerned about increased demand, reduced funding and threats to its independence—but the opportunity comes from our ageing society. Never before has there been so much social capital, so many assets—both tangible and intangible—tied up in the life experiences of a generation that benefited from extended school leaving age, the expansion of higher education, and the extraordinary medical and scientific discoveries that underpin everything from the NHS to world travel to the revolution in communications and media.

Our ageing society has the potential to lead the voluntary sector into a viable future. Building bridges between generations and communities, bringing the imperative of acting both locally and globally to its analysis of social, environmental and economic problems. The voluntary sector can inspire and deliver a more integrated, aware and committed sense of social obligations and mutuality.

On the other hand, if the voluntary sector doesn’t embrace this opportunity, it could contribute to the divisive analysis that sees ageing as a burden, and that views its own future as limited and constrained by pressures and problems. The voluntary sector could be fearful that the young will be so bowed down by the burdens of older people’s welfare that the flames of inter-generational strife will be fanned. It might fear that donors, trustees and volunteers will fail to step forward in a world where the market rules supreme and where the voluntary sector has become irrelevant. And it may have only itself to blame for failing to adapt to the changing needs of people, whatever their age.

I believe the voluntary sector should be in the business of hope and aspiration. We have the ability to inspire and deliver a future that embraces the individual and collective assets of all our citizens to create a thriving sector that will make the next 20 years and beyond an age of opportunity for all. The Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing takes as its basic premise that this is an age of opportunity and that, if we can grasp the potential, we can invest the skills and resources available to us to create a thriving, relevant and creative place for the voluntary sector and civil society.

We want to work with the sector to create this future and have today launched our Age of Opportunity paper to get these discussions going. Download it and use the deliberately provocative future scenarios to talk to people in your organisations, your community, your sector. And then let us know what you are doing so we can learn from the innovative thinking and examples of good practice already out there. We all want England to be a great place to live in, to grow up in and to grow old in—let us act now to secure that brighter future.

Follow the discussions and share your views on twitter using the #AgeOpportunity hashtag.