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citizens adviceAfter retiring in 2010 at the age of 65, now 77-year-old Ray from Wolverhampton spends his time volunteering as a Witness Service volunteer for national charity, Citizens Advice.

Every day Citizens Advice helps thousands of people across England and Wales solve issues on everything from benefits and debt, to housing and the cost of living.

The charity also supports witnesses giving evidence in criminal trials through the Witness Service.

In his role, Ray supports witnesses appearing in court, offering practical and emotional support to help them feel more confident while giving evidence.

We spoke to Ray about his experience volunteering for Citizens Advice Witness Service, including what led him to become a volunteer, what his role involves, and what he’d say to anyone considering it.

Ray retired at 65 after a long, happy, and successful career

Father-of-two Ray has lived in Wolverhampton his whole life. He enjoyed a long career in the construction industry and started his own company supplying quarry and recycling materials in 1979. Ray retired in 2010 on his 65th birthday.

Looking back fondly on his career, Ray says, “I enjoyed every minute of it, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

Now a great-grandfather, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, as well as socialising with friends. He says, “I’ve got a good circle of friends who I like to catch up with in the evenings at the pub and have general conversations about life.”

Ray is also proud to be part of one of the world’s oldest social and charitable organisations, Freemasons, which he considers his main hobby. Today, Freemasonry offers its 175,000 members the chance to build friendships and make positive contributions to the community.

Ray says, “I’m very proud to have been a Freemason since 1979. Prior to that, I was also a member of Round Table, which is another organisation for men. I like the fellowship, comrade, and opportunity to be charitable that these organisations offer.”

“After losing my wife, I didn’t like the loneliness – I needed something new to get up for in the morning”

“After losing my wife, I didn’t like the loneliness – I needed something new to get up for in the morning”

In May 2022, Ray very sadly lost his wife of 56 years, Georgina. This marked a huge change in his life, and after he began to struggle with loneliness, Ray considered volunteering for Citizens Advice Witness Service.

He says, “A friend of ours has done court volunteering for around 12 years and really enjoys it, so she suggested that it might be something I’d like to consider.

“I looked into it because after losing my wife I didn’t like the loneliness – I needed something new to get up for in the morning and to occupy my time with. I had a look at the opportunities available but decided on volunteering in the courts because I wanted to be involved with people. I’m a people person and I enjoy the company of others.

“The role ticked three boxes for me: being out of the house doing something meaningful; helping Citizens Advice who are always looking for new volunteers; and making a difference in other people’s lives.”

Becoming a volunteer with Citizens Advice Witness Service

Ray applied to be a Witness Service volunteer for Citizens Advice in August 2022 – completing his training and becoming an accredited volunteer just before Christmas.

He says, “The training was definitely a learning curve because it was completely outside of anything I’d done previously, and online learning isn’t something that my generation is particularly used to. But it turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

“Plus, it occupied my time, and the fact that it was something entirely new to me was invigorating. When you get older, your brain becomes the most important muscle in your body, and you need to keep it active.”

Ray currently volunteers between two and three days a week at the Wolverhampton courts.

The role of a Citizens Advice Witness Service volunteer is to support witnesses (including victims) and their friends and family when they come to court.

This includes providing practical information about the court process, as well as emotional support to help witnesses feel more confident when giving evidence. Support from the Witness Service is free, confidential, impartial, and independent from the statutory services that make up the criminal justice system.

Explaining what a day in his role looks like, Ray says, “I get up around 7:15am and arrive at court for 9 o’clock. There’s usually myself and another volunteer working at one time and we’ll start by looking at the schedule prepared by our team leader.

“This gives us an idea of how many witnesses we’ll be looking after that day and allows us to decide who’ll be taking each case. We then liaise with the Crown Prosecution Service and the ushers, and then the day starts.

“Because no two cases are the same, every day is different. We get young people to elderly people coming in, from all different backgrounds and cultures. It’s a really good cross-section of the community and I like that – I’ve met a lot of interesting people.”

“Our role is to make what can be a very nerve-racking and stressful experience into something less scary”

Ray says, “The first thing we do is offer to make the person appearing as a witness a hot drink and allow them to get settled. Very often, when people come to court for the first time, the only knowledge they have of it is from television programmes. So we talk to them about how the day will go, what the procedures look like, and give space for any questions.

“Our role is to make what can be a very harrowing, nerve-racking, and stressful experience into something less scary – to put them at ease, reassure, and support them. While we can’t advise them, we’re there as moral support during the time that they’re giving evidence.”

In some cases, witnesses can request a pre-trial visit, where a Witness Service volunteer like Ray gives them a tour of an empty court; explaining who sits where and the order that things go, to allow them a better understanding of what to expect on the day.

Ray says, “The difference that we see in people between being very nervous during their first visit at court to being confident in what they’re doing when they come back to give evidence is very gratifying.”

Witness Service volunteers can also be tasked with looking after vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

Ray says, “It can be challenging sometimes. For example, we occasionally get young people who have been sexually assaulted or abused in some way. This can be distressing, because you naturally worry about people like that.

“But we make it as comfortable as we can for them in our suite of offices. We have football tables and other things that they can play with, just to help take the stress off of them while they’re waiting.”

“You have to be a good listener – if you don’t listen, you don’t learn”

Having come from an entirely different career background, when asked what skills he thought were most important in his role as a Witness Service volunteer, Ray explained that a lot of it comes down to having good people skills and life experience.

He says, “You have to have sincerity and empathy towards others, and you have to be a good listener – if you don’t listen, you don’t learn.

“I find helping others through a difficult time really rewarding, and life experience in a role like this is also so valuable. It’s these life skills, as opposed to business skills, that I’ve found to be the most beneficial.

“Volunteering for Citizens Advice is an extremely worthwhile, gratifying experience. You don’t get paid financially, but you do get rewarded in a different way – through fulfillment. So, if you’re considering it I’d just say go for it, you won’t regret it.”

Ray says that he intends to volunteer for Citizens Advice Witness Service for as long as possible; explaining, “As long as I can keep going physically and mentally, I would hope to continue for as long as I can.”

If you’re interested in doing something like Ray, check out our article; Why volunteer for Citizens Advice? You can also find out more about volunteering with the Witness Service on the Citizens Advice website, or browse other available voluntary roles on our website.

Are you feeling inspired by Ray’s story? Or do you have a story of your own that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.