Over thirty years of volunteering and still giving

Trude Silman's speech on her life volunteering, given at the Lord Mayor's thank you event for volunteers on 27 May.

Trude Silman MSP

This is the full speech given by Trude Silman at the Lord Mayor's thank you event for volunteers on 27 May:


Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress:


Thank you for this special event to acknowledge our  volunteering. This is greatly appreciated by the volunteers and personally I thank you for my invitation. We volunteer because it means a lot to us. I was always told “to give and not to count the cost” and that “giving is a reward in itself”. Every volunteer has a different experience and I have been asked to tell you about mine.


My story starts before the war. In March 1939 Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and my parents were trying desperately to get their three children to safety. With the help of the Jewish Refugee Committee in London my parents were fortunate in finding a family in Wallsend on Tyne who offered me a home in the safety of England and where I arrived in April 1939, alone as a nine year old child refugee. During the war I lived in seven counties, from Northumbria to Cornwall, staying with different families, in boarding schools, hostels and digs. Throughout this period in my life I was at the receiving end of help and support given by many volunteers looking after my welfare.


On 1 September 1939 I became an evacuee and saw volunteers in action. This was a group of ladies from the WVS, who met us evacuees at Rickmansworth station and then walked with the children along allocated streets to find homes for them with families who would take them in. I was lucky as wherever I was given shelter I experienced the “Kindness of Strangers”, had a good education, coming to Leeds University in 1947, marrying a Yorkshireman, having two daughters and settling happily here in Leeds.


Another thing that made a great impression on me was when someone said to me that I should not forget that as I had received help and support that I should give something back.   Throughout my working life I have done as much voluntary work as time would allow.  My voluntary activities at what is now LMU, where I worked for 27 years, were, for example: the secretary of the Staff Association, the secretary of the Overseas Students Association, a Staff Governor for several years and more.  On retirement I increased my volunteering and after my husband’s death filled my life with volunteering. 


So what does volunteering mean to me? It gives me the chance to give back something that volunteers did for me in my youth and most importantly it gives me a purpose in life and prevents me being lonely. I have become involved with what is happening in the community, meet interesting people, made many friends, learned some skills and hopefully been of help to my “fellow men”.


What have I contributed? I contribute my time and skills hopefully for the betterment of other peoples’ lives. My main reason for volunteering is to see the provision and delivery of fair and good quality services to all who need them especially the vulnerable and old. I am a member of many organisations such as Silver Links (which tries to help older people decide whether to leave their home and go into sheltered accommodation or a care home), Leeds Involving People and the Leeds Tenants Federation,  but only a few where I am fully involved such as Leeds Older People’s Forum and the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association where I serve on the management teams.  The issues that interest me the most are health, housing, older people, care homes and intergenerational matters. I like to think that in the many years since my retirement my volunteering may have helped to produce some useful outcomes. 


How does volunteering help to make Leeds a better place? In these times of greatly reduced funding, lack of staff and increased poverty the volunteers help to lessen the impact of the cuts by providing some services that are no longer provided by the state or council.  More volunteers are needed as the state and council provide less and less and the number of people needing help is growing.


In conclusion, I have one large regret and that is that bringing in improvements often either take too long or even may not happen. Old and ill people have no time to wait as things get worse and so become more difficult to remedy. I understand fully the effect of lack of funds and staff, but my sympathy is with the people who are left to suffer, especially the elderly, whose end of life care may lack both dignity and appropriate care. Adequate funding for good quality and dignified care is essential. Volunteers can and do help but they cannot do it alone. We all hope for better days to come.