Volunteering as a way to forge connections, stay active and fulfil passions in retirement January 2023


Sue Lawrence

Story by Janine Duncan, Volunteering Northland

A desire to build like-minded community connections and further pursue interests has led Sue Lawrence to engage with many volunteering opportunities since moving to Whangarei four years ago.

Born in Wellington and educated in Palmerston North, Sue describes herself as someone who has always kept busy within both her personal and professional Life. A very full career as a child psychotherapist and later as a clinical psychologist has seen her employed within New Zealand (Tairawhiti and Waikato District Health Boards,) and Australia (Queensland Health and the University of Queensland.) She has also travelled and worked extensively throughout Britain, Canada and parts of New Zealand training educators to deliver a parenting programme.

Being very community minded, Sue moved to Whangarei upon retirement with her partner to become involved with a co-housing development project. Although the project didn’t go ahead as planned, she decided to settle in Whangarei and saw volunteering as way of staying active and building social connections.

Through a Volunteering Northland community stall, she became aware of the large number of opportunities available and perused their available vacancies for endeavours enabling her to pursue her passion for gardening, the outdoors, environmentalism and sustainability. As a result, her volunteering journey began with potting plants for wetlands at the Whitebait Conservation Plant Nursery (part of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust), participating in DOC planting days and attending F.O.R.C.E. (Love Whangarei Community Clean Up) events. Sue loves the social side of these endeavours, engaging with like-minded people and spending time in the outdoors which she considers important for mental wellbeing.

The community connections she has forged since moving to Whangarei enabled her to expand the Whangarei Crop Swap and Share programme to include an inner city swap, four months ago. This project fulfills her passion for gardening and sustainability and to date, she has held four or five events. Sue advertises these on Facebook and anyone within the community can attend and swap surplus plants, seedlings or produce on a non-monetary or pay it forward system. Eventually she would like to join others to establish a further community garden.

Sue’s community ethos has also extended to joining the Tai Tokerau Timebank. Time banking is a system whereby members offer services, time and skills in exchange for time credits to be utilised in the future. Although she fulfilled the role of Co-ordinator for three months, Sue now contributes though her involvement with F.O.R.C.E. and by renting out a sleep out on her property for members requiring accommodation in Whangarei.

Apart from her passion for outdoor pursuits, Sue enjoys working with and helping people and has recently commenced training to be a volunteer visitor host at the Hundertwasser Art Centre.
Additionally, she volunteers at the Citizens Advice Bureau three or four times a month and enjoys the camaraderie with the other staff. This position also enables her to utilise her problem solving
and computer skills to assist those who face multiple challenges or have no other means of seeking advice.
Sue has a real zest for life, and when not volunteering, she enjoys walking, cycling, gardening, travelling in her campervan and practices yoga daily.

For those who are retired and interested in volunteering, Sue recommends visiting Volunteering Northland or their website to find opportunities of interest. She emphasises the importance of choosing activities that provide personal fulfillment and views volunteering as way to connect with people and form friendships.
Sue’s journey is an example of how volunteering can lead to community connections, a sense of personal reward and as a means to staying active and busy, all contributing to a very full and meaningful life in retirement.