The perfect path: From high-flying consultant to Pilgrims’ volunteer

Volunteering with Pilgrims is a far cry from a jet-setting career in a global consultancy, but when John Mabberley retired from the corporate world in 2017, it was a natural next step.


“Working with people to help them achieve more through a greater belief in themselves has always been a passion,” explains John.

“My career began in a privately-owned bank and over time I realised that helping rich people to make more money wasn’t a great motivation. It was then that I discovered I had a talent for developing people, and it was something I enjoyed.”

John rose through the ranks to become head of human resources, a position that gave him the chance to establish a culture of learning and development in the bank. It was the perfect grounding for his next career move…

“I had an exit plan with the bank and when that moment came I met up with a former associate – a failed actor. He’d been to drama school and had lots of skills, a blossoming training business, a great client list but there was only him.”

Not long after, John was helping him to grow the business and flying around the world to help executives improve their presentation and communication skills.

“I worked with people who needed to explain, and sell their ideas to others but struggled,” explains John. “They were technically brilliant at what they did day-to-day, but when it came to communicating their brilliance to more senior people or clients it was very difficult for them. Those skills are vital if you want get your idea off the ground or get funding.

“I loved what I did. When I retired in 2017 I found myself asking; “what am I going to do now? I can’t play golf and garden every day!’”

John had known of Pilgrims Hospices for many years, but it wasn’t until he listened to a presentation from a Pilgrims Ambassador that he spotted an opportunity.

“My wife was the lady captain of the local golf club and Pilgrims was their charity of the year. A lovely person came to accept the cheque and did a thank you presentation to us all. What a remarkable organisation!”

It was then the light bulb went off. “It was a good presentation, but I knew it could be even better. I instantly thought ‘what a great opportunity this is!’”

John got in touch with Pilgrims’ volunteer manager Jeff Southon and struck up a conversation. A few weeks later, he was talking to Pilgrims’ CEO Cate Russell. After discussing some initial ideas, he was on his way to planning a pilot training programme to deliver to some of Pilgrims’ senior managers. This then developed into some 1:1 coaching, as well as a programme for clinical staff and fundraising ambassadors.

“Fortunately people understood and appreciated what I was giving them. One of my current tasks is working with senior staff who are the patient advocate at multi-disciplinary meetings. It’s about helping them to find their voice, and helping them to understand how they can ensure that what they say has the impact they want.”

John says he is surprised how quickly his training ideas have taken off and he’s looking forward to what the future brings.

“I am humbled by what the staff do and feel quite a responsibility in providing what help I can. Most people at my time of life want less responsibility, but I’m getting something out of it too. Even though I’ve reached the end of my employable life it gives me a value and a purpose.

“The thought of having empty, blank days frightens me. All the time I feel I can make a difference, I’ll keep going for as long as I can. It’s good to know that other people feel they can benefit from what I do. It’s especially good to make a difference to those who make such a difference!”

You will be gobsmacked by Pilgrims – what an extraordinary organisation! We think of it as a wonderful, caring and supportive place, which it is. But it’s also a business that has to be run along business lines. I’ve been very impressed and reassured by how well run Pilgrims is. They should not just be recognised for what they do, but how they do it. That’s the bit most people don’t see and I’d like people to be more aware of that. 


John Mabberley, Pilgrims’ volunteer


It’s #VolunteersWeek 1-7 June 2018 and during the next seven days, we’ll be celebrating the incredible things our volunteers do by sharing their stories.

A special ‘thank you’ to John and all those who volunteer to help others. If you’re interested in becoming a Pilgrims’ Volunteer, visit our Volunteers’ page to find out more.