The need to feel useful after retirement

Jenny Mahimbo (centre) with two colleagues at the Queen’s honours ceremony in November 2015.
Jenny Mahimbo (centre) with two colleagues at the Queen’s honours ceremony in November 2015. / SUR
  • After 40 years of helping those in need, a quiet, relaxing retirement was not an option for Jenny Mahimbo MBE

When Jenny Mahimbo retired and moved to Spain in 2015 she felt restless and couldn't get used to life in the slow lane. "I needed to feel useful," says the retired social worker, who received a MBE for services to children in the Queen's birthday honours list in 2015. "I couldn't believe it when I received the letter," Jenny explains. "I saw this official looking envelope and I honestly asked myself if I had done something wrong. Then I misread it and thought they were asking me to comment on someone else until I realised there was no other name mentioned in the letter," she laughs.

She speaks openly about her dilemma over whether to accept her MBE or not. "It didn't really sit with my beliefs and values. I am a socialist and am not comfortable with the meaning of the British Empire." Although on reflection Jenny did decide to accept it as she felt it may help in her work. She is still involved in charity work, has written many funding bids since receiving the MBE and feels that adding the letters 'MBE' at the end of her name on an application, "helps subliminally."

Although Jenny has no idea who nominated her for the award, it is easy to understand why someone thought that she deserved it. For 40 years Jenny worked as a social worker and project manager on what are arguably some of the toughest challenges in society; missing and sexually exploited young people, young unaccompanied asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in the Birmingham and Coventry area.

Her work even led to the breaking up of a sexual exploitation gang in Coventry and during her 40 years she worked for Birmingham City Council, Sure Start and The Children's Society.

"I was working with teenagers that were being sexually abused in the 1970s and 1980s, so when the whole Jimmy Saville thing hit the news it was like déja-vu."

Jenny retired and moved to Torrox Pueblo in August 2015, having holidayed in Nerja for a number of years previously and fallen in love with the area. Although she is a keen traveller and has spent time in Africa, both as a volunteer and tourist, it was the, "similarities with Cornwall," where she was born, that attracted her to the Axarquía.

Jenny says she feels, "very much at home," in Torrox Pueblo and has the opportunity to learn about the Spanish way of life from her neighbours and people she has met since she moved there.

"I still feel the need to be useful," Jenny says. She now spends three or more hours a day as a volunteer on a Facebook page dedicated to providing phone credit for refugees, called Phone Credit for Refugees.

Jenny also hopes to offer her home to a refugee. "I bought the house with that intention of offering sanctum to a refugee and it has a bedsit facility for that purpose. There's a real sense of community in my street too and I think it would be a good environment for someone who needs help."

Jenny has also joined a number of local volunteer organisations , including the Lions' Club and set up a Labour International group for the east of Malaga area.

Far from enjoying a relaxing retirement, after 40 years of helping those in need, for Jenny, the need to feel useful is clearly not going to leave her just yet.