Last year I decided to drop down to 28 hours a week in my formerly full time job so I had a day to concentrate on my business and a day to have a break. In true Alice style, it wasn’t long before I was twiddling my thumbs on that day of rest and looking for something to do! I have always wanted to volunteer with a project or charity but I was eager not to choose something that would be a) stressful b) a lot of commitment c) boring. I took some time to think about the things I’m good at as I wanted to put my energy and time into something that would benefit from my help and turned to the place where all life’s answers can be sourced.. Google. Side note: It is really fun to put in the start of a question into the search engine and delve into questions other people have asked. On typing ‘How’ my top two options are ‘How old is the Queen?’ and ‘How do you make slime?’. Both v.important questions and I hope the searcher found their answers. ANYWAY. Volunteering. Turns out there are so many amazing charities that are desperate for volunteers to help them out ranging from an hour a week, a few days or whenever you fancy. I had the chance to dog groom, administrate, hand out soup, farm, clean up my local area. All of these things sounded brill but all required quite a lot of commitment, training and just didn’t feel right for me. Despite my apparent desire to always be pushing myself to my limit, I wanted to do something more chill..
“Our Volunteer Visitors make a real difference in people’s lives. Through regular visits, over a cup of tea and a chat, over time they build relationships that make the older people we help feel less isolated and more socially connected. As a Volunteer Visitor you’ll be matched with an older person living in your local area and you can fit visiting around your other commitments and responsibilities. You’ll find that visiting can be a great source of satisfaction and enjoyment for you as well as the person you visit. You’ll also discover that giving time to listen to an older person can empower them, improve their wellbeing and help build their self-esteem. So thank you for thinking of volunteering with us – together we can tackle loneliness and support more older people” – Independent Age
Do I like old people? Yes
Do I like chatting? Yes
Do I like tea? Yes
Do I have an hour a week? Yes
Sign.me.up. I wanna chill with Grandmas!
I began by having an initial phone call with the regional manager of Independent Age to discuss the role and to see if I was a good fit and from there I met the volunteer coordinator in my area to talk through everything in more detail. I was really impressed with how organised the whole process was. I had to do a few bits of paperwork, learn about the boundaries of the role, have an awkward photo taken and did some online safe guarding training and then I was signed off and ready to be matched with a pal. If I’m honest, I thought this might be something I half signed up to and never followed through but after hearing from the worker’s how valuable the volunteering is and about the lady they had in mind for me to befriend (who sounded like an absolute legend) there was no turning back – I was all in! Independent Age will find out about your hobbies and personality and try to match you with someone that is similar. You are able to visit and meet lots of different people before you commit and it has to be a mutual agreement between you and the isolated elderly person. Basically like speed dating but waaaay more fun and with lots more biscuits.
I was taken by someone from the charity to meet Maureen for the first time – you are always accompanied on your initial visit to someone for some extra support and it helps to build rapport. I couldn’t believe how nervous I felt on my way to meet her, I really wanted her to like me! Luckily she was a total babe from the get go: We bonded over our love of strong tea, our preference for reading over watching television & a mutual appreciation for well soled shoes. During the meeting, Eleanor (who had come with me) found reasons to pop away for little stretches of time so that me and Maureen could chat by ourselves and the hour flew by! At the end Eleanor told us that we’d both be called and can make a decision as to whether we wanted to be mates but luckily we decided then and there that we wanted to see each other again. From then, I have been to visit Maureen every week, just for an hour to chat about stuff and have a laugh together and just hang out. Loneliness is rife in elderly people and having a new friendship can make all the difference to them. There is also SUCH a misconception about old people. These are people who have lived, who have seen the world and have stories to tell. I won’t go into details about Maureen’s situation but I can honestly say that when she says things like “I’m going to save my last two short breads so we can share them next week” or “I cut this out of a magazine on the weekend to show you today” it melts my heart and I know that she is getting something positive out of me coming to see her. But the thing that’s surprised me the most ? How much I get out of the visits. It is, genuinely, one of my best parts of the week – I get to completely forget about my every day life and relax into a comfy armchair and listen to Maureen’s stories of times gone by or who said what at coffee morning that week.
I’m going to see Maureen this afternoon and I’m taking her a slice of my Birthday cake. In an age where texting is our way of keeping up relationships there’s something so refreshing about seeing someone once a week to really talk, no screens present, no insight into what the other has been up to over the last 7 days, just the two of you, easily losing an hour over steaming hot mugs of tea. Sometimes we disagree on things, sometimes I get told off for not squeezing the tea bag for long enough, but we always laugh, we sometimes cry, we eat biscuits and then we count down the days until we can see each other again.
(To find out more about the incredible work that Independent age do, please head to their website. If you’re interested in volunteering with a befriendment service then please please please do it. If you have any questions about it then I’m more than happy to help you. Just shoot me an email to – firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat!)