We’re praising the benefits of volunteering as part of national Loneliness Awareness Week (June 14 – 18, 2021) and we’re urging others to join too.
Wendy Summers (pictured) assists our charity in our mission to support the city’s lonely and isolated and was paired with one of our service users, Audrey Goodlud, and they’ve become firm friends.
She says: “Ever since I joined Communicare’s dedicated team of volunteers, known as Communiteers, four years ago it’s been a mutually beneficial experience, a two-way thing.
“Volunteering and befriending are so important for people who were isolated and lonely, even more so since the pandemic, as many still can’t resume ‘normal’ social activities and Communicare can’t host its teas or lunch clubs in the way it used to do. Befriending is actually really important for both parties involved.”
Established by the Marmalade Trust, this year’s Loneliness Awareness Week is focusing on encouraging people to talk about loneliness, seen as one of the biggest health concerns we face, in the hope it will remove the stigma and shame behind it.
“While being a Communiteer my life has been enriched immeasurably through the friendships I’ve made. It’s a wonderful experience and it benefits everyone involved.
“I live on my own and I’m not married so wanted something to do in my spare time that would make a real difference. I saw someone from the Council who was giving advice. I spoke to them about volunteering and they suggested I get in touch with Communicare. Initially, I helped out with the regular afternoon tea social events they ran and then when they stopped, I wanted to carry on helping the charity, so they suggested I become a befriender.
“It’s great getting to know someone new, hear about their life and making the most of your time together, even if at the moment we can’t meet up. It makes both parties feel good and, really, we’re helping each other out all the time. Just as good friends do.
“I’ve been paired with Audrey for two years now and she’s spurred me on to do things. I was thinking about joining a dance class and, as she’d done lots of dancing in her lifetime really encouraged me to do it. With this extra push and support, I now go line dancing once a week, the classes have just re-started, and it’s great fun, keeps me fit and gets me out and about too.”
Before Covid, Wendy and Audrey went out every fortnight on Saturdays for shopping, as Audrey wanted to be as independent as possible and get out and about as much as she could.
“During all the lockdowns, we stayed in touch via weekly telephone calls but even when restrictions lifted it was tricky for us to go out together in the same way, as I only have a three-seater car, so we couldn’t distance properly. But our friendship has endured and although I can’t visit her due to the current restrictions, we still have a strong bond.”
Wendy, who is a Payment Team Administrator, currently works from home as a result of Covid.
“Audrey, who is 93, was matched up with me as we share similar interests and everyone who volunteers will be put together with someone who needs their support in the same sort of way. Communicare’s matching process was superb. We really hit it off from the start. It’s a genuine friendship and it certainly doesn’t feel like volunteering.
“I would heartily recommend it. You don’t need to do a lot to make a big difference to someone’s life, you don’t have to commit a great deal of time if you are not able to. Anything that will make their life easier, or better, is worth doing.”
Communicare is a friendly, neighbourhood charity. Its services are staffed by its committed, kind-hearted Communiteers, who volunteer and give their time freely.
Our Good Neighbours’ Network is currently supporting around 600 individuals/families through tasks including one-to-one telephone befriending and transport for essential appointments and assistance with shopping.
Annie Clewlow, Manager at Communicare explained: “Loneliness can be something that anyone may experience, regardless of age or stage in life. It can be quite debilitating and can impact on mental and physical wellbeing. For over a year now we have been living with restricted or limited contact with people in our lives. From our family and friends to colleagues and those who we meet as we go about our daily lives. Our Communiteers provide a lifeline to those they befriend and keep in contact with, helping them fend off loneliness.
“If you become a befriender like Wendy, it’s a carefully balanced process as it’s vital to match those with similar interests together in order to build those long-lasting friendships where two people can get on and enjoy each other’s company, in-person, or more recently, through phone calls.
“Volunteers get involved in different ways to reflect their lifestyles, values and priorities. Our Communiteers have a diverse background and age-range and their contribution helps break down social and cultural barriers in the community. As the Marmalade Trust acknowledges, volunteering is a great way to meet new people, feel part of a cause or community and giving back increases your own levels of happiness as well as helping others boost theirs. We’re helping raise awareness of Loneliness Awareness Week as it’s at the heart of what we do here and we endorse the sentiment fully.”
Normally our services are linked to hosting face-to-face social events, such as regular lunches and tea parties for service users, but understandably we are unable to organise these currently due to ongoing Government restrictions on gatherings.
Currently more of Communicare’s work is done via the telephone, post and online. The services we provide are free to users, although beneficiaries are invited to make a donation if they are able to, and Communiteers are offered expenses.