Julia Painter, who is one of our Trustees, is in the 1.5 million currently being shielded because she has Crohn’s Disease and is on immunosuppressants, but she is making the most of her lockdown by helping our charity embrace technology and develop new projects.
She says: “I could develop severe complications if I catch COVID-19, so I am about 10 weeks into a 12-week period of complete isolation. But it is not the end of the world at all.
“My time at home has actually been very fulfilling and enlightening in different ways. In terms of Communicare, we are now working on two projects to help reach out to people at home and provide them with different sources of social interaction through traditional letter writing and ‘real’ books.
“From a personal perspective, it has brought home to me how many people, especially the elderly, who live alone, must feel on a day-to-day basis and how this was the case before COVID-19. Many are isolated within their own homes and have been for many years.
“This is an unprecedented situation and our clients are even more isolated than ever as the lunch clubs, teas and other social gatherings we used to run have understandably had to stop. We now need to find new ways to connect and continue our engagement with them and we have already started doing this via phone calls.
“We are also always looking out for more volunteers who would like a new opportunity to broaden their horizons and listen to some of the amazing stories our clients have to tell about their lives, thoughts and perspectives on life.
From a positive point of view, the lockdown has forced us to adopt new ways of working and we’re using technology to connect our volunteers remotely using apps. For example, we have recently held a volunteers’ conference using Zoom, which I helped organise, where we had the privilege of having three very eminent speakers and around 50 volunteer participants!”
Julia, who lives in Shirley and works for Ordnance Survey within its international business division, first volunteered for Communicare in 2009 and became a Trustee in 2013.
“In 2009, I took a secondment year from work and wanted to do some volunteering during this time. I went to Southampton Voluntary Services and looked at several charities – all were highly worthy – but nothing really ‘clicked’ with me until I read about Communicare and the work it does with isolated members of the community, predominantly elderly neighbours. As soon as I read more about it, I knew this was the charity I wanted to support and become involved with.
“During my year out, I befriended two ladies, helped once a month at a local lunch club and, also, did some shopping for people. I actually had quite a guilt trip, as I loved the interaction with my ladies and, in some ways, felt selfish, as I got so much out of volunteering – it’s really amazing and such an opportunity.
“Volunteering is a chance to broaden horizons and meet people outside of your age group to breakdown any perceived generational barriers and to learn, chat, debate, laugh and enjoy time together. It is an experience I’ve never forgotten.”
When Julia’s year out ended, she was unable to commit to a volunteering role as she was often working long hours. “However, I still wanted to do something to help the charity. At Ordnance Survey my core role is competitive bidding and writing proposals for clients in many different parts of the world. So, I used my experience and did some funding applications for Communicare.
“Then, a Trustee vacancy came up. I felt that if I wasn’t able to volunteer at that time, then I could use my work skills in other ways. The time Julia puts in each week as a Trustee varies and the current Coronavirus situation has thrown up some new opportunities for Communicare.
“At the moment, I’m helping with two new projects – one is a kind of pen pal scheme, which will see us building letter writing circles and one-to-one pen pals, and the other is a book loaning project through a local library to help keep our isolated, elderly clients connected and able to continue reading if they cannot access their library.
“And the beauty of these projects is they can continue after this lockdown. Writing letters and receiving letters is lovely – it is tangible and helps us feel connected with others personally, rather than via email. And books are like gold dust – they take us to new places to meet new people to learn new things without leaving our homes – I really believe that the day we disengage from reading is the day we disengage from civilisation.
“We are certainly having more meetings as Trustees, so that we can be sure to look out for the welfare of our clients, volunteers and our lovely team in these troubled times. The pen pal and book service came out of our discussions during lockdown and I truly believe that we can set up two new services at low cost, which bring maximum value to our service users now and moving forward.”
Julia is keen to get back to ‘normal’ and to resume her hobby of running once it is safe for her to leave her home again. “I feel healthy and continue to keep fit through Zoom sessions with my gym, Brightside, and my amazing Personal Trainer. I just wish I could go running, but that isn’t possible at the moment – it feels like I’m in detention! Four walls can be very oppressive. It has taught me to be grateful for my fabulous husband, Ian, who I adore, and who has been amazing throughout this.”