Service user Mark’s maiden voyage on first cruise since the pandemic began all thanks to befriending scheme

Service user Mark’s maiden voyage on first cruise since the pandemic began all thanks to befriending scheme

Our service user Mark Compton who struggles with depression has praised our charity for helping him find the confidence to board the dock’s first departing cruise ship since the pandemic began.

Ex-serviceman Mark, who is a wheelchair user due to severe back pain, was a guest on MSC Virtuosa, which set sail at the end of last week for Portland.

He says: “In September last year, I started getting calls from a volunteer befriender for Communicare and it turned out to be world-renowned diving coach and judge Lindsey Fraser, who is part of the charity’s telephone befriender team.

“Those calls and the friendship Lindsey and the team have shown me during the past 15 months or so, have really helped me and gave me the confidence to join the other 999 guests on this history-making, first cruise liner out of Southampton since the pandemic began.

“It was quite a voyage of discovery, as I embarked on the trip on my own and I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to consider it if I hadn’t had the connection with Communicare and benefited from the team’s emotional support.

“I enjoy having Lindsey as a telephone pal, as she has experience with ex-forces people, so she understands the sense of humour that goes with that and I don’t have to explain myself.

“She is also a very helpful and interesting person. We have mutual interests. I like her upbeat approach to life and the way she is forward thinking. Anybody ringing for a chat when you’re home alone is good and her calls have been very good for me.”

MSC Virtuosa, which is a new liner, left Southampton last Thursday for a four-night British ‘seacation’ carrying just 1,000 UK guests, instead of the maximum 6,334 from all over the world.

Lindsey says “Mark is in his 50s. He lives with his wife, who supports him, but she works full-time. Mark used to be in the forces and was very active. He is an avid Saints fan and was a National Pool Champion and referee up until 2014.

“Unfortunately, his back pain hindered him from continuing with this. He is also an art lover and draws portraits. Mark has a lot of challenges. I talk to him once a week, for around 20-30 minutes. It’s brilliant he felt able to board the ship and set sail all on his own and have this wonderful adventure.”

The calls that Lindsey and other Communicare volunteers make support isolated or vulnerable people in the city.

Mark adds: “Communicare’s service is vital and has been especially important to me during the pandemic, which has prevented all its service users from socialising as normal, which can have an impact on everyone’s physical health and mental wellbeing.”

We are delighted that volunteers like Lindsey, who have been furloughed through each lockdown are able to continue supporting us and our service users when they return to work.

Manager, Annie Clewlow says: “The feedback we’ve had from people like Mark, has been fantastic and shows the real difference a regular phone call can make. We’re looking for more kind-hearted people, like Lindsey, to become volunteers and to spread a little joy by keeping in touch with our service users who need it. Volunteers do need access to a phone and internet.

“Telephone befriending gives both people involved something to look forward to each week. It doesn’t take up much time but is highly valuable to both of us. It’s relatively easy to fit it into a normal week, even for those fully back at work now.”

Photograph of Mark with thanks to Chris Moorhouse.