I’ve always got on well with the generation above me – my parents’ generation. I’ve always felt that they seem to respond more positively to me than my peers do.
I’ve noticed this throughout my life.
I worked as a GP in the army for 15 years and in the NHS for two, before retraining as an occupational physician. I feel that talking to people is one of the few higher skills I possess.
This is why, after I retired five years ago, I quickly linked up with Re-engage, keen to volunteer with older people.
I’ve got a lot of empathy for the plight of older people, particularly in light of the social care set up, which I believe is a national disgrace. This has been highlighted by the pandemic but, of course, it’s been apparent for years.
I’m also well aware, at 68, that I’m approaching that age group myself and I really wouldn’t want to be subject to the current system having gone on crumbling for another 20 years! My only hope is that the government will have created one national health and social care system by then.
Soon after I became a Re-engage volunteer, I set up a new tea party group in Doncaster and I've really enjoyed running the monthly events.
When the lockdown came into force, I thought, ‘What am I going to do now?’ I realised that my volunteering had become so important to me.
Of course, I’ve been phoning my tea party group throughout the lockdown and they’ve been phoning each other as well, but I also became aware of the charity’s new call companion initiative. It struck me as a good idea in these times when we can’t meet up.
I started the role of call companion coordinator in the middle of June, supporting six call companions and six older people. It was quite an intensive process at first with a lot of phone calls to collect and pass on information, but it becomes much less work once the pair are up and running with their regular phone calls. There’s a monthly report to compile, which can take a bit of time and focus, but it's not difficult.
I love to feel I’m contributing something. When I was working, I suppose I felt that anyway, but retirement is different. I’ve always interacted with people one to one across a desk or on a phone or whatever. I don’t want to lose contact with people in this kind of pastoral way.
Talking to people in a relaxed way – particularly older people – is something I can do. I enjoy it.
What’s great about the call companion coordinator role is that it doesn’t throw you in at the deep end and give you a huge amount of responsibility or take up all your time.
If you enjoy conversation, I think this role is a relatively undemanding introduction to voluntary work with the older generation. If you find you like it, there are ways to keep developing.
I know from my tea party group just how much difference the social contact can make. One or two of the older ladies in my tea party group are struggling with chronic disease. When you call them, you can tell just how much they need to talk about it. You can tell you’re relieving pressure just by giving them someone to talk to.
We also have a man in our group who’s now in a home – he’s 99 in October. These days I speak to him once or twice a week. He’s right up to date with everything that’s happening in the world and chats about everything under the sun.
He has no living family so I’m about as close a family as he has, even though I’ve only known him for four years.
It could be a while before we’re able to all meet up again so, in the meantime, I’m just glad to be contributing in some way that helps.
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