You could say my journey with Re-engage started when my mother-in-law met Trevor Lyttleton, the charity’s founder, at a dinner party in 1970.
She became a tea party host after that and I remember polishing the silver for her on one occasion before the guests arrived, though I only became involved myself many years later.
I worked as a secondary school teacher and retired early due to my rheumatoid arthritis. I knew I couldn’t sit around doing nothing for long and, eventually, spotted a tiny ad for volunteers in the local paper. It sounded perfect.
When I joined, we were just a couple of guests and three volunteers. Trying to get more people involved was a bit nerve-racking to begin with, but eventually word got out and we just grew and grew.
Now we’ve 77 guests and 165 volunteers, as well as an impressive selection of homes to hold our tea parties, from small cottages to big castles.
We’ve also made links with local businesses and organisations who lend their support in various ways, including the royal marines at RM Condor and the Police Scotland Youth Volunteers. Our Re-engage community is really flourishing.
The lockdown came as a huge shock. All my coordinators had their calendars organised for the year, including outings for the guests which all had to be cancelled.
Luckily, I’ve got really excellent coordinators who just got on with organising rotas to make sure every guest was receiving regular phone calls.
Our volunteer drivers have been amazing. They’ve been phoning the guests and, as we all live in small towns and villages, popping round to their homes to check on them - at a safe distance, of course. We’ve got quite a few drivers who are also on their own so being part of Re-engage is lovely for them.
I have the nicest volunteers imaginable; really beautiful people. I’m also lucky enough to have quite a few young volunteers who I really try to encourage in the hope that one day they’ll take over.
If I had one piece of advice for them, I’d say enjoy your volunteering. And be aware that a lot of older people have led amazing lives, even if they don’t say as much when you first chat.
Often it’s when I’ve been driving people home that I get to hear their stories. I’m always so pleased I made the effort to ask.
We had one gentleman who’d been in one of the Arctic Convoys during the war; a woman who worked for the foreign office in Moscow and New York. One 92-year-old lady I chat to used to be a radiographer – she must have been one of the first because the NHS has just celebrated 70 years of radiography.
Our guests can also be absolutely hilarious too. These people have lived!
All of them have had the vaccine now and are chomping at the bit to get out and see one another.
Our tea parties can be very noisy affairs. They’re all chatting away, having a great time. It gives them something to look forward to. They even get dressed up.
It’s a special day for the volunteers too. We have one host who gets up ridiculously early to make fresh jam for the occasion!
For me, I’m more in touch with the coordinators these days, but I do make a point of meeting all the drivers and the hosts. I take responsibility for the DBS checks and I still keep in touch with some of the guests.
One woman I chat to has absolutely no family at all. Her next of kin is the warden in her sheltered housing. We speak often.
I’m always looking for ways to get the word out to involve more people, so once the lockdown’s over I’ll be off out to give talks to local organisations.
My role can get pretty busy at times, but I love it. It’s an absolute joy to be involved.