Karen became one of our earliest volunteer call companions at the start of the pandemic. Like many of the first people to apply, Karen was an existing Re-engage volunteer who had spent nearly six years as a tea party host and had seen how much the older guests look forward to the monthly opportunities to spend time with others.
“It can be hard enough to be an older person on your own in normal times, let alone during COVID. Even those of us who were fit and healthy struggled, but to be immobile and stuck in your home must have been horrendous. I think a lot of people are still very nervous about going out.”
Karen worked for the post office before becoming a consultant for a company that helped large companies provide healthcare for their employees. She has always enjoyed looking after others and volunteering as member of the PTA when her daughter was at school and has often caring for older relatives, including her mother, who had dementia and her stepmother, following a stroke.
One person currently benefiting from Karen’s caring nature is her call companion, Roy, a widower who is in his early eighties. Like many older people, Roy is also in pain a lot of the time. As Karen explains, having a call companion gives him welcome regular contact with the outside world.
“When you’re lonely and isolated you don’t have anything else to focus on, so these weekly calls give you something to look forward to, a safe place to talk about what you are going through. But most importantly, a much-needed break, simply by giving you other things to talk about.”
When you first start phoning an older call companion it can be helpful to have a list of topics they might like to talk about. To begin with, Karen would prepare in advance each week, but as she and Roy got to know each other the conversation became more natural.
“We talk about all kinds of things. Roy was in the forces and travelled widely, but now he can’t travel he’s always interested to hear about where we’ve been. We also talk a lot about animals – he’s a great animal lover, particularly dogs, and he tells me all about the Alsatians he used to have and loves hearing about our dogs.
“A favourite topic of conversation is food. Roy does his own cooking and sometimes asks for my advice, as I enjoy cooking as well. The funniest thing is that he loves curry and so he adds spices to loads of dishes, even a shepherd's pie, which always makes me giggle.”
Phoning Roy each week has been a joy for Karen and they have developed a strong friendship.
“He’s lovely, and such a wonderful family man who loves talking about his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He does get down at times, particularly if he’s in a lot of pain but if I hear it in his voice, I’ll try to get him laughing or listen to him. Sometimes I just call him back a few days after we’ve spoken to check how he’s doing.
“I have a bit of a ‘cheerleading’ role to play. For example, Roy has been advised to move about more, so I encourage him to get out using his stick or walker, even if it’s just to go for a short stroll along his street, or to do his exercises. But I always try to do it in a lighthearted way, which I think he secretly enjoys.
“I wish people would realise how special the relationship between the different generations can be. My own experience is that older people have so much to offer and my chats with Roy are always full of laughter. A lot of people are dismissive of older people, including their relatives. But when we lose them, many of us wish we’d asked them more when they were alive - I guess that’s just another thing we’d like to tell our younger selves.”
Keeping yourself and others safe in a heatwave
It may seem appealing to be outside in the sunshine, but, with this week's record heatwave, it’s important to know how to cope with the stifling heat and understand the risk factors, so you are prepared for when it returns.
Stay cool, stay safe and stay in touch with those who are more vulnerable.