For the first in our series of volunteer guest stories - and in time for Valentine's Day - we spoke to volunteer couple James and Emma about their Re-engage journey, balancing volunteering with kids and what they would tell their younger selves about love.
James and Emma have been married for 11 years. And like one in five couples in the UK, they first met at work after joining a new company as HR consultants.
“I clearly remember sitting at my desk in our office and another team member came over and introduced the ‘new guy’ to me and it was James.” said Emma. “I didn’t see him again for a few months until we worked together on a project in Blackpool.”
Fast forward sixteen years and a move from London to Essex, where the couple now live with their two small children, it was Emma who first discovered Re-engage.
“Emma was the instigator.” James recalls warmly. “We were talking about giving back to the community and just didn’t know what we could do. Emma found out about Contact the Elderly (as it was back then), and we thought volunteering for them would be a great thing to do.”
“I first saw the charity being advertised in London when we lived there but didn’t do anything about it at the time as we were planning to move. When we moved to Essex, I saw another advert somewhere - I forget where - and immediately emailed asking for more details.” added Emma. “When I suggested it to James, he came along with me to the first meeting and it went from there.”
"The kids join in, with our son Benji stealing cakes and biscuits!"
Now three years in, Emma and James volunteer as both drivers and hosts, which they consider to be “the best of both”.
“It’s two fold really.” James explains. “Emma and I take turns driving for the monthly meet ups - Someone has to look after the kids! But we also host a tea party at our house once or twice a year. This way, we get to see our group guests regularly and also host them.”
It’s the shared experience of volunteering that the couple most enjoy, as well as the personal connections they share with their guests.
“We take it in turns driving, so we enjoy sharing stories with each other about what happened at tea parties and how our guests are.” said Emma.
“Guests always ask about our family, ‘How is Emma? How are the kids’. It’s a real family affair when we host a tea party.” said James. “In the past my parents have also come along to help out, with my dad placed firmly in the middle to help with the ‘chat’. He’s good at that and the guests really welcome new interactions. Also when we host, the kids join in with our son Benji climbing over the furniture, stealing cakes and biscuits and so on.”
“The children really enjoy it - our daughter gets to eat her body weight in fresh scones!” laughed Emma.
"Love will find a way to make itself known"
For Emma and James, the key to a happy and loving relationship isn’t about saving it all up for Valentines’ Day: “We would rather have a date night on any other day so not to be sharing a restaurant with awkward first dates!” laughs James. It’s about making time for talking and laughing together throughout the year.
And if they could, what do they wish they could tell their younger selves about love?
“I would say love will find a way to make itself known. When I was young, single and or indeed when I first met Emma, I had no idea that we would be married with two children.” said James. “I think the key to a good relationship is communication. We’re lucky that we seldom argue (only when tired or in the car!) but if we do disagree, we won’t leave it hanging and we will listen to each other. That’s important.”
And for Emma:
“Find the one that brings out the best in you and doesn’t make you doubt your relationship. And make sure you find someone with a sense of humour - James still manages to make me laugh every day."
If you would like to become a volunteer, you can find more about our roles and how to apply here
We ask at all times that our volunteers, staff, and guests bear in mind the health of all members of our groups.
You don't know what it's like until it happens to you
In her late 80s, Mary found herself widowed, her group of friends dwindling, most of her family living far away and a sense of loneliness emerging.