As part of our Volunteers’ Week celebrations we spoke to Maya, 21, from Hillingdon, west London, who became one of our earliest impact volunteers. By using a combination of surveys and telephone interviews, these volunteers help us evaluate the impact we have on the lives of older people and get feedback on how these services might be refined and improved.
Maya spent around 60-hours, over the course of two months, looking at the results of surveys and interviewing older people – she was so inspired by their feedback that she’s in the process of becoming a call companion volunteer herself.
How did you first hear about Re-engage?
I was studying French Translation and International Film at Royal Holloway University when I told one of the professors I wanted to do some volunteering. As he had previously placed students with Re-engage, he suggested the charity might be of interest. I did some research on different organisations and learned about how Re-engage supports lonely and isolated older people. I loved the charity's call companions idea, which is a simple concept but has a huge impact, so maybe it was inevitable that I would become one myself.
What did the work involve and what did you learn?
I spoke to some of the older people who have regular conversations with their volunteer call companions. They were extremely appreciative of the service and really looked forward to the phone ringing each week. They loved the conversations. It was inspiring talking to them because they, like many other older people, had a difficult time during the lockdown. But they were stoic about it. It’s admirable just how strong they have been. My generation has social media, mobile phones and iPads, which gives us an instant connection with others. But many older people don’t have this fallback and they told me they spent a lot of time reading. I just can’t imagine younger people coping in that way.
Why is it so important to maintain contact with older people?
They have a lot to teach us. Just as we can help them with technology, they can give us good advice. It’s a two-way street and very important that we maintain the generational link. I have a very good relationship with my gran, who has grown up in a completely different world. I love hearing about her childhood. She couldn’t have imagined the technological wonders we have now, when she was my age. But she is still keen to learn and travel and when I chat about what I’ve been doing it gives her a whole new perspective on life. I often take her to Pizza Express because she absolutely adores the doughball starters! It just shows we can socialise with people of all ages and from all backgrounds. There are no barriers - just an opening to a lot of happiness and learning.
So what does the short-term future hold for you?
I hope to complete my call companions training soon - volunteering brings extra value to my life. Re-engage has been so helpful, particularly Georgina, who guided me through my impact volunteer role. Besides my volunteering, at weekends I work in Waterstones and I have written and self-published my first book – a young adult fantasy adventure and I have another due out soon. I’ve also launched my own clothing design business, aimed at readers. I’m embroidering T shirts and things with slogans such as, “Take me to the bookshop.” Like my gran, I try to do new things and keep learning.
Could you be a volunteer tea party group coordinator?
Attending monthly tea parties helps thousands of older people feel less isolated and lonely because of the friendships that develop between our older guests and volunteers.
We are looking for new volunteer tea party group coordinators in locations across England, Scotland and Wales.
Call companions has been running for two years
As the country headed into full lock down, due to the COVID pandemic, which meant our tea parties being put on hold, we were developing a new service to help older people who were now even more isolated and lonely. Two of our earliest call companions volunteers share their memories to mark the occasion.