Social action volunteering tackles loneliness epidemic
When London based recruitment consultant Rob found himself locked down with time on his hands, he thought of how he could be helpful to others during the crisis and decided to volunteer to keep an older person ‘company’.
Rob, 28 and from Maida Vale, approached the housing and care provider Octavia, to volunteer as a telephone befriender.
Developed out of a need to fill the gap left by Octavia’s face-to-face programme, the telephone service was launched to support older people who have very limited, or no contact, with others and are at risk of becoming even more isolated in their homes.
Rob: “I first heard about the befriending initiative through my organisation, Oyster Partnership. We have worked with Octavia in the past, most recently through one of their employment support programmes – Learn 2 Earn. When I heard about their telephone befriending service, I was eager to get involved. I wanted to give something back and I knew there would be someone out there in need of a person to take time to just chat or take their mind off things.”
Since completing the training remotely, Rob was matched with Anne, 84, a retired air hostess from Notting Hill. After bonding over a shared love of travelling, fine wine and tales from the 'old country', they have been enjoying frequent calls with one another for over three months.
“Anne and I hit it off instantly and we now speak twice a week for 40 minutes. We are both Irish, Anne is from Cork and I am from Kildare. As a child, I went to the town that she grew up in, Clonakilty, every summer. At times like this, it’s easy to feel homesick, so it’s great to be able to speak to someone about a place that means a lot to me. We also both love travelling, and talk fondly about all the places in the world we have visited. Having so much in common has meant that we have built a nice level of rapport. I listen intently when she shares stories about her past, but I’m also quite open and talk to her about my family and what is going on in my life.”
While national uncertainty has taken a toll on Anne’s wellbeing, having a constant in her week has had a transformative impact on her mood. And she isn’t alone in this. A recent study commissioned by Octavia found that befriending schemes provide considerable comfort to their users and constitute a low-cost means for socially isolated older people to become more confident and develop a sense of wellbeing.
“When we start our call Anne is usually down, but by the end we are always laughing and joking. She always says to me, “Rob you have given me hope and brought me happiness.” Hearing about the positive impact I am making means a lot.”
When discussing his blossoming friendship with Anne, one thing is clear. The benefits that befriending yields in this pairing are mutual.
“I am finding the current situation difficult like everyone else. It has been hard to cope with the changes, as I am naturally an active and sociable person. All of my family are back home in Ireland too, so I haven’t seen them in a long time. But speaking to Anne has really put things into perspective. She has bundles of energy and always puts a huge smile on my face. I now feel like I have three grannies – two back home in Ireland and one in Notting Hill.”
Rob is pleased that the crisis has profoundly changed the nation’s sense of community, bringing people together in a time of great need.
“Coming from Ireland, where neighbourhoods are close-knit, I found it strange that community spirit wasn’t as strong in London. That is starting to change now, and it is lovely to see people connecting more with their communities. I fully intend to keep in contact with Anne and to switch to face-to-to face befriending once this is all over.”
Determined to make a wider difference, he has spread the word about telephone befriending to all his friends and colleagues.
“My colleague and I encouraged 18 other staff members to sign up as volunteers. It’s an enriching experience that offers great rewards, at both ends of the line.”
And finally, here is what Anne had to say about her befriending experience:
“I’m not in contact with my family so I had been feeling lonely for quite some time. Loneliness is like a disease – it is frightening and upsetting. That is why I am very delighted with Octavia’s befriending service. Rob is a charming and lovely man, and I don’t have to make any effort to get on with him – it all comes naturally. I’m glad that he is my befriender and I look forward to our conversations every week.”
Octavia’s team of volunteers are at the forefront of tackling social isolation in our community. If you would like to find out more about telephone befriending, visit our website: https://www.octaviafoundation.org.uk/volunteer/volunteer_roles
Notes for editors
Founded in the 1860s by philanthropist Octavia Hill, our work today covers three areas: homes, support and care.
We provide people in central and west London with quality, affordable homes. With opportunities, connections and inspiration. And with the personalised care they need.
• Our befriending and outreach service benefited 624 people
• Our employment and training service helped 521 people into work and to be more job-ready
• Our youth activities and events programme reached and inspired 224 young people