We are approaching National Volunteers Week which runs throughout the first week in June, where volunteer involving organisations recognise the contribution that their volunteers make. Here at Sandwell Advocacy we simply would not be able to function in the same way that we do without the time, skills and experience that they bring to the organisation. In turn they tell us that they get satisfaction from making a meaningful difference to other people’s lives.
Carol is one of our volunteers who got involved as one of our team of volunteer telephone befrienders working on our Sandwell Together befriending service. Our Sandwell Together volunteers dedicate their time to calling residents who are socially isolated and lonely. They play a vital role in providing a listening ear and a friendly voice. Here Carol provides us with an account of her experiences working as a volunteer with Sandwell Together.
Many of us will share similar experiences and memories of the strange and often scary world we found ourselves in back in March 2020. Home working, panic buying, care homes and hospitals closed to visitors, social distancing, and of course lockdown which had such a huge impact on so many people. However, even before lockdown, there were already too many people, living in our communities, who live in isolation, without family or friends and little or no contact with other services. The effects of social isolation and loneliness is well documented as contributing to so many mental health and physical health issues.
As my usual role at Sandwell Advocacy was significantly impacted at that time, a lot of my working hours was diverted and spent, along with my colleagues, helping to set up the Sandwell Together telephone befriending service. It was during that time that I recall feeling impressed by the sheer numbers of people making contact with the organisation about volunteering opportunities on the project. Their enthusiasm, their commitment and their desire to reach out to people living within our community who were socially isolated was amazing. I also had the privilege of speaking to many of the people receiving calls from the volunteers and therefore able to hear first-hand the difference the calls were making to them. Meeting some of the volunteers during online training sessions was wonderful and their enthusiasm was one of the main reasons for considering whether it was something I could also commit to. We can probably all relate to a situation when we have received a telephone call from someone that has lifted our spirits and what a difference that can make. However, there are too many who do not have family or friends or anyone they have any regular contact with. As someone who considers themselves very fortunate to have always had a network of people around them during life, it’s very hard to imagine what that must feel like and the impact it would have on someone. Sandwell Together does not only make calls to people living on their own. Some live in communal settings but have little opportunity to talk to someone on a one to one basis about the things they want to talk about. Others may live with a family member, whilst the majority who receive calls are living on their own.
After careful consideration, I decided I had the time to make a couple of calls a week and was willing to make that commitment. I wanted to be part of a project that was having such a positive impact on so many peoples’ lives. I was a little apprehensive when I made my first calls. I had no previous experience of volunteering and did consider whether we would find things to talk about. However, not only is there support at all times from the Volunteer Development Officer at Sandwell Advocacy but in terms of the calls, it has been an honour and privilege to have regular contact with the people I telephone. I have learnt so much from talking to them, the life experiences they have wanted to share, their day to day challenges at times. We talk about everything from music to pets to football. Believe me I know very little about football but I am learning!! For me personally, it has reinforced the importance of listening and conversation. In a world where we rely so much on rushed telephone calls, emails, WhatsApp messages and social media I have found it quite therapeutic to put aside half an hour of your day to sit quietly, in a private space, make the call and listen. I am so proud to be part of such an amazing project and hope the people I call enjoy receiving the calls as much as I enjoy talking to them.