A couple of years ago, before all the house-moving and upheaval began, I heard about a scheme whereby older people who were isolated and lonely could get a phone friend through Age UK.
There are so many of our old folks living alone and unable to get out and socialise any more. Some of them are too ill or disabled and some are the sole carer for a partner or relative and so can’t leave them alone.
It got me thinking about how that would feel, to be alone and have not one friend to talk to or confide in. It could quite literally be me one day. I am the youngest in my family and I haven’t been able to have children.
I decided then to volunteer and didn’t realise the process would take as long as it did. By the time they said they were ready to ‘match’ me, I was neck-deep in selling my house and knew I wouldn’t be able to commit to a regular weekly call to my new friend.
I postponed it and only recently decided it was time to give it another go.
I had to provide a couple of references, do a bit of online training (nothing onerous, mostly safeguarding for both parties) and then have a telephone interview with one of the staff at Age UK.
Much to my surprise (as I thought it was scheduled for today), they rang yesterday afternoon when I had my own ‘getting on in years’ Mum here. I went ahead and did it anyway (despite Ma butting in with questions of her own and comments mouthed to me, as if I can lip read effectively, haha).
The lady interviewing me had a really strange tickly cough which interrupted her speech every few seconds, it was a strangely amusing experience.
At the end, she pronounced me suitable (my proudest moment) and then whipped out an array of old folks from which I could choose. She told me a woman’s rough age (70s) and her situation (caring for her husband full-time) and whereabouts in the country she lived (they have to live a distance from you and you’re not allowed to exchange addresses or phone numbers directly, only have contact through Age UK) and that Joan* missed female company.
All that info seemed a bit dry… How was I supposed to know if I could be friends with Joan on that little information. I asked if Joan had provided details of her hobbies and interests as I had and then followed a huge, long list of all the things that interested Joan. Joan has travelled. Joan has multiple interests, many of which she’s not not able to do any more. Joan sounds great.
I tell her I want Joan. She says ‘Are you sure? You’ve not heard about the others yet?’ I say no, she’s the old lady for me. I think I could learn some stuff about life from her.
I then ask if Joan will be contacted now and asked if she accepts me (I’m feeling a bit nervous as my own list of interests is nowhere near as eclectic as Joan’s and maybe she’ll reject me) and I’m told no, Joan gets what she’s given. (She didn’t say it that bluntly, but that’s what it comes down to).
So it’s done, I have a new friend. I’ve just got to decide on a regular time each week that Joan and I can speak and book the first call in.
I’m so nervous! What will I say to her? Will she be a talker and I won’t have to say much at all? What questions should I ask?
Any ideas, hints and tips on helping Joan feel comfortable would be much appreciated, and if you fancy giving it a go and volunteering yourself, visit the Age UK ‘Call in Time’ telephone befriending service webpage (they really should come up with a better name than that).
* I changed her name in case Joan is also on Second Life and reads my blog and doesn’t like me sharing personal details about her. I’d put nothing past Joan!
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