Mining Gold – NCS on Volunteers’ WeekPosted on 2nd June 2014 by Sean de Podesta
In 2008, at the end of our Big Lottery Funding, the Neighbourhood Care Scheme (NCS) in collaboration with the Health and Social Policy Research Centre at the University of Brighton held a conference on “You, Me, Us: Neighbours, Communities and Care”. Here is part of my welcome address for the conference:
The Tsunami. The week before Christmas in 2005, I introduced a new volunteer, Sonya, a young nurse, to Lily, a 93-year-old woman. She was in constant pain from gout and could hardly use her hands. She was lonely, but suspicious – a former carer from her sheltered housing scheme had been stealing from residents.
When I got back to the office after the holidays, I rang Sonya to see how things had gone with her visit. She said fine. She had been able to write out a cheque for the Tsunami appeal for Lily. When she got home, she had thought, “If I can write a cheque out for Lily, I can write one myself” – and she did. Hearing this, I thought “Yes!” An old woman of 93 who cannot leave her room and feels she has nothing to live for can help improve the life of strangers on the other side of the world, and influence the thinking and actions of a young woman – also a stranger – who has ventured into her world.
Immediately after the tsunami, Hilary Benn, the Minister for Overseas Development, had said that the tsunami raised the question: “Who is my neighbour?” It raises further questions:
• How can we as neighbours interact?
• How can we help each other?
• When does a life become useless?
• What makes life worth living?
• What can we learn from each other?
• How can we integrate these lessons into our lives?
• How can we develop and maintain trust between strangers?
I recall this now because this week is Volunteers’ Week and I wanted to celebrate our NCS volunteers and what they do. Sonya provides a good example of their involvement and commitment. She visited Lily until her death in 2010; for the last two and a half years she has been visiting another person. This long-term commitment is not unusual amongst our volunteers. A quarter of those who were active in December 2008 were still visiting people through the scheme in December 2013. Since 2008, we have enabled a further 360 volunteers to support their neighbours.
The picture and the title of this piece also come from that talk in 2008. It shows me as a miner holding a nugget of gold from the rich seam that the NCS was mining. The gold is neighbourly good will, and at the NCS we have been continuing to mine that seam for the last five years with no sign of its being exhausted. For all the staff team at the NCS it is hard work but a privilege to put this good will and the practical skills that go with it at the disposal of older people, people with physical disabilities and their carers to create positive and mutual beneficial relationships.
This week we feature on the website just a few of our more than two hundred volunteers.
First, Peter, whose reflection “We are all members of each of the other” echoes the response of Lily and Sonya in the wake of the 2005 tsunami to the question: “Who is my neighbour?” Their answer: Everyone.
Then there is Miles, who was motivated by the thought, “the elderly are not always getting the support they deserve.” His response: to volunteer to visit someone who would enjoy his company.
Next, three older volunteers, who will be featured in a mini blog post each over this week:
Finally, Rachel, part of a new generation of volunteers, for whom her volunteering is “one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Sonya, Peter, Miles, Keith, Chris, Sheila and Rachel have made a real difference to other people’s lives through their volunteering. I would like to thank all our volunteers for what they do. Their neighbourly good will and practical actions are worth celebrating.
If you read this and would like to volunteer with the NCS, we would be delighted to hear from you.