Suddenly a voice came out of the darkPosted on 3rd June 2015 by Sean de Podesta
For the last few weeks, I have been absorbed in databases and Excel workbooks compiling end-of-year figures and reports. Monitoring of activity is a seemingly endless task. Amid all this work, it occurred to me that there might be other ways of evaluating a good neighbour/befriending scheme – for example, by looking at what actually happens within it. What would a day in the life of an effective befriending scheme look like?
How about this? A couple of weeks ago, I came into the office and, having settled at my computer, I found an e-mail forwarded to me by one of our volunteer co-ordinators. It had been sent by Daniel, a volunteer, who for the last six years had been supporting Jenny, an 81-year-old woman with mental health problems. He had originally helped her with her allotment, but had continued to visit her in a care home when she became less physically able. He visited her right up until her death. The e-mail was from Jenny’s daughter to Daniel:
“Thank you very much for being there on Thursday [at the funeral]. It made things easier knowing that Jenny’s favourite people were there.
“I can’t tell you how thankful I am for your friendship with Jenny. Her life was not an easy one and she would have hugely appreciated your support and companionship. It would have meant the world to her.
“I certainly appreciated your presence on the day and those leading up to it. It gives me great comfort to know that others loved her as I did.”
I then had to call John, another volunteer, who like Daniel had been visiting a scheme member – Joan – for six years. For a long while, he had been her only regular visitor in the care home to which she had had to move as her health deteriorated. With both Joan’s daughters living in Australia, John had kept an eye on her affairs in partnership with the managers of the home. Joan had eventually died at the age of 95. John had written of their friendship:
“I would just like to say how lucky I have been to be involved with Joan – she truly was a wonderful lady and the experience has enriched me more than I thought it could. Thank you to you and all the gang at the care scheme for your support.”
John had been to Jean’s funeral the day before. He had gone with his wife, and apart from them there was only one old neighbour and the care home staff there. Many of the people we support at NCS will have such very small funerals.
After speaking with John, I was then forwarded another e-mail from a relatively new volunteer, Miranda, who had just completed her review after volunteering for six months with Betty, a 77-year-old woman with dementia. Miranda had previous experience of working with people with dementia – experience which enabled her to meet Betty with confidence.
“I love that it’s entirely led by Betty and I – we can decide how our time together is spent. The highlight for me has been making a new friend – and having Betty tell me that she thinks some of her capacity to recall events is improving because she has someone to talk to and share things with. I think the highlight for Betty has been going out (she can’t venture out alone) without any specific aim. Also, having someone to chat with.”
By the time I’d read Miranda’s e-mail, it was 11.30 a.m. and I was heartened to have such positive feedback on the impact of our volunteers on the lives of the people they visit.
And then it was an afternoon immersed in more figures and spreadsheets, until as it approached 6 p.m., I helped my colleague Naomi set up for a volunteer induction training course. Nine new volunteers turned up – just the right number for interesting discussions and participation. It was again heartening to have amongst the group not only two teachers – where do they find the time or energy? – but also two school students who are doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award. The session went well and I felt that we had done a good day’s work as I washed up in the office kitchen. I got away at 9.15 and was looking forward to relaxing at home.
As I walked along New Road, I enjoyed encountering the evening buzz of the Festival goers, but I did not envy them. I was approaching Pavilion Gardens when suddenly a voice came out of the dark:
I looked around. A woman I didn’t immediately recognise said my name again. And then I could see that it was Michelle, who has been an NCS volunteer for over ten years. Michelle introduced me to her companion:
“This is Agnes, the lady you introduced me to through the scheme. We’ve just been to a show.”
We walked together until Michelle and Agnes had to turn off to catch their bus.
And then I was on my own again, and my head shouted, “YES!”
A good day at the office.
If you want to become one of our wonderful and valued volunteers, please visit our Volunteer page – we would be delighted to hear from you.