Not No One

Posted on 18th November 2016 by

People hand in hand

Last month, in the space of a week, I dealt with five situations that really brought home to me the fact there are many people without close family or friends who have no one actively looking out for them as they struggle with frailty, depression and illness. This absence was a powerful factor as any physical illness in reducing their resilience and increasing the stress and anxiety — and loneliness — of their difficult lives.

In fact, in all these cases, the individuals did have someone — volunteers from the Neighbourhood Care Scheme. Here, briefly are some of the situations.

In one of my blogs yesterday — “Candles Burning” — I wrote about Diana and Neil, who had been seeing each other for six years. Neil was there for Diana in her last days in hospital as she lay dying of cancer. He ensured she was not forgotten with her inclusion in an All Souls’ Day service of remembrance.

Katherine was already 95 when Stephen started visiting her at the start of 2015. She had determinedly maintained her independence, but was getting frailer. Towards the end of the year, it became clear to Stephen that Katherine was no longer managing, and he engaged with her GP and other services to try and make Katherine’s home safe for her. He was doing this because Katherine’s daughter lived in New Zealand. All of this year, he was engaged in ensuring that Katherine got the help she needed. When she fell and broke her hip, and was in hospital in Haywards Heath, he and her other NCS volunteer Nina visited her regularly. He helped to choose a care home for her on her discharge. Both Stephen and Nina were regularly at her bedside right up until she died last month. All this time, Stephen was updating Katherine’s daughter in New Zealand.

When Richard began visiting William in 2009, the idea was that they would be able to share their common interest in sport. However, William’s deafness and severe arthritis — and the inaccessibility of his first floor flat — meant that he was extremely isolated. Over the years, Richard began helping William with his paperwork and other issues that involved communication with the outside world. As these issues have become more complex (moving to suitable supported housing), we have found another volunteer Tom who has been able to work with Richard in supporting William. This week, Tom has been visiting housing schemes and taking detailed photographs to help William choose a place to live.

Recently, I was chatting with a new volunteer, who had only visited her scheme member three times. She remarked how, even after such a short acquaintance, she was struck by how large a place she filled in her lady’s life. This echoed the experience of Neil, Stephen and Nina, Richard and Tom — the hole that no one in your life represents can be a very big black hole. Anyone entering it will quickly become very significant. They can be the somebody who is the partial antidote to the pains and anxiety of aloneness.

This is the satisfaction of working in befriending — that we can introduce a significant somebody to people who feel they have no one; and this can have a huge impact on their often difficult lives. But it also highlights the problem of working in befriending — properly supporting our volunteers and ensuring that the boundaries within which they operate are manageable and safe. This is not always easy when, for people with no close family or friends, our volunteers find themselves looking out for individuals like concerned close relatives.

The good news is that in Brighton & Hove, this problem is not just a problem for Impetus and the Neighbourhood Care Scheme. Through the Brighton & Hove Befriending Coalition, we are working ever more closely together with other befriending schemes in the city to ensure that we make the most of the precious resource that befriending utilises — people who care about people. Somebodies for all those who feel they have no one.

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