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#CareAtChristmas: The benefits of volunteering

Stylised heron wearing a Santa hat

Patricia, who works in the Student and Library Services team at ARU, talks about how a Christmas appeal from Age UK led her to sign up as a volunteer – and make a lifelong friend.

I was listening to a report about loneliness amongst older people on the radio in November 2020, in the run-up to our first Christmas living with the COVID-19 pandemic and with restrictions.

Age UK was appealing for volunteers to phone a lonely older person once a week so that they had contact with someone, a chat, a bit of a laugh. Just someone to talk to. It had a big effect on me. I thought about all the time I was saving not commuting into work and decided to sign up to the Befriending Service.

Initially calls were a bit tentative but in no time, we were soon chatting away about a wide range of subjects and putting the world to rights; we’ve had many laughs along the way. I gained an insight into J’s life during the war, her jobs running a B&B, a grocery, as a cleaner, working with horses and then owning and running a boatyard. She often wants to talk about the past, about her harsh schooling in a convent, her difficult relationship with her mother, a violent marriage. She finds it helpful to talk about her many health issues and financial worries and also how lonely she has been and how these things impact on her mental health and quality of life.

But she’s also interested in my life. J is sharp as anything, stoic, wise, no-nonsense and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. This will be our third Christmas of friendship.

It’s been a privilege and I’ve learnt a lot from the experience – something good that has come out of the pandemic. It’s also made me think how elderly people are often forgotten, ignored and invisible when they still have much to offer and want to be a part of society.

By Patricia, ARU Student and Library Services

If Patricia’s story is something that has resonated with you, find out more about Age UK’s Befriending Service.

Published as part of ARU's #CareAtChristmas campaign 2022.