This week’s guest blog comes from Pauline Moffat, Administrator for OPAL (Older People Active Lives). OPAL supports older people to stay independent, active, connected & increase well-being, both through befriending and social groups.
As I sat full of worry and alone in my GP surgery while I awaited test results, I pondered the absolute hell people must go through of having to tell their loved ones that they are seriously or terminally ill, all the while coming to terms with the condition themselves. My mind then wandered to thoughts of extreme sorrow and empathy for those people I know or have known who have had to endure this. This led on to the idea of what could be even worse – what if there was no-one to tell? What if no-one was nearby or seemed to care? This is what eventually led me to Cyrenians OPAL (Older People, Active Lives).
Fortunately, I was given the all clear. However, I have no doubt that this experience and my thoughts and feelings that day changed me. I became much more aware of how lucky I was to have so many people in my life who care for me, who would be there for me, who would support me and most of all who would journey with me if required.
The media buzz about loneliness and isolation had recently begun, provoking shocking figures from the NHS/Age UK, and I wondered how I could be put to best use to tackle loneliness. A short time later, the words of Jo Cox would ring true to me: “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate… it is something many of us could easily help with. Looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend we haven’t seen in a long time. Let people know you are #happytochat”.
Within a few months of submitting my application to OPAL to become a volunteer befriender, my references and PVG were back and I was matched with a wonderful lady for one-to-one befriending. We immediately hit it off and I started to visit once a week for afternoon tea, or sometimes we would go out for a walk together. I was later matched with another lady who was looking for someone to chat to on the phone, since due to poor mobility she was housebound most of the time. We would chat on the phone once a week.
Before I started this volunteer befriending, part of me felt that it may be difficult or a chore. The feeling that I was doing this out of duty was more apparent than the feeling I was doing this because I wanted to. In actual fact, this concern was quickly turned around, and the response to my visits and calls gave me such delight and satisfaction that I started to look forward to them as much as the ladies did. Despite the 40 year age gap, I thoroughly enjoyed their company; we would share recipes, craft ideas, stories and laugh like I was on a night out with friends!
It is now more than three years since I became a volunteer befriender, and six months ago I joined the OPAL team as a permanent member of staff. I continue to volunteer in addition to my employment, and I am still in contact with both ladies I began my volunteer journey with. Now as part of my new role I have the privilege of interviewing new volunteer befrienders, sharing my experience with them and becoming part of their journey down this incredibly rewarding path.
The definition of the word befriend is: to be a friend to; assist; favour. What I didn’t realise is what wonderful friends these women would become to me and how they would assist in my life.
Administrator for OPAL
7th May 2018