We set up an interim telephone companionship project when lockdown started. One of our wonderful volunteers, Blanche, shares her experiences befriending three isolated older people.
I’ve never been a great one for the phone. When I was little, in the early 1950s, it was a strange black alien looking object with a shrill ring that brought the entire household to a halt. I never much liked it and when my mum asked me to answer it, as she often did, it made me really nervous. As often as not it was an aged relative croaking inaudibly from a long way away and that was even worse.
Not the best beginning, and over the years of its evolution it has never been my best friend even in its sleek and streamlined present form. Strange then that I should so much be enjoying my experience of it in connection with the wonderful Marmalade Trust!
I found out about the Marmalade Trust a few years ago from one of their original volunteers (and soon after, staff member) Natalie. She won me over with her stories of all the lovely people brought into contact with each other by their Christmas ventures and indeed the first Christmas after my husband died I asked if I might volunteer at one of their heartwarming parties. Then at the start of lockdown, up popped an email from them asking for volunteers to be Companions for their members who found themselves exceptionally isolated.
I was feeling pretty isolated myself, as I live in the countryside and my marvellous children all live some way away. I was aware of being deeply thankful for my dog, my garden and my robustly good health, but what would it be like without any of these? So against my phone-aversive grain, I signed up and how glad I am that I did,
Time has gone by... The three companions whose names I was given were glad to be contacted and we have become familiar with each other and how I have enjoyed looking forward to our weekly chats. Half an hour flies by. Two of them are exceptionally good at telling stories and I have built up delightful pictures of their lives past and present, some of their adventures, some of their joys and some of their present frustrations and sorrows: for example, Ive been given a vivid personal picture of Bristol in the war , especially VE day, long remembered by one of them, Chloe, as the day her family’s home was bombed... this year she wore a brand new red white and blue dress, in memory of it but found nobody came out on the street and none of her neighbours knew what it meant. It was good that she could at least talk about it on the phone.
They in their turn have listened to some of my stories, and we have found we all have so much in common despite our very different backgrounds. Life is after all life! And its ups and downs are universal. It all reminds me a tiny bit of the notion of ‘pen friends’ when we were all young but it is far better and far more fun. I’ve laughed a lot. And I’ve learned lots of tips for how to face life as we all get older as they are all well ahead in the game compared to me. And Im so full of admiration for their spirit . And luckily all three of them are happy to hear my voice and greet me gladly and this, throughout lockdown, has been very reassuring. I would hate to feel that I was intruding unwanted on their lives.
The Marmalade Trust is there right behind us and it is such a good feeling. Every call has to be logged: we are discouraged from talking for much more than half an hour a week as it is important that we do not as companions become more than just that or take on anything we then cannot fulfil. The log also poses questions about the health and well-being of the members and gives the opportunity for recording concerns and this makes it all feel so safe , with a sense of shared responsibility.
And there has been more than that: they have also been running an excellent project via the volunteers, to offer digital support for those who need and want to be better connected digitally, and this has paid dividends to one of my contacts in particular . For another, their project to provide art and craft materials has been a real hit and now she looks forward to babysitting her great grandchildren cos she has lots of things and ideas for what to do and make with them.
The Marmalade Trust is also flexible. When, as requested, I asked one of my contacts if she would like any ‘digital’ support she explained that because of a problem with her hands, she is unable to be online. Then she paused, and I knew something was coming... 'what I would really really, like help with. what I really miss, is my begonias, I always have begonias in a pot, I can still garden a bit and I miss them so much this year'. I reported this in my log, and lo and behold, two weeks later, Marmalade’s wonderful Megan appeared in her doorway with two big pots of begonias, given by a local nursery. She was over the moon.
There have been other little things. Another contact was put in touch with a local veg box delivery service and found herself being given a complementary box, to her astonishment and delight. And what delighted her most was the lovely smile of the young deliverer, and the time they took , to pause and admire her own garden. And the Marmalade Trust have also run a project to send a little bunch of flowers to any of their members reported to be especially low at any particular time. It’s a characteristically thoughtful touch, a quite miraculous little idea that has surely spread nothing but joy where joy is much needed.
For me, the key to Marmalade is that touch of personal care combined with the support they offer the members and also us volunteers. When one of my contacts had a car accident, I passed the news on and a follow up phone call was immediately made, to check on her wellbeing and see if she needed any help. Although so many are supported , somehow Marmalade doesn’t seem too big for that personal touch to become lost and I’ve always found that if I send an email myself with any questions , someone gets straight back to me. It’s all extremely impressive.
All in all, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve been given a lot during my Marmalade ‘lockdown’ experience and it's been interesting and very humbling. But it’s also been a very great deal of fun.
- Blanche, Marmalade Trust volunteer