Everyone can help against loneliness

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

Thousands of people have discovered in the last 18 months that volunteering is a two-way street.

So many people have found that by helping others, they also help themselves, often in ways, they could not have dreamed of.

David Evans, 61, has volunteered for most of his life in one way or another, starting with a sponsored walk when he was just 11 years old and continuing on and off ever since.

When COVID struck in March 2020, David was one of the first to offer his help, initially delivering food and essentials to doorsteps from his local grocery store.

But it wasn’t until March this year that his offer to the Torbay Community Helpline was taken up. He became a telephone befriender to four potentially lonely and isolated people.

The married father of three, now-adult, children was over the moon when the call came as he celebrated his wife Barbara’s birthday: “I remember that call so well. It was Community Builder Usha Garrattley, and I was so chuffed that I told my wife that I was the one that had received the best present, even though it was her birthday.”

He was one of more than 1600 people that have, so far, volunteered through the Helpline and he would urge others to step forward: “Anyone can do it. Most of us have mobile phones with unlimited minutes, so all it costs is your time.”

“All you need is a good listening ear; you need to know how far to go and when to back off. You can, and do, make a difference, but you have to remember it is their life.”

“People’s stories are so much better than fiction. I listen and they inspire me. All you need is empathy, not sympathy. The latter doesn’t help anyone.” he said.

In the last six months, David has spoken regularly to one man whose wife is in a home and no longer recognises him.  The rest of his family live elsewhere in the country and he just needs a friendly voice checking in.

Another was struggling in his home and David, with the help of Usha and AgeUK Torbay, found him a more suitable flat to move into.

“It’s deeply satisfying to know can help in so many ways,” says David. “Loneliness is hideous-and it seems to be getting worse. I liken it to a mental cancer, and we need to tackle it now. Everyone can help. Even one phone call a week will give someone’s life a massive boost-and befriending has made me feel a lot better too, as COVID has affected mental health for most of us.”

David, an estate agent in Brixham, has no problem fitting in his calls and WhatsApp check-in messages around his work and family life.

“Everyone has a role to play, and you always get something out of it. Volunteering like this is two-way traffic and I am so glad I have been able to do it, and I’m very pleased I’m part of this brilliant team.”

And you really can make a difference.  A few months ago I wrote about Tony Satchwell of Paignton, who was lonely for more than ten years after his partner died.

Not unusually, sadly, people drifted away and it was not until he plucked up the courage to speak to AgeUK Torbay that his life began to open up again. But then COVID struck and for a time he was almost back to square one.

But since others heard of his plight he has since been inundated with old friends getting back in touch, not just in Torbay, but from as far away as Newquay and Stratford on Avon from where someone contacted him he had not seen for 32 years.

His life once again is back on track and he is enjoying visits and regular catch up phone calls. And his story will be shared in video interviews for the Ageing Well @Home Festival on October 1st. The festival runs online via the Ageing Well website between 10am and 2pm, and on Riviera FM (107.9FM) from 10am until 11am, and from 1pm until 2pm.

Many volunteering opportunities are available via the Helpline, including befriending, specialist befriending (which needs a background in counselling), call handling, and many more. You can register your interest by calling 01803 446022.

In David’s own words: “Who knows what it might give you?”