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Compassionate Neighbours

Martlets is supporting Compassionate Neighbours, a nationwide project to reduce loneliness and isolation for those touched by end-of-life issues. Rob signed up to be a Compassionate Neighbour via Martlets and here he tells us what a rewarding experience it’s been.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I could see that health and community services were stretched across Brighton and Hove. There were a lot of people out there who needed support and I realised I could help. Compassionate Neighbours was something I could join in with because it doesn’t require any clinical knowledge, just life knowledge. Both my parents have died and I realised I could use my life experience to support an older person.

It’s a couple of hours every week or two and you might speak with several people. At the moment I’m just talking to one person, a gentleman called Clive*. We talk every couple of weeks for half an hour or so. He’s in his early 80s and is a carer for his poorly wife. He has a lot of life experience and is great fun. We hit if off straight away.

We talk about astronomy or football and the fact that I don’t like football whereas he quite likes it. I’m passionate about Formula One and he’s not keen, but we enjoy hearing about each other’s interests. We have a laugh about our likes and dislikes. He’s cheered up by the end of the call; we’ve been laughing and he’s forgotten all about his problems for a while. That’s great, because he gets quite down about how hard it is looking after his wife who is very ill. Before talking about lighter stuff, he often uses me as a sounding board. There are sensitive things he can’t say to his wife or family that he’ll say to me. It’s useful for him to express how he’s feeling and get the frustration off his chest.

A gateway to essential care

Clive talks about how he’s coping with his wife’s illness and a bit about what he needs by way of support. That’s useful because then I can feed this back to Elmien, who organises the scheme at Martlets. I can say look this chap needs some support outside of Compassionate Neighbours; he needs help with how he manages his wife’s mood swings, given that she’s very poorly and nearing end-of-life. Elmien can then link him in with other Martlets’ services such as respite care, counselling and so on.

We’ve now got members of the counselling team at Martlets talking to Clive which he’s finding very helpful. He’s absolutely blown away with the support that Martlets is offering him and his wife and wider family. He wouldn’t have known that was available to him unless I’d mentioned it and helped with the referral.

As a Compassionate Neighbour, you can choose how involved you want to get. There’s no restriction on the amount of interaction we can have, it’s purely down to myself and Clive. Some Compassionate Neighbours prefer to just listen and not share too much of themselves, but I enjoy it being a two-way conversation. Clive said how about when it’s a nice weekend I go round and have a cup of tea in the garden; he’s got a little covered area where we can socially distance. He says it’s company he misses as much as anything; although the phone calls are great, he does miss a face-to-face contact. So I’ll go and sit in his garden soon for a chat.

I’d say to anyone who’s got a bit of time to spare to give Compassionate Neighbours a go.

There’s a bit of training upfront which is done online. It’s easy and doesn’t take long. You’ll feel supported all the way. We also have a support meeting regularly online, so we can all talk about our experiences. Sometimes staff from other hospices and their Compassionate Neighbours have joined the meetings to. It’s been great to hear about what’s worked for them and how they’ve resolved any issues.

Clive is always pleased to get my call. He’s a lovely chap and I enjoy our chats. Although I’m 30 years younger than him, he’s quite happy chatting to me. I’ve met someone I wouldn’t otherwise have met and learnt things from him. It’s been a great thing to do and very rewarding on both sides.”

 Could you be a Compassionate Neighbour?

Elmien Brink, Martlets’ Compassionate Neighbours lead, says new recruits are always welcome:

“Around 200,000 older people in the UK have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month. It’s a shocking statistic and we want to help people connect across the local community. Our Compassionate Neighbours are trained volunteers who offer friendship and emotional support to local people. During the COVID-19 pandemic it is a particularly important we support people who may be at risk of becoming isolated. So please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more. You can contact me via cn@martlets.org.uk or call 01273 273400.”

*name changed for anonymity