“I feel I can say whatever’s on my mind because she’s there to listen.”

Martlets is supporting Compassionate Neighbours, a nationwide project to reduce loneliness and isolation for those touched by end-of-life issues. Wendy has been receiving weekly calls from Hilary, who signed up to be a Compassionate Neighbour via Martlets. She explains why Hilary’s support is so important to her.

“Hilary has been calling me as part of the Compassionate Neighbours scheme for several months now, since the last lockdown. When you have big problems, you don’t always want to offload to your family because it’s so emotional for them; you don’t want to upset the people you care about. Hilary has been such a good listener. Sometimes I’ll say things that I wouldn’t say to my sons or daughters because I don’t want to worry them. I have a lovely family; they’re all grown up and I can talk to them. It’s just that when Hilary calls, I feel I can say whatever’s on my mind because she’s there to listen.

Our journey with Martlets

My husband John has been ill now for almost seven years. When he was first ill, some friends recommended Martlets. Like a lot of people, I thought hospice care was just about end-of-life and not about making life better now. Martlets has been so kind to us and set us up with all the care John needed. And they are still there for us now. Martlets looked after me as well as John. Everything changes when you or someone you love becomes ill. It’s very frightening and as much as I wanted to be there for John, I did feel exhausted sometimes. I used to go into Martlets and have a massage from Jo, a lovely complementary therapist. I couldn’t believe it when they said they wanted to look after me too.

John hasn’t been out of the house now for some time because he has to shield during COVID. His carer used to take him out to the pub and they’d both have a plate of chips. It really did him the world of good. It gave me some time for myself too, so I could meet a friend for coffee. Carers were coming over twice a week to see John, but that had to stop during the last lockdown. That’s when Hilary started to phone, which was lovely as I still felt there was support there. The carers are able to visit again during this lockdown, which is nice for John and for me. It meant I was able to take myself off and sit in a field last week with a flask of tea; I enjoyed having some time to myself in nature.

Hilary is such a good listener

When the last lockdown ended, Hilary said she would keep calling once a week and it’s made such a difference. My brother was also diagnosed a few months ago with an aggressive brain tumour and is now in a hospice. I’ve been able to talk to Hilary and offload about that as well. It’s wonderful to be able to talk to her and I always look forward to her call.

Hilary calls me once a week, but there’s no set day. She’ll call and if it’s not convenient she’ll just call back another day. She is a lovely lady and we usually talk for about 20 minutes. It’s so nice to feel that someone will check in and that they care. Often, we chat about normal, everyday things as well. One of my son’s is in America and she has a son who lives abroad too. So, we have that in common and we talk about how we miss them.

Hilary always remembers what we’ve talked about and asks about John and my brother straight away when she calls. We both have a cup of coffee and one of us will say, ‘has your coffee gone cold?’; we’re talking so much, we forget to drink it!

One day, when things are better with COVID, we’d like to meet up for a coffee in person. It’s funny when you speak to someone on the phone that you’ve never met; you conjure up an image of what you think they might look like. Hilary is a very softly spoken kind lady, so I expect she’ll have a kind face and a wonderful smile. I’m looking forward to meeting up after all these months on the phone as we’ve formed a nice friendship.

Please support Compassionate Neighbours

Until you or someone you love is hit by terminal illness, you can’t imagine how lonely it can be. Having this connection through Compassionate Neighbours is wonderful. Given what we’re all going through with COVID, it’s so important to help people feel less lonely.

When you’re older, time is precious. We’re losing time to COVID and we may not be able to make up for lost experiences later. We hope we will, but you just don’t know. Things are so uncertain at the moment. John and I have missed celebrating our grandson’s 18th birthday and my granddaughter’s 16th. They come and wave through the window and you just want to give them a hug. As humans we need contact. As you get older these family birthdays and celebrations are even more important as time is so precious.

Older people need to feel connected and to know that someone cares. I’ve got my family of course, but there must be people out there who don’t hear from anyone. As well as the dangers of COVID, there’s a mental health issue as well; it’s not normal to be so isolated from others. I do hope Martlets can continue with Compassionate Neighbours as it’s such an important lifeline for so many people.”

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.”