Martlets is supporting Compassionate Neighbours, a nationwide project to reduce loneliness and isolation for those touched by end-of-life issues. Christian signed up to be a Compassionate Neighbour via Martlets and tells us what a rewarding experience it’s been.
“I’d been interested in volunteering for a while and had thought about Martlets as a possibility. My wife had done some training there as a nurse on the inpatient unit and remembered it as being this extraordinary place. Then I got the chance to visit as part of some fundraising we were doing at work. I was just blown away by how committed all the staff were and what an incredibly joyful atmosphere they had created. So, it was very clear that I wanted to do something useful by way of support and I was directed towards Compassionate Neighbours.
I did a training course online with other volunteers and then I was matched with two people out in the community who needed support. I’ll call them Ted and Mary, rather than use their real names. Ted is an elderly gentleman who is a carer for his wife who is ill. He has wonderful grown-up children, but I think he was feeling a bit isolated around being a carer. So, that’s why he was on the list for Compassionate Neighbours.
We might speak twice a week, sometimes for 40 minutes. But if he is tired it might be for 20 minutes or less. Sometimes Ted will speak about the challenges of being a carer, but often he likes to talk about all sorts of things. It always surprises me whenever he mentions his age. He seems so youthful and engaged; he’s much more curious about the world than I am! Ted has lots of hobbies and his interests are sort of infectious. You can’t help but be interested in the things he talks about. He loves animals, particularly birds, and we talk about his pets a lot.
‘My experience as a Compassionate Neighbour has been mind-expanding and horizon-broadening. It’s good to know that I’m supporting Ted, but I get so much from it too. I’ve got to know someone who’s quite different to my usual circle of friends and it’s absolutely wonderful.’
Just before we all went into the COVID lockdowns, there was a lot of discussion about ‘bursting your bubble’ by creating new contacts that weren’t face-to-face; so via phone, video calls and through social media. It was about finding new ways to stay in touch and to support people who weren’t necessarily in your usual circle. Before that I only tended to talk to people who were quite similar to me, and I wanted to change that.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know someone purely over the phone. I’ve never seen a photo of Ted, but that doesn’t matter. I get a wonderful sense of him when we speak, and it’s been a real privilege. It’s actually felt like an incredibly natural way to get to know someone. One of the great things is that I’ve become friends with a person who’s quite different to me and that’s a new experience. When you meet someone from another generation who knows a lot of stuff there’s always another question to ask and another conversation to be had. I always look forward to talking with him. It’s genuinely one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in life.
‘The other person I speak with, Mary, is in a lot of pain and it’s a very different dynamic. But we still find a lot to talk about and I find it fulfilling, just in a different way.’
Mary is a patient and is often very tired. Sometimes I’ll phone up and she can’t talk because she’s in pain or exhausted. But I still want to let her know that I’m here when and if she feels like talking. She’s had a very interesting life and we’ve talked a lot about that. She likes to talk about the past, and I like to hear about her past. So that’s been great. And we’ve found a shared sense of humour in talking about certain subjects and I’ve been able to really listen to what matters most to her.
As Compassionate Neighbours, we get a lot of support from Martlets. We have monthly check-ins online when the whole team gets together. It’s brilliant as we can ask questions and share experiences and so on. Also, if I have any concerns about my person’s wellbeing or care needs I can pass that on to Martlets. They will do some digging to make sure everything is ok and make sure things are in place to offer practical care and support. I’d say to anyone thinking of volunteering to go ahead, it’s a wonderful scheme to get involved with.”
Could you be a Compassionate Neighbour?
Hilary Mackenzie, Martlets’ Compassionate Neighbours lead, says new recruits are always welcome:
“Over the past year, 24 Compassionate Neighbours volunteers supported 67 patients and carers at home. 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 who may be at risk of becoming isolated. So please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more.”