Graham signing up to be a Compassionate Neighbour

Signing up to be a Compassionate Neighbour

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

“For many people who are terminally ill and living alone it can be a very isolating and lonely experience. A friendly phone call can make all the difference and that’s why I signed up as a volunteer for Compassionate Neighbours. I was matched with Bernie* who is 79 and has terminal cancer. He lives on his own and I call him once a week for a chat. We’ve also met up in Brighton for a fried breakfast now and again which Bernie loves. He really benefits from the connection, and I enjoy it too. 

Bernie played in a band in the 80s and he’s still a bit of a rock’n’roller. He’ll tell me about the mischief he got up to in the 80s and we’ll talk about all sorts of things. I’ll listen to whatever is on his mind and share something of what I’ve been up to that week. Initially, Bernie was quite depressed and told me he didn’t really see the point in carrying on with life at this stage; he had lost his wife of 30 years to cancer and was struggling with loneliness. But he’s a lot more positive now than he used to be. 

Bernie once said to me out of the blue, ‘You give me a purpose to live’, which really moved me. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that something as simple as a regular chat can make such a difference to someone’s wellbeing. 

Bernie does have some family members and friends he can talk with, and I encourage that. But I think he also values having someone outside of his family and social circle that he can offload to. It’s my role to listen and to empathise without judgement. Sometimes we do talk about his health and the medical treatments he’s undergoing, but it’s his emotional wellbeing that is the most important part of our connection. We have fun, we laugh and tell jokes and share funny stories. 

Compassionate Neighbour Graham

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that I need to remain impartial about whoever and whatever Bernie talks about and not get embroiled in any specific difficulties he may have. Sometimes it’s tempting to get personally involved in his problems because we get on so well and I want to help. That’s where our training comes in. 

The team at Martlets provides training and support for Compassionate Neighbours volunteers which looks at expectations, boundaries, and how to seek back up. It’s a great support system. 

I’ve spent 10 years as a volunteer for the Samaritans helpline, so I am used to working with people who are lonely and depressed. But you don’t need to have that kind of background to be a Compassionate Neighbour as Martlets provides some great training sessions via Zoom. We talked about the boundaries of our role, our expectations and what to do if we have any concerns about the person’s welfare and wellbeing. We also discussed the importance of confidentiality and remaining impartial. You only need to share what you’re comfortable with in terms of your own life and your main purpose is to listen. 

Interesting, there were only a couple of men in my training session and most volunteers on the scheme are women. I think men are becoming more comfortable around feelings and expressing themselves than they used to be, which is a good thing. It would be great if a few more men signed up. Bernie and I talk about feelings, but we also talk power tools and practical blokey stuff if that all gets too much! 

Could you be a Compassionate Neighbour? 

If you’re thinking of volunteering, I’d say give Compassionate Neighbours a go. You can find out more about Compassionate Neighbours on Martlets’ website, but it’s primarily about being a feeling person and good listener. Whatever you’re background you can make a real difference in someone’s life and that is so rewarding. I hope there will be that special somebody there to support me when perhaps my situation changes as I get older. I know the power of a good conversation and a listening ear and it’s so important that the Compassionate Neighbours project keeps going strong.” 

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 who may be at risk of becoming isolated. So please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Contact the Compassionate Neighbours team for more information:

*name changed to maintain anonymity 


Published 09/05/2022