Martlets is supporting Compassionate Neighbours, a nationwide project to reduce loneliness and isolation for those touched by end-of-life issues. Sophia has been a Compassionate Neighbour for three months and supports several older people in Brighton and Hove. She tells us about her experience of the scheme.
“I heard about the new Compassionate Neighbours scheme at Martlets and decided to give it a go. I had been wanting to work with a hospice for some time. We had two sessions of online training. These involved thinking about what is meant by the word compassion and practical advice about length and frequency of phone calls. We also discussed how to keep a conversation going, should it feel a bit laboured.
The training was an opportunity to meet some of the other volunteers online and Elmien, who is organising the scheme. Martlets is keen to support its volunteers, so there is a fortnightly supervision group. We talk about the people we’re phoning and discuss any difficulties we might have. One interesting question was raised by Elmien. Would it be a good idea to match volunteer and carer/patient by finding similar interests between them? My personal view is that it is unnecessary. I quite enjoy hearing about something I am not particularly interested in or know nothing about. It provides good material for a conversation.
To talk and to listen
Another issue raised in the supervision group was to do with boundaries. Martlets’ boundaries are quite fluid for the Compassionate Neighbours scheme and we were encouraged to set our own. This was based on how comfortable we felt about discussing our own lives. My own boundaries are quite strict, so I prefer not talking about myself. Though that would not prevent my sharing something if it seemed appropriate. On the whole, my experience has been that the people I am phoning are happy to talk about their lives. Whether it be about what it is like to be a carer, or their families or pets. I am always interested in their life histories and in what support systems they have.
Two of the people I ring are very much connected to religious foundations. And three of the four have close family and friends. Only one seems quite isolated. We have been asked to make a list of the people we feel may be isolated over Christmas. This will ensure that Elmien can arrange for them to receive a call on Christmas Day. Either from us or another volunteer or member of staff at Martlets.
I feel that my phone calls are appreciated by the people I ring; they often spontaneously thank me for calling. If I have any doubts, I ask whether they would like me to ring again or not. There was talk in the supervision group about people who seem not to want to talk much. My feeling is that in this case, one cannot assume the calls are not valued. Sometimes, people have difficulty expressing need or gratitude, but may still greatly appreciate the contact with someone outside their household.
I have never visited Martlets in person and hope to do so once things are back to normal. It would be helpful to get a feel for the place in person. Understanding more about their support services will be useful, in case any of the people we phone need more support. It would also be nice to meet Elmien and some of the other volunteers in person.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01273 273400.”