How befriender Bob helped add a touch of sparkle to Frank’s life - could you help someone suffering from loneliness?
- Credit: Archant
The EADT has joined forces with Age UK Suffolk to launch a campaign called Shine a Light on Loneliness, aimed at making life brighter and better for older folk.
Here, Steve Russell looks at the charity’s brilliant befriending service.
Frank Norman has been using the Age UK Suffolk befriending service for a year. His great-stepdaughter put him in touch with the charity, following the loss of his wife and because of his decreasing eyesight.
Frank is now visited once a week by volunteer befriender Bob Self. Although Frank says he is friendly with his neighbours and has one or two regular visitors, he still spends most of his time at home, alone.
“I see my gardener every other Monday for two hours and then Bob usually comes round on a Tuesday morning. I don’t usually see anybody then until Friday, when my cleaning lady comes over for an hour, and later on my stepson visits after work. That’s it.
“My daughter rings me up on a Sunday afternoon and takes my grocery order, so I will see the delivery man on Monday afternoon – but they don’t hang around.”
Having been married twice, Frank had always had a companion, so adjusting to life on his own has proved challenging and lonely.
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Macular degeneration in one eye and a blind spot in the other have made it difficult for him to get around, watch the television or read. The introduction of a befriender has brought back some much-needed conversation and friendship into Frank’s life.
“I am mainly on my own and I don’t see many people. I’ve always had someone with me, for years, so I really have felt the loss of having nobody here. It has been very lonely.
“I have talking books and also get a talking newspaper; they are very good and they gave me a device to play them on too.
“I was married for 66 years in total: 46 years in my first marriage and 20 years in the second. I cared for them both through illness, until they passed away, so what I do miss is female companionship.”
After contacting Age UK Suffolk, Frank was visited at his home near Ipswich by befriending co-ordinator Sheena Skinner, to assess his needs and match him with a local volunteer befriender.
Frank describes himself as “a fan of the ladies”, and his only question was if they had any lady befrienders – to which Sheena replied “They’re in very short supply!”
He was delighted to be put with befriender Bob Self – even if Bob wasn’t of the preferred gender! – and the two quickly became firm friends.
Frank explains what life has been like since having the befriending service, and the comfort it brings.
“It’s been a great thing having Bob come and visit. We spend a lot of time talking together – we don’t stop! My loneliness has improved a great deal since Bob has been coming to talk to me.
“It’s quite nice to have someone come and visit you for an hour or so a week. Our relationship is very good. I’m a shy person, so I really wait for other people to come and talk to me. We always have something to talk about and occasionally Bob will help me with writing addresses on cards and letters, in case I make a mistake.”
It was at an Age UK Suffolk befriending coffee morning that Bob decided to volunteer as a befriender. The coffee mornings give volunteers, who may not have met other volunteers, a chance to meet one another, share experiences and learn more about the charity.
Bob currently visits both Frank and another local lady. What are his reasons for volunteering his time to help them?
“My partner and her friend are telephone befrienders and I went to an Age UK Suffolk coffee morning with them. It sort of snowballed from there.
“I get a lot of pleasure in giving, and knowing that I am giving Frank a helping hand to relive the boredom and stress of older life. There are a lot of people who don’t get out and don’t see anybody one day to the next.”
Bob explains how Frank has changed since he started his visits, having seen him grow in confidence and now being so much more relaxed and forthcoming with stories.
“A lot of what we talk about has been about Frank’s life in the Fleet Air Arm. We’ve got a common interest because Frank did some of his training in Machrihanish in Scotland; both my sons were in the RAF and my oldest son was actually stationed there.
“I think it’s great relief for Frank as well, sometimes, to talk about some of his old stories and his life in the past.
“Frank was probably a bit apprehensive at the start and thought we wouldn’t have too much in common, but we actually find a lot of commonality between us. It’s having the time to talk and let that conversation flow, which is important.”
Frank has an incredible memory and can happily retell stories of his past, which is not only a release for him but provides great insight – and entertainment – for Bob.
During one visit, he told the story of how he and his second wife got together.
“I first met my second wife at a group lunch and I remember saying, during the lunch, that I do miss having somebody to cherish, and to love and look after. I think she may have made a mental note of that.
“She was a great gardener and she showed me around her garden that same day, after tea. She spent all her days in the garden and she was a great flower-arranger – I still have dried flowers that she arranged in my home.
“We were both born in Gillingham, Kent, about half a mile away, and it took us 70 years to meet. It was finally on our third meeting, after we had been corresponding by letter, that I got a kiss. Now, this kiss told me in no uncertain terms what she had in mind, and I could forget anybody else… Two weeks later, we were engaged!”
Befriending is just one of the ways that older people in Suffolk, who may not have many people to talk, can meet new people.
Age UK Suffolk also runs day clubs, Food ‘n’ Friends groups, Fit as a Fiddle exercise classes, and has information about community lunch clubs, other organisations and more.
Anyone interested in using any of the charity’s services can contact Age UK Suffolk on 01473 351234 or visit www.ageuksuffolk.org – or to find out more about becoming a befriender, call the volunteer department on 01473 298684.