Feeling isolated? Phone volunteers offer friendship calls to older people
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A charity is reaching out a helping hand with friendship calls for isolated older people in Suffolk.
Re-engage has launched a Call Companions project, which matches people living alone to dedicated volunteers for regular phone chats.
Sheila, 85, of Suffolk, said, “My call companion has been wonderful. I lost my husband the October before the pandemic hit, so I was already feeling very low and just trying to pick myself up again.
"Someone encouraged me to get a call companion, and I’m so pleased I did. We just talk about everything, her two young boys, my grandchildren... She’s been a brilliant support. When it gets to the weekend, I’m just waiting for her call.”
Locally, the telephone befriending service is being funded by Suffolk Community Foundation through the Suffolk Coronavirus Community Fund and East Suffolk Council.
Re-engage usually runs social gatherings for older people, with monthly tea parties in areas including Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket, two groups in Sudbury and two in Eye.
When the parties sadly had to be put on hold due to coronavirus, the volunteer drivers and party organisers started regularly phoning the people who usually attended, to give them support.
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The UK-wide call companions service was launched at the start of the pandemic and has since supported thousands of older people with regular phone calls. Around half of over-75s in Suffolk live alone, many in isolated rural areas.
Re-engage CEO Meryl Davies said, “We know that loneliness can be devastating for one’s sense of wellbeing and the impact of the lockdown has been brutal on older people, especially those living alone.
"A good chat with your call companion really can make all the difference, lifting your spirits and helping you feel more yourself as restrictions ease.”
Support and development officer Alex Berwick said of the service in Suffolk: "We have had an amazing response from people volunteering to be call companions.
"We try to match people with similar interests and often they have a lot in common. We have had some lovely comments from people who use the service."
Mrs Berwick said the tea parties would be relaunched when this was possible, and Re-engage would also be looking to start up more parties.
If you would like a call companion or know someone who could benefit from a regular friendly phone call, get in touch. The service is open to people in Suffolk over 55, including people in the early stages of dementia, as long as their hearing is good enough to benefit from phone calls.
The charity is also looking for call co-ordinators to work with small groups of volunteers and older people. It is not currently looking for call companions, but will welcome more applications for these roles from March 29.
For more details, visit the charity's website or call 0800 716543 free of charge.