Volunteering Stories: Gillian’s story – that 2-way beneficiary dynamic

Gillian started volunteering as a telephone befriender with Age Concern Colchester and North-East Essex just a few months ago, having cared for her mother who lived with Dementia. Shortly after her mother died, who was in her 90s, Gillian decided to volunteer, once she had given herself a little time off. Luckily for us, she saw an advert, and this is her story…

When Mum died, I moved out of the home I had been sharing with her in Poplar, East London to my new home here in Walton-on-the-Naze. Ten years ago, Margaret, a close friend of mine died of pancreatic cancer, leaving her Walton-on-the-Naze property to me as the place I shared with Mum was social housing. I was lucky in that Margaret persuaded me to take early retirement at 56 from my teaching job so that I would have a pension to live on whilst looking after Mum. 

We had always enjoyed our holidays in Clacton when I was a child; we’d come here every holiday. To be honest, it is the befriending I’m doing which is helping me to settle in.

Volunteering has made me meet people

Gillian also volunteers at The Frinton Triangle Community Hall several times a week; this has made her meet people and make friends with some of them of a similar age. Any volunteering is a 2-way thing, you need to give, and you get something back. It’s nice for me now as I have people to go to the cinema with, which is much cheaper in Clacton than it is in London. I want to meet people, do local things and maybe even join The University of the Third Age.

The person I befriend doesn’t want to be visited as she does get out and about with a decent social-life now but during Lockdown she needed contact. I forgot to call her, as I had promised, the first time! Now I set an alarm to remind me as if someone is relying on your call, you must be there. Luckily, she likes a laugh and I like to listen. It works for us both.

I shall continue to phone her regularly, until she decides to stop. When that happened, I shall take on another befriendee.

I am very happy to visit befrindees when we are able but I’m not keen on dogs. Equally, I am happy to telephone-befriend again and am happy to help with the dementia cafes which we are developing. As an ex-primary school teacher, I know how important activities like singing is for the brain and how important it is to be with people. 

Up to the job

I always worried that I would be unable to look after her if that was required; I wasn’t sure I would be up to the job of looking after her when the time came, but I was. I’m pleased that I actually could. 

People on their own don’t know where to start, especially if they have dementia. I learnt to question doctors and social services as you do have to fight for your cause. This is something I want to continue doing; I want to be there for older people, fighting for them and their cause. I want to use my learning about asking the right kind of questions of the medical profession and Social Services. It’s hard not to argue with someone with dementia, but nevertheless, they need their voices heard.

Volunteering contributes to our wellbeing. It can help reduce anxiety and stress and assist with broader mental wellbeing too. Volunteering can help us cope better with illness. We feel more connected, less lonely and get a sense of satisfaction from doing something meaningful. We offer a wide range of roles to help you connect and make a difference.