#2016hours: How Donald's befriender became '˜like a granddaughter' to him

Natalie Kelly 25,  visits Donald Firth at his home in Bradford.

Picture : Jonathan GawthorpeNatalie Kelly 25,  visits Donald Firth at his home in Bradford.

Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Natalie Kelly 25, visits Donald Firth at his home in Bradford. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
WITH no children of his own, after the passing of his wife, 89-year-old Donald Firth began to feel a loneliness like never before.

But after linking up with befriender Natalie Kelly, “the granddaughter he never had”, his life has been transformed.

Miss Kelly, 25, is a volunteer with the Royal Voluntary Service’s Bradford Good Neighbours.

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It is one of dozens of the charity’s services that are working to support those suffering from loneliness and social isolation, and which are desperately in need of more volunteers.

As part of The Yorkshire Post’s Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, we are calling on our readers to donate their time to a combined 2,016 hours of volunteering over the next year.

Miss Kelly, a business systems analyst, has been volunteering since June last year after spotting a Royal Voluntary Service advert online.

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“I don’t really have any experience of volunteering, but I thought, ‘well, I’m a chatty person, going to see someone could really fit in my life’,” she said.

“I thought the first few visits might be awkward but they weren’t. We have a lot in common. Donald loves music and pubs, and we talk about what Bradford used to be like and things he used to do when he was younger.

Mr Firth’s wife died five years ago and he has no immediate family. While he is quite active, attending an over 55’s club in Laisterdyke, his health was suffering and he struggled with loneliness on some days. It was while at the club he learned about the befriending scheme and referred himself.

Now Miss Kelly visits once a week, and the pair either go out for something to eat, go shopping or stay in and simply have a chat.

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Mr Firth said he “really looks forward to seeing Natalie”, and that she brightens up his life. For Miss Kelly, seeing the impact an hour or two a week makes to Mr Firth’s has been truly rewarding.

“He says it’s made a massive difference,” she said. “One thing he said to me was that it made him feel ten years younger. He looks forward to me visiting. He says I’m like a granddaughter to him. Now I class Donald as a very good friend.”

She is encouraging people to get involved and see how they can made a difference,

She said: “You can just commit to seeing one person - it can be literally just an hour a week - anyone can do it.

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“The whole process was so easy. I just popped into the RVS office, and it only took about 20 minutes. My application got sent off and I just had to wait a little while for the checks to come back. I would 100 per cent recommend it. The satisfaction you get of it is brilliant, and I have met a new friend.

“To think just an hour a week of your time makes so much difference to somebody is amazing.”

Since we launched #2016hours on Saturday, the charity has already been contacted by Yorkshire Post readers willing to help.

Paul Taylor, head of support and development, said: “We are delighted by the response we’ve had so far and I would like to thank everyone who has expressed an interest in volunteering or donated, it really will help to take us one step closer to combating loneliness and isolation amongst older people in Yorkshire. We still need more people to come forward to volunteer though, to enable us to reach our target of 2016 hours and to support all of the older people who need our help. ”

How to help

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To mark the second anniversary of the launch of the Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, we are launching a new drive to urge our readers to donate a combined 2,016 hours of their time to the Royal Voluntary Service.

To volunteer call 0845 608 0122 or visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk Please mention #2016hours

Not able to donate your time? You can also show your support by texting YORK20 followed by the amount you wish to donate (£3, £5, £10) to 70070.