IT took a talking-to from her daughter to get Ann McGuigan on the road to volunteering, but six months since she started telephone befriending she no longer feels lonely herself and is making a real difference in the lives of those she speaks to.
Mrs McGuigan is one of more than 150 volunteers at Bramley Elderly Action in Leeds.
“I lost my husband three years ago and I just didn’t want to do anything,” Mrs McGuigan, 70, said. “My youngest daughter said to me, ‘mum it’s time you sorted something out’.
“I had been a member at Bramley Elderly Action for a few years but never really did anything. I started by doing a few hours in the shop and then moved on to the phones.”
Unlike Mrs McGuigan, many of the 14 older people she calls each week have no family around them. Some she says, “never speak to anyone except me”.
But it’s a loneliness that she can relate to, as when her husband of almost 50 years died, she felt lonely herself.
“I put myself in their position, and I know how lucky I am to have my family,” she said.
“But volunteering has been as much for me as it has been for them. It helped me out of a rut.
“I also visit one lady a week, and last week when I saw her after she missed a week, she threw her arms around me and said ‘I’ve missed you’.
“It makes it all worthwhile to see the difference you are making.”
There are 22 befrienders at Bramley Elderly Action, but with a waiting list of people wanting support, more volunteers are needed. As well as befriending, it offers around 30 regular activities a week, as well as trips, supported shopping and extra care trips.
While much of its work may not be outwardly labelled as targeting ‘the lonely’, much of it does, and the charity’s patron, Leeds West MP and co-chair of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, Rachel Reeves, has encouraged it to take up the mantle of Start A Conversation.
The charity’s general manager Lee Ingham said: “It comes a really interesting time as there is so much coverage about loneliness and social isolation now. Campaigns like The Yorkshire Post’s and the Commission give organisations like ours the chance to learn how we can better tackle it.
“But to me it’s pretty simple. We have to get better at hugging people, talking and listening to people. Getting people to activities isn’t enough in itself. There are people we see five times a week who are still lonely.
“What we see here at a micro level is happening across the country on a macro level, in all of our communities. It’s got to start with all of us – we all have neighbours or family members who might be lonely. We’d all be just that bit better off if we looked out for each other.
“Nobody wants to admit to being lonely, and that’s one of the things we need to change. It’s one of the last taboos. But you can help by giving up some of your time.”
To find out more about volunteering with Bramley Elderly Action, contact the charity on 0113 236 1644.