#VolunteeringIs...Making a Positive Difference

Mon 1 Jun 2020

Befriending Networks is delighted to begin Volunteers' Week by sharing Emma's experience of making a positive difference through volunteering with Community Champions, VASL.

Why volunteer?

For several years I have been aware of the amazing work that VASL does within the Harborough district and the positive difference volunteers and staff make to the lives of people in the district. I was keen to help and support individuals over the phone who are struggling with the social distancing rules and who are feeling lonely and isolated during this challenging time. VASL are recruiting volunteers to support over the phone, writing a letter and by email. I felt contacting a member of the community who is isolating and having a chat over the phone feels like an achievable way to create a connection.

Shared interests

I think the way VASL find out about what a volunteer is interested in is really important as it forms part of the connection created between the client and volunteer. For example, VASL found out that I like to crochet which is great as the lady I have contacted over the phone also likes to crochet, so straight away we have a shared interest. The fact we live in Market Harborough is helpful as well as the fact we both likes dogs.

Building relationship over the phone

I have only had one telephone chat so far with the lady I am supporting and have to say the conversation flowed naturally and we had a good conversation. It was lovely for me to hear about the lady`s past in terms of where she was born, her family history and what she liked to do before social restrictions were enforced. From some of the work I have carried out before I know how important it is to let the person you are supporting take the lead in terms of what they want to talk about and to listen without judgment can be very powerful. 

If someone had difficulties with hearing then the phone option may not be the best for them and it could be that a letter or newsletter may be more helpful. VASL provide lots of background information about the person you are matched with so it is easy to strike a conversation.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is often a challenging issue to discuss as people may not always know what they feel is loneliness and also may not want to admit that they are lonely. Loneliness although complex is at its simplest about having a lack of companionship and unmeaningful social relationships. Although lots of services reach out to people and lots of government funding has gone into projects, there is still a stigma about feeling lonely. Loneliness is not about being alone, but more about how a person feels and what they are experiencing. People who are lonely say they feel empty, alone and unwanted. These feelings can be experienced even if there are lots of people around.

What helps?

  • Connect: Phone calls to friends, family, volunteers, talking to neighbours (at a safe distance), Video calls, letters, emails, connect with others who have a shared interest online if you have a computer
  • Help: Ask yourself what help do you need? speak to someone (VASL, GP, friend or family member about the help you need. Can you help someone else? Volunteering can improve your mood and feelings of being connected
  • New hobby / interest Is there something new you can try?   A new recipe, learning a language, short course, crafting, gardening, reading, exercise on line.
  • Fresh air / exercise: Are you able to get fresh air each day? Even opening a window and breathing is helpful. Can you exercise at home? Chair exercise are helpful, meditation and relaxation
  • You are not alone: Many people regardless of their age feel lonely at times, especially during this pandemic.  Remember there is help out there and there are small steps you can make that can have a positive impact.

Thanks to Emma and VASL for sharing this story. Emma lives with her family in Market Harborough and enjoys reading, gardening, baking, crochet, walking my dog and yoga.  She works for a charity based in Hinckley support adults who are experiencing feeling of loneliness and isolation and before this, supported adults to bring about positive changes to their lives both face to face and over the phone. If you'd like to find out more about Community Champions at VASL click here to visit their website.