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A Lucky Volunteer, by Fiona Richmond

Posted on 20 December 2021

It was a newspaper feature in a national newspaper a couple of years back that captured my attention and planted a seed in my mind.

Founders of The Chatty Café scheme had recognised the growing problem of loneliness in the community and decided to do something about it. Their idea, whilst on the surface seemed such a simple concept – bringing people around the table for a chat and a cuppa – clearly  had the potential to be effective and profound, helping to combat the isolation of people in need across the country.

It wasn’t until the pandemic changed all of our lives so rapidly and I noticed a new appeal for volunteers, that I put myself forward to help. Like all organisations, the scheme had to do things differently, replacing the chats around the table with a system of 1:1 weekly telephone calls between volunteers and beneficiaries who, quite simply, just needed someone to talk to.

Being based in Scotland, and working from home, I had the flexibility to fit some calls into my week and was soon matched with a few beneficiaries from various parts of the country, from the Midlands to the South Coast.

It felt like something practical that I could do to help others whom, due to the pandemic, would be battling with even more isolation. And so, in the Summer of 2020, I took a deep breath and picked up the phone.

It all felt very natural from the beginning, and was I amazed at people’s eagerness to talk to a total stranger from the opposite end of the county. It’s a funny thing about human connection and what can happen just by listening – truly listening – taking an interest in the other person and showing some empathy. There’s always something in common to be found, too, no matter the differences in circumstances, geography or anything else. And even when there’s a pause, or a short silence, it’s hope that the beneficiaries take comfort in someone being there.

Almost 18 months on, the weekly calls are in the diary, and I still look forward to them. Even if I’m having a bad day myself (as we all do), I put my lipstick on, smile and remember how important these calls can be to the person on the other end of line. And, whilst they may not realise it, the beneficiaries make a difference to me too. It’s a lovely feeling, and indeed a privilege, to be part of their lives in this way.

Whilst we, as volunteers, can’t wave a magic wand and make loneliness, or any associated problems, go away, as the founders of this remarkable scheme had the foresight to recognise that a chat (or a blether, as we might say in Scotland), can go a long way to bring a little sunshine into the lives of others – and I count myself lucky to play a small part in that.