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Befriending an isolated older person

Stephanie Lambeth, a student services officer at King’s, has a long history of volunteering. She has collected donations for Marie Curie, volunteered at local food banks, fundraised for the Youth Learning Network, and made home visits for Age Concern. Stephanie was also a committee member for Parkinson’s UK for over 4 years and has raised £4,450 for Cancer Research UK over the past 9 years by participating in the 5km ‘Race for Life’. More recently, she has been volunteering with Silver Line and speaks with an isolated older lady on the phone for 30 minutes once a week.

Silver Line is a free confidential helpline and friendship service for people aged 55 and over who self-identify as lonely. In the UK, five million people aged over 65 and over half of all people aged over 75 live alone. Over one million people over 65 years of age say they are always, or often feel, lonely. About five million older people consider the TV as their main form of company. To help with the loneliness and sense of isolation experienced by these individuals, Silver Line matches volunteers with older people based on their interests and helps to connect them with local services in their area.

In anticipation of the negative impact that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have on the mental and physical health of older people, King’s has launched a study to investigate the psychological effects of isolation on this group. The PROTECT Online Nested Study aims to better understand the psychosocial effects of quarantine and improve the quality of life in older adults who might struggle due to social isolation.

With older people among those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s never been more essential for The Silver Line to be there as a listening ear to those desperately in need of comfort and support. Calls to the charity have increased by over 30% and this number is continuing to rise.

We spoke with Stephanie about her experience as a Silver Line Friend and how she has continued to volunteer during the pandemic.

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Can you tell us about your voluntary role with Silver Line?

I volunteer with Silver Line by speaking to an older person (a lady in her sixties) for 30 minutes each week. I received training to fully prepare me for the role, which involved a one-hour telephone interview and a one-hour telephone training session. Additional training was also available online to make it as convenient as possible.

Silver Line match your interest with a person through a long thought out process. I get on great with the older lady I have been paired with. We mainly talk about what is going on in our lives and she asks me a lot of questions. We also talk about food a lot because I like cooking. The time always goes very fast!

Why did you choose to use volunteer with Silver Line?

I had previous experience volunteering with Age UK (formerly Age Concern), through which I visited an older lady in her home. My current voluntary role with Silver Line is more manageable, especially at the moment, as I do not need to physically go to the lady’s house and we speak at a mutually convenient time – we agree a set date and time that suits us both. It doesn’t eat into my time that much but the difference to her is massive. A 30-minute phone call can make such a big difference to someone who feels lonely and isolated.

I also chose to volunteer with Silver Line because ageing is an inevitable part of everyone’s lives which makes it very personal – you can’t help thinking about your ageing relatives and yourself. And loneliness is unfortunately something that many people suffer.

Have your conversations with your Silver Line friend continued during COVID-19?

Our conversations have continued as the calls were scheduled each week anyway. Our conversations haven’t changed really; we just know each other better so can ask more personal questions.

It was important for me to continue volunteering with Silverline during COVID-19 as older people are particularly suffering from the effects of isolation and limited social contact with family and friends.

What do you enjoy and find most rewarding about your conversations?

Having a laugh! We a laugh a lot and I know she looks forward to it enormously as she can go days without seeing anyone. Many older people put the TV on for company but there is nothing like having someone at the end of the phone. Giving something back is highly rewarding and gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

My volunteering with Silver Line also helps me with work as it allows me to fine-tune my interpersonal skills and develop new abilities. One of the great benefits of volunteering is that it can give you the chance to try a job that you have been thinking about but don’t want to commit to yet.

They say volunteering is the ultimate selfish act because you get so much from it.

What support did you receive from King’s to volunteer with Silver Line?

When I started working at King’s I loved the culture of giving – you don’t get that in all places of work – so I felt supported from the very beginning in continuing my voluntary activities.

My line manager was really encouraging and supportive of me using my Service Time – the allocated hours that King’s gives to all members of staff for voluntary activities – to volunteer with Silver Line. They allowed me to make the phone call during working hours and adjust the rota to ensure the Student Services phones were covered. I also had regular 121 meetings with my line manager about how it was going.

I have now used up my Service Time but it was a good kick start and I continue to speak to the older lady in my own time on Saturday mornings.

What does Service mean to you?

Service means showing empathy and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. A lot of people have a lot going on and it easy to take your life for granted.

Volunteering with vulnerable people can give you another perspective and remind you of what you have to be thankful for.

I love my calls, it makes my week. It is a great match as we are like two peas in a pod with a similar wicked sense of humour!– Silver Line beneficiary

Find out more about volunteering with Silver Line on their website.

During this period of uncertainty and change, King’s is stepping up efforts to deliver on its promise to make the world a better place by continuing to serve our local, national and international communities.

Visit the #ContinuingToServe webpage to discover existing projects that need support and to let us know how you can help.

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