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Carol's Story: From Service User to Volunteer

Published on 12 January 2024 09:15 AM

Imagine an older person, living alone in a semi-rural area, with no family, no social life, no transport, and no amenities apart from a shop in the next village. That person was me eighteen months ago. Every day was the same and I had nothing to look forward to. I was stuck in a bad place, and became more isolated, depressed and lonely. I couldn’t see a way out.

Then one day everything changed.

Sometimes, one small step is all that’s needed to put you on the right path. In my case, it was when I reached out for help, specifically to Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough ( Age UK CAP). This wasn’t easy for me as I am socially phobic and reserved, but I was at the end of my tether.

Carol recieving a Christmas Gift from Carol our Sharing Time Team Leader

This was how I became a Sharing Time service user with a volunteer befriender who contacted me weekly for a coffee and a chat. What a tremendous difference this made to my life! Having someone to bounce ideas off allowed me to work out how best to improve my situation. I knew I had to relocate but how would I do that and how could I face leaving my comfort zone?

Plans were set in motion and for the first time I felt really optimistic. I had more contact with Age UK CAP and, as my social circle widened, my depression lifted and I felt more in control of my life. So, I determined to pay it forward and become a befriender myself, initially by telephone because of my location. Since making that decision I have been chatting to an older lady in Cambridge once a week and we have a great deal in common. We both enjoy this interaction and have learned a lot from each other.

My house move happened very quickly and smoothly, as if it was meant to be, and in January 2023 I moved to a cosy flat close to all the amenities with a main bus route a few yards from my door. It was time to confront my social phobia so I joined my new neighbours for coffee at the local community centre. This led to me joining other local activities: table tennis; Tai Chi; and litter picking. The lonely years I spent in my previous home, watching life go by, now seemed like a bad dream.Carol litter picking with two others

Once I was settled in my new life, I realised that my location would allow me to befriend someone else and this time to visit in person. Last month I took on another service user, an older lady who lives in a nearby village and is registered blind. We have a lot of interests in common. Befrienders aren’t chosen at random but carefully matched with their service users so that a rapport can develop. It can be a very rewarding experience for both parties.

I hope my example can inspire other older people. Never give up and believe that your situation is hopeless. It may only need one small step to put you on the right path to a more fulfilling future. Reaching out to Age UK CAP is a very good place to start.

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