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Judith Telefriends Volunteer story

Published on 13 March 2023 10:37 AM

Our Telefriends service was born out of the Covid-19 pandemic with the need for social connection whilst we were all in isolation and many people shielding. Judith was just one member of the Camden community who reached out to help support us. We caught up with Judith to ask her about her experiewnce volunteering with Age UK Camden.

"When the pandemic hit and the country went into lockdown, like thousands of other people, I wanted to do something to help. I enquired about the government volunteering scheme, but they were inundated with requests and couldn’t keep up with demand.

I did a bit of research in my local area and came across Age UK Camden and their Telefriends service. They weren’t in need of any more volunteers at that time, but a few weeks later I was asked if I was still interested and when I said ‘yes’, they sent me some initial information about the roles and responsibilities of a Telefriender. Soon I was contacted by Mark (along with Gabriel manages the service) who organised training for myself and another volunteer, via a Zoom call.

Mark called again and I told him a bit about myself and my interests, what I was happy to talk about and anything I would rather avoid, and he then set about matching me to an isolated older person in Camden.

The first call was a little nerve-wracking as I had no idea what to expect. And I think my client felt the same. But I used our chat to find out a bit more about him, and it was an opportunity for him to ask me questions too. We found quite quickly that we had a lot in common (great matching, Mark!) and were soon on a roll, easily filling the 30 minutes per week.

I was very lucky in that UCL actively encouraged staff (and student) volunteering during lockdown and my manager was very supportive of me doing this at the time, and continuing with it now that things are pretty much back to normal. She and another colleague provided references and I had to undergo a DBS check, which was quick and straightforward.

My routine is to make my weekly call on a day when I’m working from home. But my client and I are pretty flexible, so if I can’t make a session due to meetings, or he can’t as he has an appointment, we re-schedule for another time that week. In 2 ½ years I think there are only 3 or 4 occasions when I’ve not been able to ring him. I keep a note of each session – how it’s gone, how long it was, if there was anything I would like to raise – and forward my sheet to the Telefriends team every 6th call. And I just work an additional 30 minutes at some other point during the week to make up the time.

The support that Age UK Camden provide to their Telefriends is second to none. If I have something I’d like to raise, or have any concerns or worries, I only have to send an email, and they are happy to arrange a chat over the phone. The organisation also schedules regular early evening Zoom events for all their volunteers, where we can meet each other and Age UK Camden staff virtually to share experiences and ask questions. There is often a speaker from the organisation too, and we’ve had talks on, amongst other things, how Age UK Camden gets its funding, and things to look out for as a volunteer. There was an in-person Christmas party last year and despite the bitterly cold weather and icy roads there was a good turnout and I got to meet several people who’d I’d only seen online.

Age UK Camden also provide lots of additional information for us to pass on to our clients about such things as support services, book groups, community Christmas lunches and other things that they may not have known about otherwise.

I would encourage anyone who is able to, to be a part of this valuable and enjoyable activity. It’s really nice to get to know someone new and I very much look forward to my weekly chats. Age UK Camden, and particularly Mark and Gabriel, provide excellent support and guidance, so there’s nothing to be afraid of!"