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Jim's Story

Published on 15 July 2021 11:00 PM

75-year-old Jim lives in Belfast, and having led a packed and colourful life, he is full of tales of his early life in the city.

First and foremost, he is a family man. When his wife passed away suddenly in her early thirties, he single-handedly raised his son and daughter, who were then barely out of primary school. Jim now has a gaggle of grandchildren and, during lockdown, became a great-grandparent to a precious baby girl. The pride beams out of him when he talks about the moment he finally got to hold her when lockdown restrictions eased.

Jim comes from a big, typical Belfast family, but suffered the devastating loss of his older brother in the early 1970’s. The duo were close growing up, after Jim tailed along at just 6 years old, as his brother sold the Belfast Telegraph as a paperboy on the streets of the city (he can still make the newspaper-seller’s “Tele” cry). Pennies from their earnings were brought home and tipped into their mother’s apron, to keep the house running (including the coins Jim tried to squirrel away in his shoes!) 

Straight out of school, Jim joined his brother working in the Harland & Wolf shipyard, and with a foot up from his sibling, Jim eventually became a driver of one of the yard’s famous giant yellow cranes. This is like meeting a Belfast megastar!

Love of Sport 

Coming a very close second to his love of family, Jim is a man who also adores his sport. Having had a trial for Spurs in his early days, homesickness got the better of him and he returned home. He went to school with another famous Belfast footballer (you can guess who) and they remained friends for many years when he visited his old home in the east of the city.

His passion for football took him into coaching what became known as “The Wine Team”. When asked why they had this name, he describes how the group of teenagers stood at the corner of his street, overlooking his garden, drinking wine and throwing the empty bottles onto his lawn. After some negotiation over the litter, they eventually asked Jim if he would coach them as a football team. He whipped them into shape and together they went on to win multiple leagues and trophies under his leadership. Jim also coached a local women’s team, who became equally successful with wins and cups. He was a swimmer and a marathon runner and he loves boxing (his dad was a boxer and his grandson was good friends with Carl Frampton, who he follows closely). In Jim’s living room, alongside many photos of his beloved family, he also has a shelf stacked with darts trophies.

Now in his 70’s, Jim has turned his competitive streak towards fishing, which he enjoys with his son and grandson. With the easing of lockdown, he has finally been able to get out fishing, an experience he described as “out of this world” – he said he didn’t want to get back in the car to come home.

Covid Isolation

Like many older people living alone in the last year, Jim has felt the heavy burden of loneliness and isolation. With all of his sport and community activities locked down, his family were working long hours in healthcare and education, and they knew they must stay away to keep Jim safe. 

Always the joker in the family, as the months went by, Jim’s attempts to remain upbeat on calls to his son and daughter couldn’t compensate for the long days spent in his house alone, with only rare trips to the corner shop. His family became increasingly worried about him as loneliness brought him lower and lower.

Check In and Chat Connections

In early Autumn, Jim was put in touch with Age NI’s Check In and Chat service. He was matched with Age NI volunteer Laura, who called him weekly. Laura very quickly learned a lot about fishing and football and, most importantly, discovered how important Jim’s family is to him.

Jim opened up to Laura about his past, sharing memories of loves and losses and working through thoughts which were troubling him as he had sat alone. He was able to offload some of his worries without feeling he was burdening his family.

With the promise of a regular weekly call, Jim had something to look forward to each week, giving him connection to life outside his four walls in some of his darkest and most difficult times.

Jim wanted to share his experience of the Age NI Check In and Chat service and says others need to know there is someone out there. He said “I can honestly say that Laura saved my life. I will never be able to repay her for what she’s done for me. At one point, I was gone, down, out. But I waited for Laura to call. She showed me how much my family mean to me. I thank god she was there for me.  She’s given me a new start and I know I’m coming out of it now. I’m looking forward to taking my son and grandson fishing, seeing my great grand-daughter growing up and watching my grandson play football – you should see that boy in goals: I taught him everything!”

We need your help to train and support more volunteers, so that we can provide friendship calls to break the loneliness for more older people like Jim. Sadly, even as life returns to normal, isolation is a way of life for many of the 80,000 older people who live alone in Northern Ireland.

To donate to our Check In and Chat appeal visit our appeal page


Last updated: Jul 04 2023

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