Provide companionship to older people as a telephone buddyAge UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin volunteer Sheila writes about her experience of being a telephone buddy.

I’d never heard of a telephone buddy until I went to along to volunteer for Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin. I thought I’d be a befriender but found myself joining the small team of people who take it in turns to be a buddy via a phone call rather than in person. That was nearly eight years ago.

To begin with, it’s slightly daunting to ring someone you’ve never met, but the people we ring have asked to have that personal contact by phone and are always pleased to receive a call.

On arrival at Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin’s office in Shrewsbury, the telephone buddy is handed a list of people expecting a call that day, and there can be anything up to 16 or 17 people on that list. Some calls are relatively short if the person on the other end has someone with them or doesn’t feel too well, but usually the calls are around 5-10 minutes, with some lasting 15 minutes or longer if the conversation is going really well or the person needs that extra contact time.

I am constantly impressed by these lovely older people we are fortunate enough to chat to. Most of them sound cheerful and the conversation is often an upbeat exchange of information, but sometimes people can be quite low, and you can hear that in their voice. Then the task is to try to leave them feeling a bit brighter than before and knowing that someone cares, and it is rewarding if you can hear that in their voice when you say goodbye.

What on earth do we chat about? Well, we have the most fascinating conversations sometimes! Last week I was hearing all about the funeral of a Russian baritone which one lady had been following on TV. She obviously loves music and opera, and was so pleased to be able to tell someone about what she’d seen that day.

But I don’t think I’ve ever had quite such an amusing conversation as I did with the lady who told me about growing up on a farm in rural Shropshire. She had difficulty walking until she was six, but one day her brother sat her on the farm horse for the first time. It trotted off quietly enough, but took a detour under some overhanging branches, which was its way of getting rid of people on its back. However, this little girl clung onto the horse as it shot round the field and headed back to its stable, still with the little girl on its back.

The lady said she had learned more about training a horse in those two short minutes than some people learn in a lifetime, and she went on to become a horse trainer and to break in horses. Talking to a very frail sounding lady on the phone, it was an eye-opener and a lesson to me that all the people we chat to have a tale to tell, and usually a very interesting one at that.

Further information