I Have No Plans To Stop
I was working for a charity in fundraising. I'm originally from London. When lockdown hit I had the furlough scheme, so I had enough income to get by. I felt a bit useless. I didn't feel like I had been hugely impacted, if that makes sense. Lots of people were getting sick or had basically no job, so I felt quite fortunate, but also like I wasn't really doing anything. And I could see lots of people doing shopping for other people, but I didn't feel like I wanted to do that because I have an underlying health condition and I didn't want to expose myself. But I wanted to help.
There were so many amazing community things happening but I live in a flat and we don't really have a community on the street. I didn't feel like I could do shopping and deliveries and stuff like that. I was doing a little bit of research into different things that I could do, and I came across Oxford Hub. It seemed quite well organised and there was a community aspect to it. Also it had different ways that you could get involved. Phone Links, which is what I do, felt like a good option for me as I have - years ago - done helplines and phone volunteering. So I applied, did some training and got assigned to a group of volunteers – a ‘Pod’. The Pod Leader got in touch after a couple of weeks with a few different people for me to call. I took on one person at first, but regularly - so every day we'll have a chat - and I've just taken on someone else who is more like twice a week, but for slightly longer chats.
It's been really good. The guy that I've been speaking to the longest, sometimes it was a challenge to keep the conversation going because he's not a very talkative person. He's more of a one-word-answer person. If I'm totally honest, I was always a bit panicked beforehand, like, “What should I do to keep the conversation going? How am I going to do this? How should I prepare?” But now we've got to know each other better. I know what he'll be doing day to day and what his interests are. It's become more familiar. It has become a bit of a routine. I'll call him at 9.30, before I start work, and we kind of get into a bit of a flow. And we usually cover similar topics, what we've been up to - what we're going to be doing, what we're going to be eating - as well as what he likes talking about, what interests him. Now he's asking questions back so I don't really feel like, “Oh no! What if we don't have anything to talk about?” It's just nice to have a bit of a general chat about what's going on.
He’s very open about his life and the fact that he's had a difficult year and has mental health difficulties. But he is also quite closed. If you ever say, “How are you?” he will always say, “I'm absolutely fine”. Always 100% “I'm fine. I'm fine. Don't worry about me. I'm totally fine”. So he's an interesting one. But we have got to know more about each other. I know that he has other support for his mental health. I think the person that supports him felt it would be beneficial to sign up to Phone Link because he is quite isolated. And because it's just good to have someone external to talk to. I haven't done practical help but I know he does have other support from other places.
I don't actually know the difference that it's made for him but he definitely has become a lot more chatty. And he's asking me a lot more questions and seems kind of happy. But I don't think he’s ever said anything directly. I kind of just take his steer. So I guess I'm hoping he's finding it useful in some way as he wants to carry on having these conversations.
I guess one of the reasons that I wanted to do it was to feel like I was doing something helpful and to be a bit more connected into the community. It’s grounded me a little bit more. He's someone who I wouldn't usually talk to day-to-day - our paths might not naturally cross, we don't have loads in common. I've also opened up to him because he's very, very attune to my voice. There was one night where I couldn’t sleep because I was a bit stressed. And I called him in the morning and he’s like, “Oh you sound so tired”. Or he's like, “Oh, you don't sound very well, are you sure you're ok?” He's very perceptive. So I found myself opening up about stuff as well. So it's been good. I've enjoyed it and hopefully he has as well.
The thing that I've really enjoyed is that it's manageable, especially now that I've started work again after a bit of a break. It's been broken down in a really organised way. And I really appreciate that side of it. They made it quite obvious at the training that if you need anything, if you're concerned about anything, there's all these resources. If you are worried about something, or you would like to do a further referral, there are clear and easy ways to do that. I’ve had a Zoom call with the others in my Pod – that was really good - and we're going to have another catch-up call soon. Obviously I don't want to take up lots of people's time but it might be nice, or fun, if it was a group that was meeting up in person. It might be nice to know a little bit more about the other people in the Pod.
I've been impressed with how manageable it's been made. There's little hubs of volunteers and you can speak to each other or to the leader and I think that works quite well. I think that's a good way of organising grassroots responses. One thing that's really good is that the infrastructure is now there – a system is now set up. So hopefully that level of support will still carry on.
I have no plans to stop for the time being.
Edited by Renata Allen