Telephone befriending volunteers help the older ease social isolation

Santa Benga(R)joined the Telephone Befriending project to help Melanie.

The Lancashire Volunteer Partnership is providing telephone befriending service for older and vulnerable residents in the county during the self-isolation period.

Volunteers are having a 40-minute telephone or video chat with people at least once a week to “check-in on how people are” and to “ease social isolation”, according to the charity.

Santa Benga, from Preston, has been visiting Melanie, for over a year until the coronavirus crisis put the UK into lockdown.

Ms Benga then joined the telephone befriending project about two weeks ago to continue their friendship.

Ms Benga admitted it felt “strange” and “a bit of isolated” when she first had telephone conversations with Melanie, as visiting her home creates a more “relaxing atmosphere”.

“(But) even through the telephone conversation, you can still make jokes; you can still sense that person if they are upset or if they are happy,” Ms Benga continued.

“We talk about once a week, but we do text regularly— a couple of times a week— just to check-in.”

For Ms Benga, telephone conversations are all about “creating the sense of somebody is still there for her (Melanie)”, especially “in these hard times when people are stuck in isolation”.

She said: “We talked about the usual things — how she is feeling, any negative thoughts, and then we go through the positivity.

“Just to keep the spirits up — trying not to talk too much about being stuck in the house, but more about what is going to do when things get better, and remembering things that we did, the event we attended.

“We talked a lot about families — she tells me all about her daughters, grandkids, grand-grandchildren.”

The telephone befriending is also a rewarding experience for Ms Benga.

Coming from Latvia, Ms Benga doesn’t have many family members here in the UK though she has stayed here for 15 years.

But the telephone befriending experience has given her a friend and has let her set “an example” for her 13-year-old son of “giving back to the community”.

She does think everyone should “reaching out and be kind to each other”.

And for those who’d like to offer their time and help, she recommended signing up to the Lancashire Volunteer Partnership website where about 15 telephone befriender opportunities are still available within the county.

“You are just giving your time. Sometimes people concentrate too much on money—it’s great to give money, but sometimes people just need your time,” Ms Benga said.

Santa Benga talks about her experience of being a telephone befriender.