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May 28, 2020

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor

These are almost the only people who have not volunteered to make RU OK? calls to isolated and lonely Leeds residents.

In the last three weeks or so I have had the extraordinary privilege of meeting an amazing range of people as I, and staff from our partner organisations, have started to make sure that the volunteers who have come forward from across the city are confident to begin making phone calls to people who are stuck at home and feeling in need of a friendly ear to help them through the week.

The project has come about as the result of a great partnership between Voluntary Action-Leeds, who have coordinated the recruitment of thousands of volunteers, LOPF’s Time to Shine Team who are so conscious of the mental wellbeing of those dealing with isolation, and Leeds City Council who have been able to redeploy staff to support the volunteers.

Our role here in Time to Shine has been to pull together some online training from a range of sources, and then to co-ordinate and implement an enormous face-to-face (well, screen-to-screen) training programme for the 300 (and counting) volunteers who have come forward.

Easy, you’d think for furloughed workers to help out; but not just those on furlough, with plenty of others still at work, or caring for family members, who feel they can spare a few minutes of their days.

So far I have met a judge; a bank manager; a lady in her 70s who admitted she has had to stop work at present to protect her partner’s health; mums on leave from all sorts of jobs, with small children popping in and out of the background; a pub manager; students feeling lucky for their own good health and knowing how much difference a phone call makes to their own grandparents; a naval cadet (so in fact, a sailor has volunteered!) who loves chatting to his older neigbours; call centre workers; sales staff who know if they can sell you something then they can probably use those listening skills to cheer someone up; an NHS IT systems worker, and several retired people who had been volunteering face-to-face and knew how important continued support would be to those they usually met each week.

I have seen untidy bedrooms, carefully curated walls, people’s gardens, and one pub office that looked very like a cupboard!

We have talked about lovely questions like ‘How are you?’; ‘ What did you do when you were 18?’; ‘I know nothing about that, tell me how it works?’, and ‘Can you hear the birds singing in your garden?’

We talked about what to do if it was a difficult conversation, if people were sad, or worried, or had problems getting food.

And it was all amazing, they headed off, uniformly enthusiastic about doing their bit. I hope they enjoy it, that they can make someone’s day a little brighter and that some of them might make a new friend. And on top of that I really hope some of them love it so much that they decide to carry on after the crisis is over. Here at Time to Shine we all know so well that many of the people they are talking to may be no less lonely when most of us get back to ‘normal’.

Jessica Duffy
Time to Shine Learning Facilitator