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Phone chats helping beat loneliness

8th September 2022


An elderly lady on the phone

A project that sees volunteers provide friendship and a listening ear over the phone is proving a lifeline to people who have felt lonely.

Phone Friends, a confidential telephone befriending service run by Age UK Oxfordshire and supported by Sanctuary, has blossomed during the pandemic. From having 47 volunteers before lockdown, now around 160 are making the weekly calls to 700 people aged over 50 who are facing loneliness and isolation.

Virginia Yip became a volunteer during the height of the pandemic when she could no longer give her time at a food bank as her age made her vulnerable. She is now connected with two ladies in their 80s, calling each of them on a Thursday for a regular, friendly chat.

“I heard about Phone Friends from a friend who was doing this and thought what a good idea it was,” she said.

“It has been a really interesting journey and they look forward to our talks. It doesn’t take up a huge amount of time and makes me feel helpful. I look forward to making my calls; it’s a lovely way of giving something back to the community. I have really made friendships over the phone.”

Paula Donaldson, Phone Friends co-ordinator, added: “Some of our volunteers have been phoning the same person for over 10 years.

“Sometimes the call is important to lighten things up in their lives – we had a gentleman who just wanted to be told jokes! One volunteer does the Times crossword with the client, reading them the clues as they can no longer see well enough to do it themselves.

“It can also be a way of passing on information, such as hot weather advice.”

She added: “A lot of older people are still very worried about the situation with Covid and that makes them more housebound. And even if they have carers coming in, the carer doesn’t have time to listen to them talk about their lives, and just have a chat with them.”

One volunteer came forward following the death of her mother, who had received calls through Phone Friends for over 10 years. Knowing how much the calls had meant to her mum, she decided to become a volunteer in memory – and found the calls helped her through her grief.

Another volunteer who was matched with three lonely people found she felt so enriched by it, she took on another three, and has also introduced a friend as a volunteer.

Paula said: “We do have a waiting list so there is always a need for volunteers. We have found that more men have been referred to us, or referred themselves, since the start of Covid and sometimes our lonely ladies prefer to chat to a man, so male volunteers are very welcome.”

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