Volunteering transforms the lives of many, says Heather Smith
As MOST of us struggle with ever-expanding to do lists at this time of year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all.
While many people will find themselves swamped by work Christmas parties and family get-togethers, a large number will be spending the festive season alone, and something as simple as a phone call can make a huge difference.
As part of our work to combat loneliness and isolation, Age Scotland works in partnership with the Silver Line to provide Silver Line Scotland. This free telephone service provides information, advice and friendship, allowing people who are feeling lonely and isolated to call in and speak to someone. Many of the people who answer these calls are volunteers.
Silver Line Scotland launched in November 2013 and since then has taken more than 20,000 calls from people across Scotland. Some are looking for advice while others take advantage of Silver Line Friends – a telephone befriending service where a volunteer will call you once a week for a chat. It sounds simple but it’s incredibly effective – like many of the best ideas.
As well as providing services like Silver Line Scotland, Age Scotland is proud to support some amazing local groups who provide some incredible but yet very ordinary acts of charity; the day to day activity that is an extraordinary act of giving but that to the giver is just part of their daily routine. One such group is Grangemouth Community Care.
This group exists to provide a day service for older people in Grangemouth and has been running since 1976. The service is fully run by a team of amazing volunteers led by a remarkable woman called Anne Lowe. Anne is a retired nurse who has been organising Grangemouth Community Care for almost 15 years.
We recently went to visit the service to interview a number of its users to talk about what the service means to them, and to speak to the group’s chairman and, finally, Anne herself. The stories that we filmed were incredibly positive, showing how the work of volunteers has made a fantastic difference in the lives of people in Grangemouth. Whether it was Sally who said that the service made her feel “alive again”, or Tommy who has been a widower for six years and without the service wouldn’t get out and about, or Yvonne and Margaret who through meeting at the centre have discovered that they live round the corner from each other and have formed a close friendship, this is a life-changing service. That it is run by volunteers with little help from the local council and a few grants from Age Scotland is phenomenal.
Services like Grangemouth Community Care promote independence, help with quality of life and provide a link to those who would otherwise be isolated. The benefits to the individual are enormous and can help reduce the need for the state to intervene and protect people suffering from the adverse effects of loneliness.
So as we go through the motions of Christmas 2014, remember that this is a time of giving that takes us towards January, when we are on the lookout for New Year’s resolutions. Instead of making one that’s about benefiting yourself, how about maintaining the Christmas spirit of giving all year round? You don’t need to have money or much time to make a difference – it can be as simple as reaching out to older neighbours or relatives and asking how they are. There are a myriad of volunteering opportunities within national organisations like Silver Line Scotland and local groups like Grangemouth Community Care. Groups like it exist across the country and they get no fanfare but the work that they do wouldn’t happen without extraordinary acts of daily charity.
When you speak to volunteers, the reasons that led them to it are all different but what unites them is the knowledge that what they’re doing will make a difference. If you’re interested in volunteering for Silver Line Scotland please call 0800 4 70 80 90 or for other options in your local area visit www.volunteerscotland.net.
• Heather Smith is information and advice manager at Age Scotland (www.agescotland.org.uk)