This National Befriender week, a woman from Berkshire reflects on how her experience volunteering for an older people’s charity helped with her own grief.
Karen Dignan, 58, who works as Head of Internal Audit at a pension insurance company, spent the past year volunteering with Independent Age’s telephone befriending service in which volunteers regularly call older people for a friendly conversation.
She said: “When we went into lockdown and we all had to stay at home, I couldn’t help but think about how isolated and lonely older people in society must be feeling. When I saw Independent Age’s callout for befriender volunteers, I immediately knew it would be a rewarding experience.
“Through this befriending and other volunteering, I got to know the people I was paired with. I gained an insight into their lives and how much they valued hearing a friendly voice over the phone every week. Many I spoke to had gone through bereavement and so, when I lost my husband, I found my conversations with these people not only helped them but also helped me with my own grief.
“I felt very fulfilled knowing my volunteering was really making a difference to someone’s life. When I no longer had time in my schedule to volunteer, I knew I wanted to continue supporting this work.”
To raise money for the charity, Karen took up the challenge of a sponsored fancy dress month, in which she wore a different costume to work every day of September. Throughout the month, Karen dressed in outfits ranging from a sunflower to a rubix cube.
Karen said: “I definitely got some odd looks around town and in the office – especially when I walked into a meeting dressed as a rubix cube! But it helped start conversations about the need to support older people and it even encouraged my colleagues to do their own fundraising.”
The money raised helps Independent Age provide free and impartial advice on the issues that matter to people over 65 and their families: care and support, money and benefits, health and mobility. The charity seeks to tackle loneliness amongst older people by offering regular friendly contact through volunteers.
Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “Thank you to Karen for her continued support for our work, especially while going through such tragic personal circumstances.
“Our free befriending service is a lifeline to many older people in society who may be experiencing loneliness and isolation. Without volunteers such as Karen, we would not be able to provide older people with the regular contact they deserve. Karen’s story also shows how rewarding volunteering as a befriender can be.”
To find out more about the different ways to fundraise for Independent Age, see https://www.independentage.org/support-us