Julie Partridge: Good Neighbours Volunteer

My name is Julie Partridge and I’m from Whitley Bay.

I have been a very, very happy primary teacher for 32 years. I planned to retire early this Easter and have a ‘gap’ year, to volunteer in my local community whilst deciding what to do next. I set up some different volunteer roles (beach wheelchairs, National Trust, Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme) but they have been put on the ‘back burner’ during the Covid-19 outbreak. With safeguarding clearance already in place (through local charity DepaulUK), I decided to volunteer with VODA and Dreamshine CIC, who are providing telephone befriending at this time.

I wanted to volunteer during this time because there are many things about the present situation that are so completely beyond our control that I am concerned about people’s mental health and wellbeing. What can I say? The experience has been an absolute pleasure. As I was writing this blog, the lady whose shopping I did this morning has telephoned and couldn’t thank me enough. This is a ‘win-win’ situation for me as I get as much, if not more, out of helping as the people do in being helped.

So far, I have been shopping for people in isolation, mentoring a young person and doing telephone shifts for Dreamshine, where we chat or signpost people to other relevant helplines. Presenting a friendly face and a positive voice is, hopefully, my way of having a small effect. I would do anything if it just helped someone feel a little less isolated or lonely. The practical task of shopping also hopefully takes a worry away.

One of my regular weekly shopping trips has become a ‘chat’ as well. Once a week we chat on the phone as we go over the list and I make sure that I’m not in a rush when delivering the shopping. The person that I shop for has acknowledged that they are struggling with their mental health in the present climate and seems to enjoy the interaction that we have. Many people have used the phrase ‘human voice’ and I believe that is what is needed at this time.

I have enjoyed so much about this experience – the smiles, the laughter and the feeling of being a tiny helping part of a much, much bigger movement. I would encourage others thinking about volunteering to just do it! What are you waiting for?

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