02 Jun
  • By Jeremy Sharpe
  • Cause in

“I love knowing I’m making a difference”

Hilary Sutherland tells us why she enjoys volunteering for Nottingham Linking Lives and how befriending makes a difference to those facing isolation.

Hilary Sutherland signed up as a volunteer for Nottingham Linking Lives in March 2020, after her admin role for the Christian charity Hope Nottingham – which runs the befriending project – was interrupted by the lockdown. “I was unable to get into the office and there was no means of doing the role from home, so I was asked if I would like to become a befriender instead. They needed the help and I had time during lockdown so I was happy to take on the role, having retired 6 years earlier. It was only one hour a week that was needed so it wasn’t too onerous and I felt it was the right thing to do.”

In April 2020, Hilary was matched for friendship with a lady, Amy*, who was in her 30s. “Amy has a lot of complex health needs so can’t do a lot for herself. She has carers to make her meals and look after her and she is unable to work or get out and about by herself. She had been going to a lunch club that was now closed due to the pandemic and her family – who aren’t local – were unable to visit during lockdown, so she had become very isolated and lonely.”

“The lack of regular contact was really impacting on her mental health and I got the sense she was feeling very frustrated at being stuck in her flat with no access to anyone but her carers.”

Hilary started making regular phone calls to Amy. “We chat once a week for around 45 minutes to an hour, and we both enjoy our conversations. She will tell me about her carers and talk about the restrictions and day-to-day life and also talk about things she enjoys, like listening to music. We have also been given activity sheets that have been produced by Linking Lives, so we might do one or two things from that together over the phone. I share things I’ve done and some family news but the real aim of these conversations is for me to provide a listening ear and for her to open up in confidence.”

“Amy doesn’t sleep well so will often have had a rough night’s sleep, and her quality of life isn’t particularly good at the moment, but she always sounds slightly brighter and more positive at the end of our phone calls. To have someone who is phoning and doing it reliably is something she can look forward to, and I think it takes her away from her own situation and any challenges she is facing for that hour each week.”

Hilary and Amy are now looking forward to meeting up in person after lockdown. “We have definitely developed a friendship so it’s funny we have never seen each other face to face. We will laugh about how we haven’t seen each other after a year on, and we have been describing to each other how we look, but actually putting her face to her voice and saying hello in person is something I’m definitely looking forward to.”

As well as making a new friend, Hilary feels she has gained many benefits from her befriending role. “I’ve learned to be a better listener, and knowing I’m helping someone who is lonely and doing a bit of good in the world is really rewarding for me. Jesus went out and helped people who were disadvantaged, weak or lonely, so I feel like I’m doing Jesus’s work and putting my faith into action.

“There’s so much loneliness in our country – which can affect both the young and the old – and if you can touch someone’s life and help lift someone a little bit who may be tipping into a dark area, then I think that’s a really worthwhile thing to be able to do.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Find out more about Nottingham Linking Lives at linkinglives.uk/Nottingham

Interview conducted by Hannah Harris on behalf of Linking Lives UK