Sarah is a registered nurse who is particularly capable and organized. At age forty-seven she is busy raising her teenage son and daughter at their lovely home in Gateshead. She admits to not being a local Geordie, however, having moved there from Lincolnshire. Her daily goal, for the past five years, has been to improve cancer outcomes for patients at Cancer Research UK. There she consults with general practitioners and sets up training and patient referrals procedures. Still, she misses the kind of interpersonal connection she was used to sharing with her patients earlier in her NHS career.
“You still want to help people. You still want to make things better,” Sarah explained.
The outbreak of the pandemic sent her searching for ways to help individuals struggling under these unexpected circumstances. Despite being a professional nurse and having a DBS background check, she still ran into more obstacles than one might imagine. Though there was a massive increase in need and a rising wave of good-hearted people willing to help, the organized connection between the two was wanting. Many others also found their offered help stuck in an administrative bottleneck. The NHS Volunteer Responders, for instance, had to pause taking applications at the end of March in order to handle the 750,000 applications it received.
In April, when Sarah’s hours were cut back to 80%, she had more time to help and so reached out to Age UK Gateshead. They set her up with the Volunteero App which, by cutting out the need for emailing and calling back and forth with administrators, provided her a more direct way to befriend those seeking contact.
“I don’t want to be a nurse on the phone, I want to be a befriender, but I find myself asking how they’re managing at home... It’s lovely. It’s so rewarding.”
One of Sarah’s befriended was a woman who had recently been through a lot. She had fallen, been hospitalized for pneumonia, and had just experienced her husband being admitted to a care home. But what she needed most from Sarah was just to have a normal chat about her day, her life, and her former stomping grounds, where Sarah happened to live. And since the woman had just been given a wheelchair, the two also brainstormed ideas about how to best utilize the tool to enhance the woman’s life.
“She was buzzing when we came off the phone...It is just this kind of extra chatting with somebody who appreciates her,” Sarah said. And she confides that keeping a conversation running is not a problem for her. She smiled, “I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, really.”
It is particularly admirable that Sarah has passed on the importance of serving others to the next generation. When shopping for the homebound, for instance, she had her thirteen-year-old daughter pick out all of the needed items and carry them to their doorsteps. This gave her child the experience of giving while also opening her eyes to how differently people live. Instilling service in youth is particularly needed at the moment, as government sources show that volunteering rates are down in those aged 16 to 24, with those aged 25 to 34 being even less likely to volunteer.
In closing, when asked what she’d say to those considering volunteering, Sarah was highly encouraging:
“It’s very rewarding. It’s a lovely feeling, doing something and making sure people are alright. You don’t have to have set times. It can work for you and around whatever you’re doing. You can even do it after hours.”