While support chef Carol Nolan works as a part-time staff member for COPE Galway’s social enterprise Meals4Health, Carol felt she could still do more for her community. With her children now older and more self-sufficient, Carol found she wanted to put the extra time this gave her to good use. Carol spotted a poster on the work noticeboard detailing the Befriending Programme introduced by COPE Galway’s Senior Support Service and thought, “my gosh I would love to do that”, thus setting the wheels in motion for a highly rewarding volunteering role.
Carol describes herself as a quiet person, who “wouldn’t really have thought I would be capable of doing [this work] but it’s actually so easy. I have come out of my shell a little bit.”
COPE Galway set up the Befriending Programme in response to increased loneliness amongst older clients who have been isolating in their homes during the ongoing covid restrictions. Volunteers are matched according to their interests with people who sign up to the programme. “You’re not randomly put in a role … there is somebody for everybody”, explains Carol. She has been matched with an older woman, “Mary”, who lives alone and, while “she does have some good neighbours”, has very little family nearby.
In general, Carol’s befriending duties consist of a weekly hour-long visit, along with “an odd phone call here and there, if needs be. That’s it, really. Pretty much a chat and a cup of tea”. Carol describes the connection as “very rewarding… you realise the benefit that you are bringing to that person by knocking on their door.” Carol says she has noticed that Mary, who spends much of her time alone otherwise, “has come out of herself a bit” too. She speaks fondly of their visits
“it kind of reminds you of your own grandparents … and you’d be thinking that you hope somebody would be kind to them when they need it, you know, it has given cause for reflection.”
Mary, an independent woman who has worked her whole life, also loves the visits and phone calls. She finds it difficult to believe that such a service is available at no cost to her. Mary has told us the Befriending Programme has “transformed her life”; that it gives her a sense of “being still important enough” at her age that someone would take the time to check in with her.
In 2021, Mary reached a milestone birthday, which she had told Carol months earlier she was not going to acknowledge. Carol worked with the Head of Senior Support Service, Jacquie Lynskey, to find out Mary’s actual birthdate and surprised Mary on the day with a cake and gift. Carol describes how Mary was moved to tears over the gesture. “It just meant the world to her”. It’s small gestures like these that can mean so much to others.
Reflecting on the mutual benefits of this programme, Carol says “It’s feel good all-round, I feel good, she feels good, it’s all good. What is one hour in your week? It’s nothing. It’s so simple, it’s so basic. And it means so much.”
If you know someone who would benefit from the befriending programme, or if you would like to volunteer, contact COPE Galway on 085 874 3803.