Lesley Bullock had volunteered for most of her life and was wondering what she could do when the coronavirus struck and lockdown began.
She really wanted to help, but her own medical condition meant that she had to shield which ruled out shopping for neighbours, collecting prescriptions or anything that would mean leaving her home in Foxhole Road in Paignton.
Then she spotted some information from the Torbay Helpline about telephone befriending, and the penny clicked: “People say I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, so I signed up with our community builder Nina Cooper.”
Not only can 57-year-old Lesley talk, but she is also good at it, so good that at the height of the crisis nine people were looking to forward to hearing from her – often the only other person they spoke to from week to week.
As the lockdown has eased, Lesley is now down to seven, but one of those is three times a week and another four times a week and she spends at least 18 hours every week with the phone clamped to her ear.
“I have one 90 year old who misses her friends and her church and at first the calls were difficult. It took me weeks to get her to laugh, but we got there,” said Lesley who does not underestimate the importance of her calls.
“I have one lady with who I ring several times a week to give her daughter, who is her carer a bit of a break and if I don’t ring within minutes of the time I said I would she is on the phone asking me where I am.”
And it is a combination of the calls and her wonderful neighbours, Jacqui and Keri that have given her, in her own words, a reason to get out of bed every morning.
“Without the calls and my neighbours, I honestly do not know how I would have got through this. Some days it is like being in prison when the key has been thrown away, and you have been forgotten.
“A lot of us feel the same, and our conversations give us a lift and help us through, it is a win-win,” she added.
In addition to the calls for the helpline – several of which will continue long after the crisis is over because the people have now become firm friends, Lesley keeps in touch with her family of four daughters, a son and five grandchildren
She has had to deal with the worry of having one of her daughters continuing to work as a carer and not know from day to day how she is and of her son who had to move out sixteen weeks ago to allow him to continue working.
Lesley has had COPD for more than ten years, and her world was already shrinking because of mobility issues.
But she did manage to keep in touch with her community, and she misses many of the people she saw in the neighbourhood from week to week.
Even now as the shielded restrictions are lifted slightly, she is reluctant to go out and thus far has only managed 20minutes in her garden since the week before lockdown began.
She yearns for the day when she can see her children and grandchildren again and even get to have a cup of tea with some of the people she has come to know so well on her calls.
She also wants to carry on her life of volunteering – she was involved for many years with the St John Ambulance and worked with Nina when the Crafty Fox was being set up – and she wants to work with older people
“I will be looking to volunteer to visit older people, “she said “there are a lot of people out there who have nobody, and they are the ones that get left behind.
“So many are too frightened to ask for help, and yet they still have so much to give,” said Lesley.
With people like Lesley reaching out the hand of friendship, one thing is for sure - their world won’t remain silent for long.
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