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 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. 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. A lot of us feel the same, and our conversations give us a lift and help us through, it is a win-win.”
Lesley has had to deal with the worry of having one of her four daughters continuing to work as a carer and not know from day to day how she is plus her son, who had to move out 16 weeks ago to allow him to continue working.
She yearns for the day when she can see her family again - and have a cup of tea with the people she has come to know so well on her calls.