Whenever I meet new people, they often start conversations with me by doing their best impression of Queen Elizabeth II.

 

"And what do you do?" they enquire.

 

I do my best to explain how I engage with health professionals and volunteers to provide support for people recently discharged from hospital who need additional assistance to regain their independence and to find services which can yadda yadda yadda... It's a little boring to explain. People often stop listening to me after a couple of sentences and move on to other things in their head. They understand I do good work, and that I help real people with real problems but when it's explained this way you don't real get the full picture of how important this work is. That's why I've started using case studies to explain my job, like how I helped Mary.

Mary is 76 and lives in St Austell. Her husband passed away last year and since then she has been in hospital a few times, often with minor complaints. The ward nurse, having seen Mary in hospital before, felt that Mary's biggest concern was that she was now socially isolated and that her frequent hospital admissions were as much about her wanting company as they were about any illness. The nurse asked if we could send a volunteer to visit Mary when she got home just to chat about how she was getting on and what, if any, help she might like to make her feel less lonely.

 

[Quick aside here: loneliness is thought to be as bad for your health as obesity or smoking]

 

We agreed to help Mary and shortly after getting home Mary was visited by our volunteer Janelle. Janelle chatted to Mary about how she was feeling, Mary told Janelle that she still hadn't gotten over her Husband's death and that since then she felt like she hadn't had anyone to talk to. Janelle asked if Mary had talked to a counsellor about this and Mary considered the idea but didn't think it was something she wanted to do right now but may be something she wanted to try in the future, so Janelle wrote down the number for Cruse, a specialist bereavement service. Janelle then asked if attending a day centre to meet new people was something she was interested in, Mary agreed that she did need to get out of the house a little more and agreed to give it a try. Janelle spoke with the Age UK Day Centre and they happily agreed to have Mary come by once to see what the day centre was like, and if she enjoyed it she could come by twice a week.

Usually this would be the end of our good news story, we saw a problem and found a solution. Job done. However before leaving Janelle asked if there was anything else that was bothering Mary. Mary said her hip was still sore from the fall which put her in hospital and that she wasn't sure how she could do her shopping. Janelle asked if she would like someone to do the shopping for her for a few weeks whilst her hip was still sore. Mary thought it was a good idea but didn't know of anyone who could do that for her. Thankfully Janelle knew the British Red Cross could provide that service and gave them a call on Mary's behalf.

The Red Cross just so happened to have volunteers in the area who were able to see Mary once a week and do a shop for her, letting Mary focus on her own health and not stressing at getting down to the shops.

Once again this story is not quite done. Mary phoned me a couple weeks later to ask if we could find some transport to take her to an appointment, she had decided to finally speak to Cruse to help her cope with the loss of her husband and had an appointment to go next week. I spoke to our transport team here at Volunteer Cornwall and we were able to get Mary to the appointment and she has now started counselling for the bereavement which has being affecting her for over a year.

 

So now when the Queen and I finally meet (I assume because I've done something heroic) and she asks me "what do I do?" I can explain I help people like Mary, people who don't realise just how much support there is for them in their community. And then I'll ask the Queen if she is interested in being a volunteer. She'll probably say no but it's worth a try.