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At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, local charity the Fermanagh Trust created a befriending telephone service ‘Connect Fermanagh’ to support those feeling lonely, afraid or vulnerable. Helped by a team of volunteers, people were encouraged to call 028 66 320 230 for befriending and / or help directing them to certain services. At this current time due to high demand the Fermanagh Trust is looking for more telephone befrienders to support vulnerable and lonely people living in Fermanagh.
One volunteer Helen Gilmore heard of Connect Fermanagh through a friend and felt she had some free time and would like to spend it helping others. In the past Helen has helped with the Alzheimer Society and found her volunteering experience rewarding. Helen feels that through volunteering with Connect Fermanagh she has been given the opportunity to listen and learn from the people she calls. “I think it has been a difficult time especially for people with physical and mental health problems. I hope that the telephone calls give them time to talk about this and also to chat about other things.”
Helen has recently retired and believes volunteering has helped add structure and meaning to her week and a sense of purpose. The people she calls always thank her for making the phone call which she finds very rewarding. “We are all in this together and it benefits us all to keep connected. Phone calls are a great way to do this. A friend who recently died from cancer wrote in her final text to me ‘make every day count’. I try to do this.”
Laura O’Shea is also on the team of Connect Fermanagh Volunteers and says it has been a real privilege getting to know the people she is talking to every week. Laura also feels she has been on a learning curve having gained some insight into how life was lived in Fermanagh in previous generations.
Laura believes the people she calls feel cared and supported through a laugh and a chat. “It’s good for their mental health and makes them feel a valued member of the community. I enjoy the rapport you build with the people you talk to and laughter, it’s good to laugh! It’s good to talk and everyone can feel lonely sometimes, there is no stigma. Please ring and you’ll not regret the friendships you make.”
Caroline Storey has been Volunteering with Connect Fermanagh and makes calls every week to people feeling lonely across Fermanagh. Caroline originally volunteered to be a “chat and check” volunteer with the NHS. The NHS is very important to Caroline, as it saved her life back in 2016 and she still receives ongoing treatment. Caroline wanted to give something back, in the past she had volunteered with St John’s Ambulance.
Caroline started looking for local opportunities and came across Connect Fermanagh. “For those people that I have chatted to they really seem to enjoy just having a chat and having somebody different to talk to, who reassures them and tells them they are not alone. The ongoing happiness and thank yous I receive from people when I call each week is so rewarding. I have stage 5 Kidney Disease and dialyse at home 3 times a week. I make my calls whilst on dialysis, so it makes the time go faster for me and I enjoy a chat too. I am also in isolation so I can understand how everyone else feels. Please do call! We are here to chat and love chatting ourselves. Everyone feels a little lonely and bored at the moment.”
Ciaran McClean started volunteering with Connect Fermanagh as he felt he could use some of his time in the lockdown positively and assist others at the same time. “Now that a relationship has been established service users say they look forward to hearing from me. You get a sense of being part of a wider societal effort to fight Covid-19, which is a positive for one's own mental health. Making small connections when talking with clients, that's the building blocks for establishing trust. View this time as something that will be talked about for many years, live it as a beneficial experience for society. Talking is important on many levels, not least for good mental health. You will have lots to think about after ringing Connect Fermanagh, as a variety of possibilities open up the minute you make the call."
Sonya Johnston from Fermanagh Trust, co-ordinator of Connect Fermanagh said “We cannot thank our volunteers enough for all their help and often they don’t quite realise the huge difference they’re making for the lonely and vulnerable in our community. The demand for the Connect Fermanagh service is getting bigger every week – we’re coming into the winter months, dark evenings, COVID and the restrictions that come with that are still very much around. Many feel in these challenging times that would like to help out in some way – this is a very effective and short term way to play your part just by making a few calls a week from your own home. If you would like to volunteer with us and help those who are feeling lonely, anxious or vulnerable please do get in touch.”
For more information CLICK HERE / tel: 028 66 320 230 / email: email@example.com