Leila supports elderly and vulnerable in her community by becoming a Communiteer
Leila Andrews from Southampton answered a charity’s recent plea to help elderly and vulnerable service users and has joined an army of volunteers supporting the lonely and isolated in her community (May 2020).
The 35-year-old, mum-of-one, started volunteering with Communicare – the charity devoted to helping eradicate loneliness in Southampton – a couple of months ago. She says: “I saw an article and Facebook post about Communicare and attended one of their Open Day sessions just before the Coronavirus lockdown to find out more, and chatted to one of the team members. I felt aligned with what they were doing and wanted to be a part of it.”
Communicare is a friendly, neighbourhood charity that wants to eradicate loneliness and isolation in Southampton with the assistance of its band of Communiteers, who volunteer to give their time freely.
Leila, who lives in Ampfield, has worked in Marketing and Communications since leaving university in 2005. She has taken a career break after having her son last year and has recently taken on the role of a volunteer befriender with the charity. “I worked in a rather corporate industry and always felt I’d missed my calling to be able to help others more. Before the lockdown, I enjoyed seeing family and friends, travelling with my husband, going to watch films, theatre or gigs and going to my gym classes.
“I just like being around people, so volunteering is actually really helping me too through lockdown, as well as those I befriend and assist with shopping. You can give as much or as little time as you can spare, every interaction can really help. It’s mutually enriching.”
Communicare’s Good Neighbours’ Network normally supports nearly 400 individuals/families annually, covering more than 2,300 tasks including one-to-one befriending, transport to activities, such as the regular lunch clubs and tea parties it hosted before the lockdown and shopping for, or, pre-COVID-19, with, those it helps.
“I get matched with someone on the list that Communicare has and get introduced. If all goes well, we become friends. Those I had already started meeting before the lockdown, I visited regularly and kept in contact with in between visits. We would go out for tea, I helped with little chores if needed, but mostly we chatted! I have struck up some great friendships already. I love catching up with them and we never have an awkward moment or nothing to talk about, quite the opposite! Now we do our socialising at a safe, sensible distance of course.
“I’ve been very fortunate in the past to have been able to travel lots and love finding out about other cultures and listening to people’s stories. I adore Asia and admire their kind nature and the way they look after each other in their communities. When I came back from a big trip, I found this more apparent and could see, in the UK, that we’d lost a bit of that community spirit generally. There are so many people who don’t get the human interaction most of us need.
“I also lost my nana a couple of years ago. She was in her nineties. Her community had changed over the years, her friends had moved on and she wasn’t able to get out anymore. If it wasn’t for my mum and our close family, she would have been alone. This makes me really sad. Everyone leads such busy lives nowadays and it’s so important to make time for others.”
All the assistance Communicare offers is free to users, although beneficiaries are invited to make a donation if they are able, and Communiteers are offered expenses.
“My volunteering varies week-to-week. You can’t really put a time on how long a chat can last, it depends on how the person is feeling. It’s taking more time since the lockdown, but that’s understandable. During the current crisis, I have extended my volunteering and am doing telephone calls with more people and also weekly shopping.
“I have some people I now shop for regularly and some I do ad hoc, when needed. Communicare send out a request email once or twice a week, so I can reply to that and help when available. I could never just drop off the shopping and leave, so make an effort to have a chat at a safe social distance. I call beforehand to see how they are and check what they need. Once I have done the shopping, I use common sense and can easily social distance and have a chat to see how they are getting on.
“I know I said that one of my reasons for volunteering was originally because I felt there was a lack of community care, but during the COVID-19 outbreak this has changed. So many people are using technology to its full advantage and are really connecting. Even though we can’t be physically close, there is a real sense of community spirit wherever you go. I hope this continues long after the virus has gone.
“I would absolutely recommend volunteering! I get a lot out of it, I make new friends and get to hear about the lives and interests of the people I meet, it’s fascinating.”
Leila was born in London and lived in America when she was younger but then settled in Southampton near her family.
“In my last job I headed up an Internal Communications team, we had a lot of clients who were large corporations and I worked long hours. I had my first child a little over a year ago and decided not to go back, so I could spend time with him. I will go back to work, but I am not sure in what capacity. I need to find something that really does give me a better work-life balance, while still being stimulating. Something good to come out of this awful crisis is that I think more people realise this and businesses have become, and should stay, much more flexible.
“For now, looking after a lively one-year-old and volunteering keep me very busy! My little boy loves the outdoors and is constantly on the go. Although he doesn’t know exactly what is going on, he knows something is different. We used to go to a lot of groups and out to places like Marwell Zoo before. He loves socialising too!”
To find out more about Communicare, please visit www.communicareinsouthampton.org.uk.