Volunteer Buddy Meets Self-Isolators in Ilkley for the First TimeAt the beginning of March 2020, leading developer and manager of retirement communities, McCarthy and Stone, appealed to some of its staff to sign up as “buddies” for vulnerable residents shielding in their homes from the coronavirus. Among them was Aleks Clayton, 51, from Bingley.
Aleks, an Entitlements Advisor for McCarthy and Stone, would ordinarily advise its customers on how to get more financial support by understanding what allowances they may be able to claim. However after being furloughed in March, Aleks was keen to do something positive to help and discovered a new-found purpose in supporting the residents and staff at Priestley Court, a Retirement Living development in Ilkley.
Aleks comments: “We know that some of our communities are vulnerable to social isolation and may need emotional support at this challenging time. To help with this I was put in touch with a number of residents at Priestley Court who I would phone regularly and where we would chat about how they were feeling and more often than not, the topic of weather would come up.”
Aleks supported four individuals in total, most of which were in their 80s. Where they were shielding, she would make sure they had everything they needed by going to the local supermarket twice per week and leaving their groceries in the lobby of the development. The House Manager Trudy would then bring them up to their apartment.
“Sometimes there were three or four bags of shopping each”, says Aleks. “Having their home comforts was really important and of course the odd bottle of wine as a treat!”
Aleks says that hearing a different voice on the phone was really vital for some. Having someone to vent to if they needed or just to have a laugh and joke away from the seriousness of the situation.
“I had one lovely resident who sadly lost a relative just before the lockdown. The rules meant they were unable to go to the funeral so it was a very hard time for them”, says Aleks. “I would call and listen to them talk about their memories of them and sometimes they would have a good cry. They really needed someone and it was a privilege to be able to offer some comfort.”
Aleks, who after three months of being a volunteer buddy in Ilkley, has now returned to her full-time role as Entitlements Advisor for McCarthy and Stone. She continues: “I will really miss my chats with the residents there. As much as I was helping them when they were vulnerable, they were helping me. Not working for so long was difficult to comprehend. Selfishly it gave me a routine, a focus which I was really grateful for.”
She continues: “As much as they would thank me, I was equally appreciative of the opportunity - it was good for my mental health. I also developed a really strong relationship with Trudy. It was an incredibly tough time for her being at the helm of the development during the pandemic. She was doing everything possible to keep the residents safe, and I like to think whereas before Covid-19 we were just colleagues, now, we have a lasting friendship.”
Geoffrey Simpson, 88 and his wife Evelyn, 85 were among those that Aleks helped at Priestley Court.
Geoffrey comments: “Aleks was marvellous. Nothing was too much trouble for her. She was so friendly and reliable. We were only sad we never go to meet her in person so finally having the opportunity to see her face-to-face, socially distanced of course, was a real treat. We were able to thank her properly for everything she’d done.”
Geoffrey describes how having someone to help that wasn’t a family member really took the pressure off. “My daughter does such a lot for us but she has her own family and children”, says Geoffrey. “We didn’t want to give her any extra worry so knowing we had Aleks fetching and carrying for us gave her peace of mind.”
Now the restrictions have eased, Geoffrey and Evelyn are able to get out and about a bit more and this week were able to meet Aleks for the first time, from a safe distance, for a cream tea and chat in the lounge at Priestley Court.
Aleks comments: “It was such a delight to see Mr and Mrs Simpson after all this time. They weren’t just voices on the other end of the telephone anymore!
“They coped so well during everything, I do hope we’ll stay in touch.”
Geoffrey says he was especially thankful for the balcony to their apartment during the lockdown. He explains: “Our balcony is a sun-trap so even when were weren’t able to go out we could sit up there quite happily and read. We would chat to people as they went past, actually you might say we made more new acquaintances than we would normally. We were really fortunate to have the support of Aleks and of McCarthy and Stone.”