So this week I've started on this scheme that our council is running in conjunction with one of the charities I volunteer for. Basically its a form of volunteer agency where local groups in need can come for help. To be honest I'm still a bit unsure about it. It appears to me that some of the activities that people are being asked to do are things that local authorities usually pay people to do but with the cuts.....
You indicate online how many hours you can spare a week and when and those in need are matched to you. So this week was the scheme and my first assignment. Obviously I'll talk generally about this as it would be wrong to go into too much detail.
My first assignment was to help a guy, recently confined to a wheelchair and with limited upper body movement to set up his laptop so he could run a net connection via his I-phone. Pretty straightforward stuff but due to a confusing phone it took a little longer.
The thing is that wasn't really why I was there - the details of the assignment mentioned "befriending" which boils down to a cup o' tea and a chat. This I was a bit apprehensive about. Cos it could be a horribly stilted and uncomfortable affair. Would we just end up talking about how he ended up in a chair? Would we have any common ground to discuss.
However I think i struck lucky - I spent an hour longer there than I was assigned to just rabbiting away. The guy was a fellow music nut and we just talked and talked and talked about music and bands. Some I'd never heard of, some I knew the name of and some I was a big fan of. I think he was quite surprised that I knew some of the bands he was mentioning. OK I'm not that familiar with Bees Make Honey or guitarists from Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias but I could throw in some names and references. Gigs at Olympia in 70's with ver Quo, Barclay James Harvest may not be on my "gigs I wish I'd seen" list but it was great to share someones enthusiasm.
At the end I said I'd be pleased to come up again and help him with some other stuff. I'd helped with his email, facebook etc so hopefully that will help him get in touch with people. he'd only just moved into this sheltered accommodation flat complex so hopefully i made him feel a little more settled.
Checked in with the agency later in the day and they said they'd heard from him and his care worker than he was delighted with how it had all gone and would like me to go up there next week for some other tech stuff and music chat.
It feels good to have made a real difference to someone whose life can be very isolated and hard to adjust to. Through the scheme you don't get paid but you get points that add up to free cinema tickets, swimming, cheap meals and the like. As I said, I have mixed emotions as I believe that this may be taking up the slack that has been caused by the deep cuts in social and health services. However - who is going to do it if no one volunteers? I hate to think of guys like this alone and isolated from "the big society" that is supposed to care so much for them in these times of austerity.
People seem to think that the only way to fight these cuts is to pitch a tent in London, put on a V for Vendetta mask and eat mung bean salad. Which is all good but all you cosy liberals can practically help those in need right now by putting down the spliff and getting off your arse. The Tories may have abandoned the sick, the disabled and the helpless but it doesn't mean we should. If you have the spare time, be it just a couple of hours a week, seek out your local charities and see if you can help. It can make all the difference to someones life.
and to be very selfish - all the time I was spending time helping someone else - I never once had any anxiety.