When Diane retired, she thought she’d finished with checking emails and making phone calls.
“I worked in corporate travel management all my life, for the last nine years on a very intense emergency assistance account,” she says. “It was constantly dealing with stressed people, so you had to be at the top of your game. When I reached the age of 65, I felt the time was right to ease up a bit.”
Volunteering in the pandemic
With looking after her grandchildren and various home improvement projects to manage, she was kept pretty busy. But when the pandemic struck, she stepped up as a community response volunteer with Royal Voluntary Service (RVS). This team of volunteers supports the NHS by running shopping errands and delivering medication for people; Diane’s friendly voice could be the first port of call for someone registered as in need of support.
“Some people are just glad to chat – I’ve had some great conversations!” she says. “Often I had to draw on my telephone manner from my old career, to be alert and helpful with their needs.”
Some of the people she has spoken to are far from family, perhaps very anxious about what’s happening outside their front door and with no-one to speak to, or coping with health issues on their own.
“People often start off a bit low; one lady thanked me just for making her laugh,” says Diane. “It’s so fulfilling. I’ve always been used to speaking to anyone, from the highest board member to the tea-maker – people are people, and I’m one for helping in the way I’d like to be helped.”
Supporting pilgrims in France
Her caring side came out when Diane started volunteering with the Catholic Association in Lourdes, a sanctuary in France where pilgrims go to pray.
As part of the core care team, she helped feed, wash and dress the pilgrims in need of support.
“I’m not Catholic myself – I started going at a particularly awful time in my life, when I felt very dejected, and a friend suggested I volunteer,” she says. “I really enjoyed it – it’s a bit like being an overgrown mum! I’ve met some lovely people and am really looking forward to going back next year. It’s about seeing beyond the wheelchair to the person.”
“In my job, people needed a travel agent that would understand and come up with solutions; if there was no direct flight, then could I fly them to a nearby airport and hire a car for them?” she says.
Diane is also now back running “Nanny Daycare” twice a week (her fifth grandchild was born in July), but is still keeping up with her RVS volunteering.
“I enjoy helping where I can. This interaction with people who, like me, have been keeping a distance from others, has helped me recover from the loneliness that creeps up on you without you realising,” she says.
Volunteering can support your own wellbeing, with proven benefits to both mental and physical health, particularly helpful now when so many of us are working from home. If you would like to volunteer, or would like to find out more about the volunteering options available – visit the Royal Voluntary Service website.