I was introduced to Gateshead Carers during a meeting between my Mam and Dad and a Carer Wellbeing Facilitator. My Mam had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Dad was contacted by Gateshead Carers to ensure he had all the information he would need. Information about any financial and community help that was available to a person caring for someone living with Dementia. I sat in on the meeting as I usually did, as Dad's memory was not too good either.

During the meeting, the Carer Wellbeing Facilitator told me as a carer I could access services from Gateshead Carers, until that moment I had not classed myself as a carer. They went on to list services available e.g., training, benefits etc.

I asked if there were any volunteering opportunities, as I had volunteered for the Alzheimer’s Society, before the Gateshead office closed. I was given a contact number, so I contacted the office and that is where my volunteering journey began with Gateshead Carers.

Gateshead Carers were about to employ a new Volunteer Coordinator and when Claire Parker was in post, she contacted me for a face-to-face meeting to set up the admin side and to discuss what I would like to do. I had been volunteering as a befriender with Alzheimer’s, so I decided to stick with what I knew. I completed induction training and a DBS clearance, and I met other volunteers. I was then paired with a client. I've always enjoyed listening to people’s life stories and experiences and their worries, to act as the sounding board that everyone needs to stay sane. After a few weeks we became comfortable in each others company, we began to laugh together at our shared childhood antics.

Then Coronavirus raised its ugly head. I had to stop my visits due to the lockdown. Claire asked if I would be interested in telephone Befriending. I said yes and although its vastly different from face to face, as my specialty was with the older generations and the person, I was visiting was hard of hearing and wouldn't be able to manage on the phone. Which was a shame as we had built up a good relationship, but she had a good family and would have plenty of company. However, I have now got two other telephone clients and we are getting to know each other. I call them once a week. Both clients, due to the lockdown, are feeling a bit isolated and lonely. Loneliness, as we all know, can affect our mental health. So, it’s so important to have someone to off load to, to laugh with and let’s face it, moan to. Someone to listen. Listening is such strong medicine and so rewarding to the listener. That's what I do, and I love it.

As for the Gateshead Carers volunteer community because that's what we are, we are a little community who talk to each other via WhatsApp and Zoom meetings. We support each other and share what we are up to, whether it is baking or exercise. We also have such a laugh with each other.

I would recommend volunteering with Gateshead Carers; it is rewarding and a great social network. We even had a virtual Christmas party and how we laughed. If anyone is thinking about volunteering, just contact Gateshead Carers and see what is available. I am sure you will find it as rewarding as I do.