Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Reflections on Volunteering: Britain, Travel and Unconventional Help for the Elderly

May 12th, 2010 · No Comments

CT logo from “cinnamon.org.uk”

Though I haven’t gotten to see the results of my volunteering manifest in the community the way some others have, I feel like I’ve learned something about Norwich, but particularly Britain, from it. Looking for volunteering opportunities, a process which was late to begin with because I had held out hope of reconciling my paper with my experiential, was itself a tedious game of email tag and involved being crushed to see I inexplicably needed a background check for certain great jobs. However, I think I did notice some unusual trends in what volunteering was out there.

Firstly, although Claire came up with the idea for the first Holiday from Home from her own experience being unable to travel due to severe ME, and it is her own ingenuity and passion for travel which prompted her to develop the project into a larger organization, there is something else in the mission of HFH which speaks to something larger. This is the idea that travel is almost a right or at least something that ought to be available to everyone as a matter of fairness  seems to me a quite British idea (despite Britain not having a stunning national record on accessibility for the disabled).

After all, this is a nation where small bookstores will devote a whole wall to travel books and a Google search for British Travel yields more mentions of deals for Brits to go to Mallorca, Egypt and India than for foreigners to go to Scotland or Cornwall, which led a friend of mine to conclude that “the English seem to spend all of their time plotting how to get out of their country.” The first item on the HFH mission statement is “the advancement of health,” which I find to be an innovative way to think about the concept of travel.

Age Concern Norfolk Logo- “www.acnorfolk.org.uk”

This leads me to a wider point about volunteering opportunities in the Norfolk area and nationally: I was impressed with the amount of organizations which catered to the needs of the elderly, and did so in nontraditional ways. I would count Holidays from Home among these, but other larger and more national organizations do this as well. One example is the Cinnamon Trust, which helps to “relieve the anxieties, problems and sometimes injustices, faced by elderly and terminally ill people and their pets, thereby saving a great deal of human sadness and animal suffering.” Another is Age Concern Norfolk, which Anya explored as part of her experiential. It is an organization that offers volunteering roles from keeping older people active to helping with personal finances, all with a eye on companionship.

Doing what you can to help create a holiday or spending some time with an elderly or ill person while looking after their pets address important but often overlooked emotional needs of older people and are something that anyone can do, even for a few hours a week without having to have a background check. I saw a remarkable number of these organizations, both national and local, which is good, especially because I don’t see British culture in general as being notably reverent towards older people. I have no basis for comparison in terms of whether Norwich or Norfolk is exceptional in this regard, but it would be interesting to see whether a younger, larger urban area has as many opportunities in this vein.

I’m still hoping to learn more from my Holidays from Home experience, and because I can volunteer remotely, I intend to do what I can over the summer. Perhaps I’ll be able to see the fruits of my labor in the new holidays. Even if I do not, I feel I’ve gained something from the experience.

Tags: Aidan

An Interview with Terenia Morrison, Project Coordinator with Age Concern Norfolk

January 27th, 2010 · 2 Comments

     Over a cup of hot chocolate and a fruit scone, Terenia Morrison and I discussed the inner workings of Age Concern, a charitable organization which provides services to the elderly of the whole of the United Kingdom. In speaking with her, I became immediately aware that Terenia, a project coordinator with Age Concern’s Norfolk branch, is passionate about her career, and well-aware of the challenges that elderly of the UK face on a day-to-day basis. She has noticed the elderly “are not treated well in this country” and that “our community spirit is not particularly good here,” but believes that Age Concern is doing their part to improve the quality of life for elderly peoples throughout the UK.

     Age Concern provides many different products, programs and services to the aged of the UK, including: help with money matters; insurance information; assistance in obtaining energy subsidies; bereavement services; community development; out-reach posts; access to a care home database; and much more. Terenia mentioned two additional programs which I found especially touching. These were the Pabulum and call centre programs.

     At call centres across the UK, like the one in Buckinghamshire which opened in 2007, volunteers ring participants once a week to chat and offer a fun quiz which keep the mind active and alert. Terenia stated, “experience tells us that old people want warmth, friendship, and nourishment,” and that the loneliness the elderly so often feel “is palpable.” The call centre provides the friendship that so many aged people long for, and assuages the loneliness they might have felt otherwise.

     Pabulum is a program designed specifically for those elderly who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Pabulum frequently hosts “cafés,” themed, 2- or 3-hour sessions run entirely by volunteers consisting of music, lunch, and “reminiscence based activities,” according to the website. The closest Pabulum café venue can be found in nearby Costessey.

    Three of my own grandparents have passed away: I was witness to my own grandfather’s gradual deterioration as a result of Alzheimer’s, until he finally passed away in 2007; I watched my other grandfather pass away, also in 2007; I was lying on the bed next to my grandmother, holding her hand, as I watched her take her last breath, in 2005.

     Talking with Terenia was a very emotional experience, but one that was also refreshing. It is comforting to know that there are good people and charitable organizations that provide services that are so close to my own heart and my own experiences. Terenia Morrison and her fellow volunteers working with Age Concern are truly special people. Dedicating their time and energy to “improving the lives and providing… dignity to the people of Norfolk,” is a loving sacrifice which the most special people, and kindest hearts, are willing to make.

Tags: Anya