Good Causes

Daily call from volunteer helps Phillipa beat isolation blues

A daily phone call makes the world of difference to Phillipa, a 77-year-old with a life-limiting health condition who has not had any visitors or stepped outside her supported living accommodation since March.

Phillipa was diagnosed with Addison’s disease – a rare, but serious adrenal gland disorder – four years ago. Due to the challenges posed by her deteriorating health, she has had to sell or give away most of her possessions and now lives in a small room with an adjacent shower room. Her days revolve around remembering to take the 48 tablets she has been prescribed, trying to eat small portions of food, watching television and doing crosswords.

The pandemic has prevented visits even from members of her immediate family, so the daily call from a trained volunteer at The B-Friend Hub, a National Lottery-funded project run by Omagh Volunteer Centre, is an essential link to the outside world.

Phillipa said, “I really survive for my daily telephone call. We chat about absolutely everything and anything. About what’s going on during this pandemic as well as family, love, music, history and the weather of course.”

Volunteers make a world of difference in communities across the UK and it doesn’t take much time to get involved. That’s why The National Lottery has joined ITV and STV to help people find opportunities to help out (see details at end of story).

Phillipa appreciates all of the “lovely” volunteers who talk to her each week, but says she has developed an “amazing friendship” with one woman in particular. She said, “I can talk about feeling lonely, upset and worried and I’ve been able to tell her things I’ve never told my family. It really helps.”

Being lonely can affect anyone, of course. But it is often elderly people and those living with disabilities and challenging health issues who find themselves stuck at home and lacking company for days on end.

This is where Shirlee McKeown, 56, and her fellow B-Friend Hub volunteers step in. For the past year, Shirlee has been devoting a few hours a week to calling lonely people who have signed up to the B-Friend Hub.

Often Shirlee’s voice, or that of her fellow volunteers, is the only one they will hear that day.

Shirlee said, “It’s something that really resonates with me. I like to think that if I was stuck, someone would lift the phone to have a chat with me. I enjoy the company of the older generation and listening to their stories.”

As well as supporting phone calls by trained volunteers, National Lottery funding has helped the B-Friend Hub send out activity packs containing masks, hand sanitisers, crossword and wordsearch books and drawings created by children from local primary schools.

Shirlee said, “What I love is when you get a person who’s feeling sad and you do what you can to comfort them. Then at the end of the call they tell you they’re feeling much better. It gives you a real wee buzz. It’s like a rainbow has come out from behind the cloud.”

About 250 older people across the Omagh, Strabane and Fermanagh areas are currently receiving a regular friendly phone call from one of the B-Friend Hub’s team of trained volunteer befrienders.

It doesn’t matter how much time you give or what you do, get involved. Go to to see how you could ‘Miss Out to Help Out’, for top tips, inspirational stories and volunteering opportunities to make a difference now.

1st December 2020

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