This week is National Volunteers Week, a chance for us all to thank the thousands of people who volunteer their time to improving the lives of others and to celebrate volunteering in all its diversity.
Contact the Elderly is a national charity solely dedicated to tackling loneliness and social isolation in older people. Through face-to-face contact supported by a network of volunteers, the charity organises Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of people who live alone and are aged 75 and above.
One of the charity’s longest serving volunteers is Sheila Glazebrook, who this year will step down from coordinating Contact the Elderly’s groups in and around Oxford, after a staggering 53 years.
Sheila first heard about Contact the Elderly when she read an article by its founder, Trevor Lyttleton. The article explained that taking lonely older people out for tea enabled them to reconnect with the community and make new friends. Sheila had just finished university, loved baking cakes, and had always enjoyed spending time with older people and so she decided to get involved and ended up founding Contact the Elderly’s first group in Harrow, hosting her first tea party at her parents’ home. Since then, she hasn’t looked back. Sheila says:
“It was so rewarding to see [at that first tea party] just how much the older people we welcomed into our home appreciated our small act of kindness. I decided this was something I wanted to continue doing, and here I am almost 53 years later!”
Sheila has volunteered for the charity in almost every possible capacity in her five decades of service. She’s been a volunteer driver, host and still to this day coordinates Contact the Elderly groups in and around Oxford. She’s seen the charity grow from its humble roots into a national organisation, working with 11,000 volunteers to provide vital social connections for over 6,000 of the most isolated older people in the UK.
“I’ve spent countless happy afternoons drinking tea, eating cakes and enjoying conversations with older guests and my fellow volunteers. I’ve heard fascinating stories from a world that’s slowly disappearing, connected with people from all walks of life and, I hope, made a positive difference to the lives of some of the older guests I’ve met over the years.”
“I know I’ve gained as much as I’ve given in my years of volunteering with Contact the Elderly. It’s been an amazing journey, and one which I wouldn’t change for the world.”
Sheila’s story says so much about the power of volunteering, not only in terms of the vital work she’s done to help isolated older people, but also for her own wellbeing. It would be no exaggeration to say that Sheila has brought joy, friendship and companionship to hundreds, if not thousands, of older people who otherwise would have to suffer in silence. The impact she’s made to the lives of the isolated older people she’s worked with over the years is truly immeasurable.
As Sheila’s story shows, volunteering is a rewarding and life-enhancing thing to do. So no matter what your passion or skills, there will be a volunteering place out there for you.
To find out more about Contact the Elderly, please visit: www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk
For more information on volunteering, please visit: www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/volunteer