Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Re-engage call companions are making friends with older people who are home alone in the crisis.
"There I was - stuck indoors, bored. The television was depressing and knitting and sewing were difficult because my concentration was terrible."
These are the words of 80-year-old Pringle, describing her evenings at the height of the lockdown. The widow, who lives alone in rural Scotland, is just one of many of her generation who has found the past few months lonelier than ever.
Re-engage has been supporting older people for 50 years. Its social gatherings, which normally take place on Sundays across the UK, are a wonderful way of bringing this age group together, establishing bonds of friendship.
Of course, the lockdown in March put these much-loved events on hold. However, thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the charity was able to quickly set up Call Companions, a telephone befriending service supporting older people with regular phone calls.
Pringle is just one of thousands now receiving these calls. She says, "Although I’m 80, I’m very sprightly and sociable. My husband died two years ago and there’s been a big hole in my life ever since. My family were phoning during the lockdown, but we only spoke every few days because there was nothing to say!"
What’s unique about Call Companions is that, where possible, people are paired up based on their interests. For example, one gentleman told the charity he loved keeping fit, so was paired with a fellow fitness fanatic to chat. An 87-year-old woman who once embroidered gowns for the Royal Family is now receiving a weekly call from a university lecturer in fashion.
For Pringle, a lively, intelligent woman with a passion for archaeology and geology, was paired with a young archaeologist, Craig, to chat to, also from Scotland.
"I just hit it off with Craig from the start," she says. "We share ideas and our conversations about art and archaeology give me something new to pass on to my family and friends. And it’s reciprocal – Craig tells his mother all about me."
Craig was on furlough from his job when he signed up and also finding the lockdown unsettling.
He says, "I was feeling the need to help out in my own small way while I was stuck at home. It felt like a pleasure to get to know someone else at a time when making new friends was a real challenge."
Now back at work, the pair continue to speak once a week.
"The experience has been brilliant," Craig says. "I’ve really enjoyed the chats and the extra bit of company has been a real plus. We have a lot of shared interests so it’s always interesting."
Pringle agrees, "Call Companions has been excellent. If you get a good match, you’re never stuck for things to say. Craig and I have a new friendship out of it."
Players have raised £1.4 million for Re-engage.