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Kirsty Goodman is an MRes/PhD student in the Department of Security and Crime Science. She shares her experience volunteering as a Dementia Wellbeing Volunteer with Age UK Camden, an organisation that aims to promote the well-being of all older people and to help make later life a fulfilling and enjoyable experience. 


Kirsty Goodman

Tell us a little about your volunteering.
I’ve been a dementia wellbeing volunteer with Age UK Camden since the beginning of the academic year. Once a week I ring a gentleman who is suffering from early stages of dementia to check in with how he’s doing. We have a nice catch up and I take note of any issues he might be having so that Age UK can provide the necessary assistance.   

How did you find out about the role?
I found this role while browsing volunteering opportunities on the UCL Students’ Union webpage. 

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?
I like to think that having a regular conversation with a new person has helped combat some feelings of loneliness. These days unfortunately his health has not been good, so he has multiple carers regularly checking in, but in the beginning I think he had greater peace of mind that someone would be checking in and could alert the services if he had an emergency. Also, in terms of general mental health, I think it helps to know there are people in the community that can provide assistance if you’re struggling.

 

Why did you want to become a volunteer? 
I currently live with my grandparents so I know first-hand the challenges some elderly people are struggling with in such a rapidly evolving tech-driven world. Particularly, I know the increased isolation the pandemic has caused for people who are not tech-savvy, which has only exacerbated an existing loneliness epidemic. For these reasons, I knew as soon as I started my studies that I wanted to get involved with an organisation providing assistance to people vulnerable to isolation.

What impact has volunteering had on you?
I am so glad I made the decision to join Age UK Camden’s dementia wellbeing volunteering service. Even though I started the volunteering amid the global crisis, I am incredibly grateful that the technology we have today has allowed me to carry out this service from my family home down in Cornwall and I have found the experience positive for my own mental wellbeing. The perpetual lockdowns over the last year has brought a real sense of isolation and pessimism to many, including myself, but by connecting to Age UK Camden, even just for one-two hours every week, I feel a sense of connection to the community still.

Especially the live and interactive training sessions have not only been extremely informative (e.g. learning about dementia, and how to have better conversations), by being able to occasionally connect virtually with other volunteers it’s made the experience feel more real in a way, despite not yet being able to attend in person. These group sessions are also a reminder of the importance of this service and make me feel uplifted from all the inspiring people involved. It’s incredibly helpful to hear others’ experiences too and to learn from the other volunteers. I am particularly grateful for the training I have received and regular weekly check ins with my volunteer coordinator, who has been so welcoming and conscious of the volunteers’ wellbeing too, so I feel reassured knowing whenever I have any queries I can go straight to her for guidance.    

What’s the best thing about volunteering?
I think strengthening community ties is the best thing about volunteering. I think it really helps create a collective sense of wellbeing.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges? 
In the beginning, the phone conversations were a little more challenging than I had anticipated. The gentleman I speak with has quite a strong accent and I think I’ve gotten used to Facetiming for communication! However, I’ve adapted to this style of communication and it’s much easier now. In addition, it took time to build up ease in the conversations so I had to be patient with his communication style because I’m quite extroverted when it comes to meeting new people whereas understandably it took him some time to get comfortable with talking to me over the phone. The training that Age UK provided really helped me with how to approach having better conversations

 

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering.
At one point, I was able to assist with rescheduling a doctor’s appointment on his behalf when he was having difficulty getting through to the right people. When I’m able to assist with these little administrative tasks it’s a great feeling knowing I’ve been of help in some way.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?
Absolutely! As mentioned above, I think it contributes to a collective sense of wellbeing through strengthening community bonds.


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