Say hello to chatty and cheerful 90-year-old former schoolteacher May Dolphin and 38-year-old business development manager and cricket nut Dean Suter.
What do May and Dean have in common? Answer: They are both dedicated volunteers for Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin and love bringing support and companionship to older people who might otherwise feel lonely or isolated.
A mother to two sons, May lost her devoted husband five years ago. “He was one in a million,” she says. “Dear Henry had dementia.”
The two of them used to attend a dementia support group in Shrewsbury. “I suppose the reason I’m coming here now as a volunteer is because they were always good to us, good to me and Henry.
“In a way, it’s payback time – I’m giving something back to the group that was so kind to Henry. But I love it. I really love it.”
May and Henry had moved from Wales to Shrewsbury in the early 1970s, the both of them teachers.
May says: “As a boy, Henry had been a wartime evacuee from Liverpool when they were moving children out of the cities that had become too dangerous because of all the bombing.
“I was born in Tregaron near Aberystwyth. The evacuees arrived with their little labels round their necks and their gasmasks. When he got off the train at Aberystwyth, Henry said ‘I’m a Welshman now!’ and that was that.”
The two went to school together. They became good friends. They married in 1958.
Once they had moved to Shrewsbury, they settled into their new jobs, Henry teaching at the Katharine Elliot School in Monkmoor and May teaching at Harlescott Junior School.
“We were very happy. And I’m still happy,” says May. “I love being a volunteer. In fact, I think I’m the happiest person on earth.”
At the dementia support group, May welcomes members with a cup of tea, a biscuit and a friendly smile.
Wellbeing Services Support Officer Lisa Nutting says: “May is absolutely fantastic. She always manages to put a smile on people’s faces.”
Dean Suter was inspired to become a volunteer for Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin for very different reasons to those quoted by May. In Dean’s case, there was no personal connection.
“I just saw this advert showing an elderly lady staring out of her living room window with no-one to talk to and it broke my heart. I felt I had to get involved somehow. Through volunteering, I've been lucky enough to meet some wonderful people who have different outlooks on life. And it’s allowed me to hopefully bring something a little different into their lives.”
Befriender Dean now visits Sheila who lives in a retirement housing complex in Shrewsbury.
He said: “Initially I was a befriender for Sheila’s late husband Peter. He was a wonderful man, and we had a lot in common. We both played piano and loved our cricket. He had some great stories and I suppose I provided a fresh pair of ears for them.
“When Peter passed away, Sheila asked me to carry on with our regular visits as I think she understood how much Peter got out of our chats. Sheila has a wonderful family around her, but I think she enjoys being able to talk to someone different every now and again.
“You know, people are sometimes put off the idea of volunteering because they feel it is a big commitment but you only need do a couple of hours a week to make a huge difference. It’s fun and it’s also satisfying to know you’re doing something good.”
Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin is always on the lookout for new volunteers – and have a range of volunteering roles from which to choose from befriending to helping at day centres, from fundraising to being a telephone buddy from benefits support to helping in the charity shop.
If you would like to find out more about volunteering for Age UK Shropshire Telford & Wrekin, call 01743 233123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org