About a year ago, I signed up to the Abingdon Good Neighbourhood Scheme (AGNS) – a local network of volunteers who sign up to be informed by email whenever there is someone nearby who needs help of some sort, which cannot be provided through health and social care. This can be anything from visiting someone on a regular basis to befriend them, take them some shopping, or to an appointment, or paying one-off visits to help them sort out their garden, redecorate, or fill in some forms. The AGNS help anyone in need: the elderly and disabled, the isolated or lonely, and even mums who might need a hand. Emails are sent out to the volunteers on a regular basis detailing the needs of the neighbour and anyone who can take it on gets in touch. It is a very simple, but effective, scheme that really pulls the community together, linking charitable people who have an hour, or two, to spare with people who can benefit from their generosity.
Very few people I know have heard of the scheme, so I thought I would start a small project in which I visit and photograph some of the neighbours who use it, along with their volunteers, to find out a bit about them; the aim of which, as well as putting my photography skills to practise, is to advertise the wonderful work of this organisation and maybe encourage some more volunteers from anyone who lives locally. For anyone who isn’t so local – maybe I will inspire someone to start something similar in their area.
Betty, 94, lives alone in a ground floor flat. She has 2 daughters who live locally, visit and help out, but her husband died last year and she felt she would like a regular visitor to befriend her to help get over her loneliness. She is very limited with her mobility and spends most days indoors, though goes to a couple of groups every week.
I started visiting Betty in September 2014 with my baby girl who was 4 months old at the time (now nearly 1). I visit once a week for about 45 mins on my way to collect my son from nursery at lunch time; it is actually one of the few times I actually sit still during the day in my whole week! I like to think we have now become firm friends. It has been fascinating to hear about her life growing up in Scotland and travelling with the Royal Navy during the second world war, and she loves seeing my daughter every week. They have a nice cuddle, Betty gives her a bottle, and, now that she’s crawling, we sit and watch her ‘wreak havoc’ in her living room.
“I contacted the AGNS after my husband died. My hairdresser recommended it to me. My daughters live nearby and visit regularly, but they are very busy, so I thought it would be nice to have someone else come and visit me, just to have a chat. Having you come to see me regularly has helped me so much; I don’t have much contact with younger people these days, as most of the people I know and see are old as well, so having you and your baby come to visit has made me feel like I’m part of society again. If I could get out of the house and just go down to Budgens by myself, at least I might bump into the neighbours, but I never really see anybody. I love to see people and to chat, so having you both come to visit has helped me feel less lonely.
“I have great grand-children of my own, but they aren’t local, so I don’t get to see them that much. I have been so lucky to watch your daughter growing up and going through all the different stages – she has become like a grand-daughter to me.”
If you are local to the Abingdon area, have an hour to spare, and would like to experience the warm, fuzzy feeling of volunteering to help someone in need, or if you know someone who is in need and would benefit from a visitor from the scheme, please contact the Abingdon Good Neighbourhood Scheme. If you live in Oxfordshire and would like information on how to set up a similar scheme in your area have a look at the OCVA website.
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If you already volunteer for the AGNS and think you have someone who might like to be photographed for this project, please contact me at email@example.com.