Kito and Joseph

Kito came to England from Laos as a teenager and, after finishing his studies, qualified as a chef. He later married and had a son. His son is autistic and Kito is his full time carer.

With his son now at school, Kito decided he wanted to get out and meet people. He picked up a leaflet about the Compassionate Neighbours project and signed up for the training course. He admits at first he didn’t say anything; he felt shy and worried he’d say something silly. But he soon found new confidence and by the end he felt the group were a family and they all now keep in touch.

He was matched with Joseph, who apart from attending day hospice and the neuro group at his local hospice, rarely had company. They met twice at the hospice and decided they liked each other. Kito visits Joseph every week and also pops in if he’s shopping nearby. They have become firm friends.

They talk about everything and anything from politics and news to films and sport. Joseph likes a bit of a joke too; when Kito makes him a coffee he’ll say it’s “disgusting” but he says it with a twinkle in his eye. Joseph really looks forward to Kito’s visits and dresses smartly when he knows he’s coming. When he pops round as a surprise Joseph often says “I’m not ready, I’ve got my pyjamas on” but he’s always pleased to see him. Kito says becoming a Compassionate Neighbour has changed his life. “I have so much confidence now. I have learnt to really listen to people and let them do the talking. I really think that Compassionate Neighbour training has helped my relationship with my son too. With my new found confidence I’m planning to do some cookery teaching; sushi is my speciality.”

Harry and Dave

Harry was matched with Dave through his local hospice. He said ‘Before I had a Compassionate Neighbour, I wasn’t getting out at all. I can’t walk very far due to my Parkinson’s and I can’t drive anywhere these days.’ Harry and Dave have been fishing, played chess and visited Leigh on Sea together. ‘Compassionate Neighbours helped me to get back to fishing, doing something that I love. Dave gave me the confidence I needed to go out and about again, in spite of my Parkinson’s.’

Dave said ‘I know that loneliness is a very big problem in our country, and they say that in the near future loneliness could become one of the biggest killers, so I thought it sounded like a project I wanted to get involved with. I came along and took part in the Compassionate Neighbours training, and then was paired with a guy called Harry. We are both from a similar background and we have bonded over the things we both enjoy. We have a laugh together, and he takes the mick out of me – and we have blokey banter together’.

Aris and Shabir

Aris is a keen chess player, so they play regularly when they meet. Shabir noticed Aris was feeling down, he was not going out and not eating very much. Shabir asked Aris to get dressed and come to a local restaurant with him. Shabir said ‘After a reluctant start and with some encouragement, Aris ate more of his meal and became lively. He was making jokes, telling amusing stories of his past and broke into Greek songs. This was extraordinary and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience’. They plan to continue meeting up and Shabir hopes that one day he might outsmart Aris in a game of chess.

Florence and Yasmin

Florence spends a lot of time at home on her own and when she received her first visit from her Compassionate Neighbour, Yasmin, she was very low in mood and motivation. Their conversation turned to food and she began to talk about a pudding that she used to have a lot in Jamaica as a child and added that she had most of the ingredients at home but doesn’t enjoy cooking by herself. There was such a change in her when she started to talk about the pudding that Yasmin encouraged her to make the pudding there and then. She almost agreed but then said she’d could do it on the next visit, as she needed some dried fruit and coconut milk. On her next visit, Yasmin brought over the ingredients and they made the pudding together. They have been seeing each other weekly ever since. In addition to Yasmin’s visits, the hospice linked Florence to another local organisation who helped her to set up a Dial-a-Ride account and taxi card and introduced her to the Irish Centre day centre which she now attends twice a week.

Sarah, Zara and Hannah

Sarah is in her 50s and a hospice patient. She is lives alone in a large house with an attic full of memories of her busy and well-travelled life as well as things that had been passed down by her parents. She is a very pragmatic and upbeat woman and explained that she had been attending various social groups for people in similar situations to hers and that some of them had died “before they had stuff sorted”. Sarah felt strongly that she didn’t want to leave these belongings as someone’s burden to sort through, and also that she wanted to gift items to those who she knew would enjoy them. She was assisted in this task by two Compassionate Neighbours, Zara and Hannah. They went to Sarah’s home every week for five weeks, staying for a few hours each time. They had a drink and chat first and then got to work in the attic. Zara is a self-declared minimalist and Sarah said that she challenged her on items that she found in a joking way such as “and do you think you’ll be going skiing soon?” Sarah has a good support network and did not feel that she needed the regular contact or support of a Compassionate Neighbour in the way that Community Members might more usually request. However, she found the contributions made by Zara and Hannah invaluable in this difficult and emotive task. She did not want her friends to be faced with the volume of belongings that needed sorting after she had died but also did not want to ask them to deal with it while she was alive. Having the support of the Compassionate Neighbours enabled her to more objectively work through her belongings whilst also benefitting from their emotional support.

The training and hospices

Compassionate Neighbour Becky says that the support from the Hospice has made a big difference. She said ‘the training throws up scenarios that you need, but it is more about feeling that I am being taken seriously as a volunteer. I know I’ve got access to ongoing training if I need it – some I’ve taken up and some I haven’t’. The training on offer from her local hospice includes wheelchair training and dementia training.

‘I do not know how I would feel if I had just been matched with someone and left to it. I know where to go if I have a problem (which thankfully I haven’t) and my Community Member also knows who to contact if she has a problem. Although we are doing our own thing, we both know there’s a safety net.’

Richard, a hospice staff member who oversees Compassionate Neighbours says ‘We cover issues in the training that might worry a Compassionate Neighbour volunteer, including supporting their Community Member at the very end of their life, what it might be like and what to expect. We also offer bereavement support and counselling to Compassionate Neighbours if people feel they need it, because it is a factor that we do need to be aware of.’

Sandra and Anita

Sandra described how following her cancer diagnosis her friends and family have been very kind but that having Anita as her confidante has made such a difference to her experience of her illness and also being isolated. Whereas she attends appointments and has to explain her situation, symptoms, feelings repeatedly to different medical professionals, with Anita she has someone who knows her and said “I don’t know how people manage without speaking to someone” and “I hope she knows how much I appreciate her”. When asked what she gains from being a Compassionate Neighbour Anita said that she feels she gains just as much as Sandra in the friendship they have made and that she’s happy to be able to give back in the same way as her husband has been helped. Anita is a GP and she says that she gets so much out of this work and it has been a wonderful learning process for her. ‘I believe it has made me a better doctor and a better human being.’

Jane and Becky

Jane read about Compassionate Neighbours in her local hospice’s newsletter. She decided to ask about it because her three grown up children and husband work full-time and she wanted some company. She was matched with Becky and they now meet up about once a week. Becky takes Jane for coffee, to garden centres and to have a look round the shops in Jane’s wheelchair. Becky also took Jane to Anglesey Abbey and arranged for a personal shopper so Jane could find an outfit for her son’s wedding. Jane says ‘I feel very lucky that Becky gives up her time’.

Becky said that she knew Jane had been battling cancer for a while and that she was ‘stepping into’ her story. Becky says that meeting for the first time was a big deal for them both. Jane said ‘we chatted as though we had known each other forever we clicked straight away.’ Jane said that Becky was really good at pushing the wheelchair, they laughed as Jane said ‘Becky actually stops and allows me to look at things.’ Jane said ‘this has made such a difference to my life. I fully recommend it. You will not realise what a difference it has made to my life and situation.’ Jane said that it didn’t just help her, it also helped her husband because if he didn’t feel like going out at weekend after a week at work, he didn’t have to. ‘Becky has become like a member of the family’.

Margaret and Tina

Margaret lives alone and, following a brain tumour, has some memory and mobility problems. Her Compassionate Neighbour Tina visits her and takes her shopping. Margaret says that she is grateful to have Tina in her life as someone to chat to – ‘Tina is a good listener and she gives me ideas how to deal with things. It’s nice to have someone to chat to and someone who checks in on me. Otherwise I just have my television as my friend’. Tina says she is lucky to have been introduced to Margaret and says “maybe Margaret doesn’t realise how much she gives back just by being who she is”.