Lady Lansdowne has been helping a 92-year-old isolated from her family through lockdown after volunteering as a befriender for Wiltshire Sight. The charity has been given £5,000 from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund to set up the network of phone befrienders after it became concerned about how many of its service users were on their own.
Lady Lansdowne, who has been president of Wiltshire Sight for more than 30 years, said she had wanted to sign up as an NHS volunteer but had broken her arm the weekend before lockdown.
“A heavy gate blew towards me and I put my arm out to stop it hitting me and it broke my arm,” she said. “I had wanted to sign up as a volunteer, but I decided I was probably rather useless because I couldn’t do very much. I jumped on the of befriending for Wiltshire Sight because it’s a cause that’s very close to my heart.”
The befriending scheme pairs volunteers with someone on her own and Lady Lansdowne was assigned to Betty, who lives in Warminster. “She is a lovely lady, we have very good chats and have become great friends. It will be lovely to actually meet one day,” she said.
“We had a lot of talk of what she did on VE day and how she went partying in Warminster. We talk about my chickens a lot and a bit of politics, she is quite fiery with the politics and has very strong opinions.
“It was lovely to meet and chat to her because we are locked down too. It is like having a pen pal on the telephone. You learn a little but about each other each week.”
She said the pensioner was unphased when she learnt who her befriender was. “We started talking about where she lived and then about where I live and she said ‘oh I know Bowood’ and that was it,” said Lady Lansdowne.
“For the first five or six weeks we talked twice a week and we now talk once a week because her children can come to the garden to see her.”
She said the scheme, which has paired dozens of volunteers with people trapped at home because of sight impairment, has been valuable. “It’s just about keeping the contact and making them feel they are not alone, and that people care. I think it has made a difference,” she said.
“The odd day Betty doesn’t always feel so jolly when I first talk to her, but I like to think by the end of the call we’ve had a nice chat. Thank you to the Wiltshire Community Foundation, it has been wonderful that it has supported us.”
When the pandemic has subsided Lady Lansdowne is planning an event at Bowood to thank volunteers and allow them to meet their befrienders. She said: “When this is all over, I would love to get all the befrienders and the befriended together for a little garden party at Bowood just so they can all meet. I now know quite a lot about Betty’s family so it would be lovely if they could bring her over to Bowood.”
The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund has now distributed more than £400,000 to 113 groups across Wiltshire and Swindon. The fund has so far raised more than £620,000.
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.